Tuesday, 14 December 2010

We Shall Not See His Like Again

"Old Jack"

We have read recently James I Robertson's Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Solider, The Legend. Without doubt this biography will become the definitive work on Jackson for a long time to come. It is thoroughly researched--almost to the point that one is tempted to say it has to be the last word, but we speak hyperbolically. It is not hagiography--into which many of the writings about Jackson have degenerated. It strives to be a balanced, fair, and at times critical portrait. Robertson separates the facts and the actual from the legendary. Jackson the man is presented as we all know he would have been--a man with character flaws, weaknesses, foibles; yet we also see through the pages a man with a greatness unparalleled in modern annals.

He, along with Robert E. Lee are the towering figures of the Southern Confederacy and the Civil War. Together they formed an indomitable military team. Upon hearing of Jackson's wounding (which would eventually result in his death) Lee is reported to have said, "The General may have lost his left arm. I have lost my right."

We reproduce some excerpts from the Preface which we hope will motivate many to read the complete biography.
In 1861--3, (Jackson's) fame flashed across his own Southern Confederacy, soared over the land of his enemies, and traveled even beyond the seas. Jackson more than anyone else personified the compelling and the virtuous in what subsequent generations would label the "Lost Cause". Thousands of Southerners (and no small number of Northerners as well) would say for generations that, had Jackson lived, the Confederate quest for independence would have come much closer to realization.

Death removed him from the scene at the apogee of a military fame enjoyed by no other Civil War figure. His passing at the high point in Confederate success was the greatest personal loss suffered by the wartime South. Jackson became the first icon, the ultimate offering for the Southern cause. Death at the hour of his most spectacular victory led to more poems of praise than did any other single event of the war. Jackson was the only officer to be pictured on Confederate currency, and his likeness graced the most expensive note issued in Richmond: a $500 bill. . . .

The exciting hopes of the South in 1861 and the smashing victories "Old Jack" achieved in 1862 lost much of their brilliance with his death in the war's third spring. Yet his devotion to God, duty, and country remain treasured legacies of the American people, just as they are inspirations to people everywhere.

Lord Frederick Roberts, commander in chief of the British armies in the early twentieth century, remarked: "In my opinion Stonewall Jackson was one of the greatest natural military geniuses the world ever saw. I will go even further than that--as a campaigner in the field he never had a superior. In some respects I doubt whether he ever had an equal." Fifty years later, General Douglas Macarthur characterized Jackson as "one of the most remarkable soldiers we have ever known. His mastery of two of the greatest elements for victory in war--surprise and envelopment--never has been surpassed. His magnetic personal leadership, which so dominated and inspired his men, constituted only one of his many attributes of greatness."

Dr Moses D. Hoge, a pillar of Presbyerianism at the time of the Civil War, saw the Virginian in a quite different light. "To attempt to portray the life of Jackson," Hoge said, "while leaving our the religious element, would be like undertaking to describe Switzerland without making mention of the Alps." English clergyman S. Parkes Cadman gave a more detailed explanation of the impact religion made on Jackson's character. "His alliance with eternal realities; his foretaste of the poewrs of the world to come; his deep and genuine piety, his adherence to the Bible, the Church, and the Lord's day, his keeping of his own conscience before God and men, are the outstanding traits of a spiritual prince who was greater than anything he did, and who deeds took rise in his being." . . . .

Jackson's passing marked a line of demarcation in the annals of the Army of Northern Virginia. In the ten months that Lee and Jackson were together, delegation of authority had never been so lenient--orders permitting a wide latitude in execution so regular--s to create one of history's greatest military partnerships. Thereafter, starting at Gettysburg, the system failed Lee. He had no executive officer of first-rate ability. He tried to do it all himself. It did not work.

Beyond Gettysburg, and without Jackson, lay something else about the Confederacy's premier army. Declining strength would naturally play a role; nevertheless because there was no Jackson, Lee never again attempted the spectacular dividing of his army in the face of numerical superiority or the sweeping flank marches that he undertook when Jackson silently awaited his call. Jackson represented Lee's mobility, the prime ingredient the Southern army had for survival. Without it, the Civil War in the East became a slugging match that the Confederacy could not hope to win

The Preface represents an overview. Robertson is too keen and exacting an observer not to overlook many of Jackson's weaknesses and mistakes on the field. Yet, it remains true as someone once observed, when battle commences the first casualty is the plan of battle. A perfectly executed battle plan is an oxymoron. It remains true, however, that despite these lacunae, Jackson was an indomitable field commander. Robertson's commendable work shows not just that this was so, but explains why it was true.

Jackson died aged 39. Robertson's biography helps retain him as part of our history and legacy in a way that is humbling and uplifting, yet at the same time Robertson makes him accessible to us as a man of flesh and blood saved by Divine grace through faith in Christ. How he lived in Christ becomes an inspiration to us who see ourselves as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

No comments: