In a nod toward political correctness, Virginia celebrates the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which of course is the federal holiday. But the Friday preceding, Virginia recognizes Lee-Jackson Day honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. All three men were born in January. For years, Virginia celebrated Lee-Jackson Day and was somewhat resistant to the addition of the federal holiday honoring Dr. King. Then, for a time the day was celebrated together as Lee-Jackson-King Day. Governor Jim Gilmore proposed a compromise to celebrate on different days, effectively giving state employees as three day weekend.
Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson was born on January 21, 1824 in what was then Clarksburg, Virginia, now Clarksburg, West Virginia. His nickname was given by his troops at the first Battle of Manassas where they said “Look, men, there is Jackson standing like a stone wall.” Altogether Jackson fought in 16 Civil War battles.
What is not widely known, except to students of history is that Jackson was a man of deep faith. One of his wartime aides, James Power Smith, said early on, “The religion of Stonewall Jackson will be the chief and most effective way into the secret spring of the character and career of this strong man.''
Stonewall Jackson was a devout Presbyterian and he thoroughly enjoyed discussing theology. His correspondence nearly always referenced an ever kind Providence. Jackson always believed his fate was in God’s hands.
Jackson was asked why he could remain so calm during battles, he replied, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that,but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.”
Jackson further stated that all men would be equally brave if they but lived with this type of faith.
Jackson was severely wounded on May 2, 1863 and his left arm had to be amputated. To a visiting minister he said, "You see me severely wounded, but not depressed, not unhappy. I believe that it has been done according to God's holy will, and I will acquiesce entirely in it. You may think it strange; but you never saw me more perfectly contented than I am today."
Before the war in speaking of his faith, Jackson wrote this letter to his sister:
Feb 8th, 1858
My Dear Sister,
Your very welcome letter of last week reached me this morning and I am rejoiced to learn that you are so much concerned about "the one thing needful." I have never believed that you would be lost. I have borne in mind that our sainted mother's prayers would not be forgotten by our Heavenly Father. Though dead, her prayers, I trusted would be precious in the sight of the Lord.
You wish to know how to come to God; so as to have your sins forgiven, and to receive "the inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Now my dear sister the way is plain: the savior says in Mark XVI chapter, 16th verse "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." But you may ask what is it to believe. To explain this I will quote from an able theologian, and devoted servant of God. To believe in the sense in which the word is used here, "is feeling and acting as if there were a God, a Heaven, a Hell; as if we were sinners and must die; as if we deserve eternal death, and were in danger of it. And in view of all, casting our eternal interests on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. To do this is to be a Christian."
You speak of having done all that you know in order to be accepted: this is too apt to be our error. We must not depend on making ourselves holy: but just come to the Father, and ask him to forgive our sins for the sake of Jesus, and rely entirely on the merits of Christ for our prayer being answered. The Father loves the Son and for his sake pardons those who plead the Son's merits. We should never think of presenting any merits of our own for we are all sinners.
Do not trouble yourself too much about not having repented enough for your sins, for your letter shows that you have much concern about the subject. But let me advise you simply to do as God enabled me to do, that is, resolve to spend the remaining part of life in His service, to obey the teachings of the Bible until death, and to rely entirely on the mercy of God for being saved, and though the future looked dark, yet it has become very bright. Never despair, even old Christians have dark moments.
Never omit of pray at regular times. For years your salvation has been my daily prayer and shall continue so. Write to me often and tell me all your trials, that I may be able as an instrument in the hands of God of doing something for your eternal welfare.
I have nearly if not entirely lost the use of one ear & my throat has to be [cleared?] about twice a week, but it is improving.
Were it not for my throat, Anna & myself would like very much to pay you a visit this winter. My throat & the sale of a neighbors property next week are the two obstacles. Anna is anxious to go next [week?]. She joins me in love to you all.
Your affectionate brother,
Jackson died of complications from pneumonia on May 10, 1863. Along with Lee, he became an icon of Southern heritage and heroism.