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The Death of “Stonewall” Jackson by J. William Jones, D.D.

By April 3, 2011April 12th, 2016Biographies

Since he lived such a life, it was to be expected that he would die a glorious death. In the full tide of his splendid career, just as he was completing what he regarded as the most successful military movement of his life, with high ambition and bright hopes for the future, he was shot down by the fire of his own men, who would gladly have yielded up their own lives to have saved their loved chieftain one single pang.

He bore his sufferings, and the amputation of his arm with the utmost Christian fortitude, saying repeatedly that he was perfectly resigned to God’s will and would not, if he could, restore the arm, unless assured that it was his Heavenly Father’s will.

When he seemed better and expected to recover, he spoke freely of being so near death when first wounded, and expecting fully to die before a surgeon could reach him, and said that he ‘gave himself up to the hands of his Heavenly Father, and was in the possession of perfect peace.’

Rev. Dr. B. T. Lacy relates that, alluding to this period of expected death, he said: ‘ It has been a precious experience to me that I was brought face to face with death, and found all was well. I then learned an important lesson: that one who has been the subject of converting grace and is the child of God can, in the midst of the severest sufferings, fix his thoughts upon God and heavenly things, and derive great comfort and peace; but that one who had never made his peace with God would be unable to control his mind, under such sufferings, so as to understand properly the way of salvation, and repent and believe on Christ. I felt that if I had neglected the salvation of my soul before, it would have been too late then.’

He dictated a letter to General Lee, in which he congratulated him on ‘the great victory which God has vouchsafed to your arms.’ But before this note was sent, the following came to him from General Lee, in response to a previous note which had been sent by Jackson :

‘General: I have just received your note informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country, to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory which is due to your skill and energy.

Most truly yours,
‘R. E. LEE, General.’

Jackson seemed deeply touched at the generous letter from his chief, but said, after a brief pause: ‘General Lee is very kind: but he should give the glory to God.’

Afterwards, in talking about this great victory, he said: ‘Our movement yesterday was a great success; I think the most successful military movement of my life. But I expect to receive far more credit for it than I deserve. Most men will think I had planned it all from the first; but it was not so — I simply took advantage of circumstances as they were presented to me in the Providence of God. I feel that His hand led me: let us give Him all the glory.’

When he had been removed to the house of Mr. Chandler, near Guinea’s Station, and had so far rallied as to feel confident of his recovery, he talked very freely on his favorite religious topics. Dr. Dabney says (in his admirable biography of Jackson, to which I am indebted for several incidents given above): ‘He requested his chaplain to visit him at 10 o’clock each morning for reading the Scriptures and prayer. These seasons were the occasions of much religious conversation, in which be unbosomed himself with unusual freedom and candor. He declared that his faith and hope in his Redeemer were clear. He said he was perfectly willing to die at that time; but believed that his time was not yet come, that his Heavenly Father still had a work for him to do in defense of his beloved country, and that until that was completed he should be spared. During these morning hours he delighted to enlarge on his favorite topics of practical religion, which were such as these: The Christian should carry his religion into everything. Christianity makes man better in any lawful calling; it equally makes the general a better commander, and the shoemaker a better mechanic. In the case of the cobbler, or the tailor, for instance, religion will produce more care in promising work, more punctuality, and more fidelity in executing it, from conscientious motives; and these homely examples were fair illustrations of its value in more exalted functions. So prayer aids any man, in any lawful business, not only by bringing down the Divine blessing, which is its direct and prime object, but by harmonizing his own mind and heart. In the commander of an army at the critical hour it calmed his perplexities, moderated his anxieties, steadied the scales of judgment, and thus preserved him from exaggerated and rash conclusions. Again he urged that every act of man’s life should be a religious act. He recited with much pleasure the ideas of Doddridge, where he pictured himself as spiritualizing every act of his daily life; as thinking when he washed himself, of the cleansing blood of Calvary; as praying while he put on his garments, that he might be clothed with the righteousness of the saints; as endeavoring, while he was eating, to feed upon the Bread of heaven. General Jackson now also enforced his favorite dogma, that the Bible furnished men with rules for everything. If they would search, he said, they would find a precept, an example, or a general principle, applicable to every possible emergency of duty, no matter what was a man’s calling. There the military man might find guidance for every exigency. Then, turning to Lieutenant Smith, he asked him, smiling: ‘Can you tell me where the Bible gives generals a model for their official reports of battles?’ He answered, laughing, that it never entered his mind to think of looking for such a thing in the Scriptures. ‘Nevertheless,’ said the general, ‘there are such, and excellent models, too. Look, for instance, at the narrative of Joshua’s battle with the Amalekites; there you have one. It has clearness, brevity, fairness, modesty; and it traces the victory to its right source, the blessing of God.”

As he gradually grew worse, and his physicians and friends became alarmed about his condition, he was calm, resigned, even joyous, at the prospect.

Noticing the sadness of his loving wife, he said to her, tenderly: ‘I know you would gladly give your life for me, but I am perfectly resigned. Do not be sad. I hope I may yet recover. Pray for me, but always remember in your prayers to use the petition, ‘Thy will be done.”

When he saw the number of surgeons who were called in, he said to his medical director, Dr. Hunter McGuire: ‘I see from the number of physicians that you consider my condition dangerous, but I thank God that, if it is His will, I am ready to go.’

When his wife informed him that the doctors thought his recovery very doubtful, he was silent for a moment, and then said: ‘It will be infinite gain to be translated to heaven.’ When later, on that beautiful Sabbath day, he was informed that he could scarcely live till night, he engaged for a moment in intense thought, and then replied: ‘Very good, very good; it is all right.’

Dr. McGuire thus concludes a deeply interesting paper on the wounding and death of Jackson: ‘He tried to comfort his almost heart-broken wife, and told her he had a good deal to say to her, but he was too weak. Colonel Pendleton came into the room about 1 o’clock, and he asked him: ‘Who is preaching at headquarters to-day?’ When told that the whole army was praying for him, he replied: ‘Thank God–they are very kind.’ He said, ‘It is the Lord’s day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.’

‘His mind now began to fail and wander, and he frequently talked as if in command upon the field, giving orders in his old way; then the scene shifted, and he was at the mess-table in conversation with members of his staff; now with his wife and child; now at prayers with his military family. Occasionally intervals of return of his mind would appear, and during one of them. I offered him some brandy and water; but he declined it, saying: ‘It will only delay my departure and do no good; I want to preserve my mind, if possible, to the last.’ About halfpast one he was told that he had but two hours to live, and he answered again feebly, but firmly: ‘Very good; it is all right.’

‘A few moments before he died he cried out, in his delirium: ‘Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks’–then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread over his pale face, and he said quietly, and with an expression as if of relief, ‘Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees;’ and then, without pain, or the least struggle, his spirit passed from earth to the God who gave it.’

In fine, Jackson took Jesus as his Saviour, his Guide, his great Exemplar, ‘the Captain of his salvation,’ whom he followed with the unquestioning obedience of the true soldier. And having thus lived, it is not surprising that he died the glorious death which has been described. Nay, it was not death; the weary, worn, battle-scarred veteran only received an ‘honorable discharge.’ He had won the victory, he only went to wear the ‘crown of rejoicing;’

‘That crown with peerless glories bright,
Which shall new lustre boast
When victors’ wreaths and monarchs’ gems
Shall blend in common dust.’

An excerpt from ‘Christ in the Camp,’ by J. William Jones, D.D.