Two to follow

Lee and Jackson: Heroes for all Americans

Date published: 1/16/2009

FEW PEOPLE outside the South will pause today to remember Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Yet these two men, born Jan. 19 and 21, respectively, are much more than icons of the Lost Cause: They were Americans of noble character and leaders worth emulating.

Lee was born just a few miles down the Northern Neck, at Stratford, the fifth child of Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee. Robert, though part of the patrician class of Virginia society (he married the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington), looked forward to the end of slavery and entered only reluctantly into the service of the Confederacy, unable to remain with the Union and take up arms against his fellow Virginians. When The Cause was indeed lost, Lee accepted defeat nobly and urged fellow Southerners to transfer their loyalties back to a unified America. A man of deep faith and profound humility, Lee remains widely admired today, except in those benighted precincts where he isn’t.

Jackson had a hardscrabble upbringing in what is now West Virginia. Orphaned at a young age, he picked up his education where he could. His firm Calvinist faith made him seem rigid to some, but his tender heart emerged in his wartime letters to his wife and in his gentle Sunday-school lessons for slaves in Lexington. Like Lee, Jackson saw his duty and never shirked it. Serving as a general in the Confederate army, he was a bold commander beloved by his troops. He died at Guinea Station after being shot at the Battle of Chancellorsville and contracting pneumonia.

The Civil War was more complex than simple-minded political correctness pretends. That Lee and Jackson wore the uniform of the Confederacy does not detract from their estimable qualities–or from their parts in the great drama that all Americans should recall on this Lee-Jackson Day.

Copyright 2009, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co