Lee and Jackson – Larger than Life
By John Wayne Dobson
Since the War ended, it has been the custom of Southern compatriots to celebrate the birthdays of these two great Generals, icons of the Confederacy each January, the month of their birthdates. We cherish this time to pay just tribute and realize, all too well, that this precious opportunity may substantially vanish within our short lifetimes.
What can yet be said, without repetition, about these two beloved sons of the South who gave their all for the Cause we hold so dear? Perhaps, nothing, but we can re-examine what we know. Like most heroes, these two men were reluctant ones in these sense that they did not necessarily need war to fulfill their lives, in much the same way that George Washington could have been personally content as a planter, without being "father of a country." Duty, however, calls people from self interest into self denial and as General Robert Edward Lee so eloquently said, "Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”
Robert Edward Lee
(January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870)
He was loved by his soldiers, revered by his peers, respected by his enemies, and even his former slaves and servants cherished the time they were given to be with him. Posterity has placed Robert E. Lee in a unique position as one of the most respected men who ever lived… Were he alive today, Lee would still have the lofty admiration of so many, but his humility would never allow the attribution of deity. He was, in many ways, just an American man with all the mortal blemishes and failings that make life extraordinary. Born at Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia, to General Henry and Ann (Carter) Lee, Robert left us with few recollections of a surprisingly poor childhood which disallowed a traditional college education despite hailing from such a powerful wealthy family. Without much choice, he joined West Point, was 2nd in that United States Military Academy class of 1829, and was commissioned a brevet 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers. He married the step great granddaughter of Martha Washington, Mary Ann Randolph Custis, of Arlington, on June 30, 1831, while stationed at Fort Monroe. They became the devoted parents of seven children. All three of their sons served in the Confederate army. George Washington Custis and William Henry Fitzhugh ("Rooney") attained the rank of Major General and Robert E. Lee, Jr., that of Captain. The latter served as a private in the Rockbridge Artillery at the Battle of Sharpsburg. Military assignments often kept Robert Edward Lee from the family he adored – first he was sent to Cockspur Island, Georgia, to supervise the construction of Fort Pulaski, then to Washington, 1834–37; St. Louis harbor, 1837; New York, 1841–46, San Antonio to Buena Vista, 1846–47, and as Gen. Winfield Scott’s chief of staff during the Mexican War, Lee, winning the brevets of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel for conspicuous gallantry. Afterwards, Lee directed the building of Fort Carroll, near Baltimore; Sept. 1852 – March 1855, he was superintendent of West Point; with Albert Sidney Johnston’s 2nd Cavalry regiment in Texas from March 1856 to October 1857 and again from February 1860 to February 1861, commanding the regiment at Louisville in April 1855, while Johnston was elsewhere. Commanding two squadrons of the 2nd Cavalry at "his Texas home" of San Antonio in April 1856, he was said to have maintained a pet rattlesnake and bobcat at the lonely station of Camp Cooper. Back to Washington in October 1859 to administer the estate of his deceased father-in-law and soon, thereafter, commanded a detachment of marines which captured John Brown and his abolitionist followers. Lee remained with his family until February 13, 1860, and then returned to San Antonio to assume command of his regiment. On February 13, 1861, General Scott ordered his return to Washington to assume command of the Union Army. Instead, Lee determined that he could not fight against his beloved state of Virginia and resigned his commission in the United States Army. Following an inauspicious campaign in western Virginia and a brief stint as military advisor to Jefferson Davis, Lee succeeded General Joseph E. Johnston to the command of the Confederate Army before Richmond, on June 1, 1862. The War years passed and most readers are solidly familiar with that history and Lee’s brief civilian life thereafter. Clearly, in a much different political climate than we now live, the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, January 1940 (above left) pictured General Lee on "Traveler" (16 hands high). Lee’s other horses were: "Richmond", "Lucy Long", "Ajax", and the "Brown-Roan". After the War, Arlington, the Custis family seat, was long gone so the Lees had no real home. They remained in Richmond and he accepted the presidency of Washington College, in Lexington, Va., Lee suffered a stroke on September 28, 1870. Dying two weeks later, on October 12, 1870, shortly after 9 a.m. from the effects of pneumonia. The stroke had resulted in aphasia, rendering him unable to speak. When interviewed, the four attending physicians and family stated "he had not spoken since 28 September…". After his death, a Northern newspaper wrote of him "We have long since ceased to look upon him as the Confederate leader, but have claimed him as one of ourselves; have cherished and felt proud of his military genius; have recounted and recorded his triumphs as our own; have extolled his virtue as reflecting upon us—for Robert Edward Lee was an American, and the great nation which gave him birth would be today unworthy of such a son if she regarded him lightly".
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson
(January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863)
"War has not yet come, but when it does, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard."
Thomas J. Jackson is one of few mortals to have received such a high degree of utter adoration in life and even in death each instance has been commemorated. Yet, at times he seemed an unlikely choice to become a hero. Of disheveled appearance and with minimal education, he had trouble even passing the West Point entrance exams (where his roommate was George Stoneman). At Virginia Military Institute he was not a good teacher. Upon entering active military service, success proved elusive at times. At Chapultepec Castle in the Mexican War, he refused what he deemed to be a "bad order" to withdraw his troops but obeyed what he also felt was a "bad order" when he raked a civilian throng with artillery fire. Personnel problems haunted him, such as the feuds with Generals Loring and Garnett after Kernstown. He gave subordinates scant latitude, which denied them the training needed for higher positions under Lee’s command style. This was especially devastating in the case of his immediate successor, Richard Ewell. Jackson was sometimes balky when in a secondary position, but he could be superb on his own hook. General James Longstreet once said that, "General Jackson never showed his genius when under the immediate command of Lee." Back and forth, the fortunes of Jackson swayed. At 1st Manassas he seemed to serve well but being dubbed "Stonewall" by General Barnard Bee may have been anything but a compliment. Success resurfaced as Tom Jackson defeated Fremont’s advance at McDowell and later launched a brilliant campaign that kept several other area Union commanders off balance, winning victories at Front Royal, 1st Winchester, Cross Keys, and Port Republic, before joining Lee’s defense of Richmond called the Seven Days Battles. Here Jackson’s tactics were slow and unimaginative. Perhaps he was exhausted or had poor topographical information, but he arrived late at Mechanicsville and inexplicably ordered his men to bivouac for the night within clear earshot of the battle. He was late and disoriented at Gaines’ Mill; late again at Savage’s Station and at White Oak Swamp he failed to employ fording places. Malvern Hill was a predicament for all of Lee’s army. Again, at Fredericksburg Jackson was sluggish and misread the ground, allowing Meade’s division to penetrate the Confederate line before counter-attacks drove the bluecoats back. Off to the north to face John Pope’s army and after a slipshod battle at Cedar Mountain, "Stonewall" slipped behind Pope and captured his Manassas Junction supply base, then hid along an incomplete branch railroad and awaited Lee and Longstreet. Attacking before they arrived, he held on until Longstreet could launch a devastating assault which brought a second Manassas victory. Undeterred by bad days General Jackson was always aggressive, always at his post, doing his duty and he expected everyone else to do the same. Certainly, he was one of the greatest military commanders of all time, and even more a steadfast symbol of the Cause. Even his idiosyncrasies – eating lemons skin and all, holding his right hand over his head, disdain for the white of an egg – became fascinating points of endearment as they helped form the aura and develop the legend. Certainly General Jackson’s most renowned effort came at Chancellorsville, where a long, long forced march on May 1, 1863 routed the Union right flank. Darkness disorganized his soldiers and stalled further pursuit, so he rode out see where they were and was actually forward of his own men, when a picket of nervous North Carolinians fired at the mounted staff party, wounding him in the arm. He was evacuated, his arm was quickly amputated, then he was moved to a quieter neighborhood and was recovering well until pneumonia set in. Eight days after being wounded "Stonewall" greeted his last day with the words: "It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday." The South had taken him to their hearts, and never got over his death.
REVEREND WILLIAM MAC LEE Politically, Robert E. Lee was a Whig, attached strongly to the Union and to the Constitution. He entertained no sympathy for slavery and freed the slaves he inherited from his wife’s estate long before the War. One of them, William Mac Lee, chose to stay and was by the General’s side throughout the War, serving as a cook, body servant and confidant. This former slave described Lee with these words: "I was born June 12, 1835, Westmoreland County, Va.; 82 years ago. I was raised at Arlington Heights, in the house of General Robert E. Lee, my master. I was cook for Marse Robert, as I called him, during the civil war and his body servant. I was with him at the first battle of Manassas, second battle of Manassas and was there at the firing of the last gun for the salute of the surrender on Sunday, April 9, 9 o’clock, A. M., at Appomattox, 1865. At the close of the struggle, General Lee said to General Grant: "Grant, you didn’t whip me, you just overpowered me, I surrender this day 8,000 men; I do not surrender them to you, I surrender on conditions; it shall not go down in history I surrendered the Northern Confederate Army of Virginia to you. It shall go down in history I surrendered on conditions; you have ten men to my one; my men, too, are barefooted and hungry. If Joseph E. Johnston could have gotten to me three days ago I would have cut my way through and gone back into the mountains of North Carolina and would have given you a happy time." What these conditions were I do not know, but I know these were Marse Robert’s words on the morning of the surrender: "I surrender to you on conditions." At the close of the war I did not know A from B, although I had been preaching two years before the war. I was married six years before the war. My wife died in 1910. I am the father of eight daughters and I have twenty-one grand children and eight great-grand children. My youngest child is 42 years old. I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender." Note: The night Lee learned of Jackson’s death, he told his cook, "William, I have lost my right arm" and "I’m bleeding at the heart."
"STONEWALL" ON SLAVERY Jackson neither apologized for nor spoke in favor of the practice of slavery and likely opposed the institution, yet he believed that the Creator had sanctioned slavery, and man had no moral right to challenge its existence. The good Christian slaveholder was one who treated his servants fairly and humanely at all times. Jackson’s family owned six slaves in the late 1850s. Three (Hetty, Cyrus, and George, a mother and two teenage sons) were received as a wedding present. Another, Albert, requested that Jackson purchase him and allow him to work for his freedom; he was employed as a waiter in one of the Lexington hotels and Jackson rented him to VMI. Amy also requested that Jackson purchase her from a public auction and she served the family as a cook and housekeeper. The sixth, Emma, was a four-year-old orphan with a learning disability, accepted by Jackson from an aged widow and presented to his second wife, Mary Anna, as a welcome-home gift. After the War began Jackson appears to have hired out or sold his slaves. Mary Anna Jackson, in her 1895 memoir, said, "our servants … without the firm guidance and restraint of their master, the excitement of the times proved so demoralizing to them that he deemed it best for me to provide them with good homes among the permanent residents." Virginia law forbade teaching a slave, free black or mulatto to read or write, as enacted following Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion in Southampton County in 1831. Nevertheless, Jackson secretly taught a slave to write. Once literate, the young slave fled to Canada via the underground railroad. Little as Thomas Jackson was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, he was revered by many of the African-Americans in town, both slaves and free blacks and was instrumental in the organization and funding in 1855 of Sunday School classes for blacks at the Presbyterian Church. His second wife, Mary Anna Jackson, taught these classes with her husband, as "he preferred that my labors should be given to the colored children, believing that it was more important and useful." The pastor, Dr. William Spottswood White, described the relationship between Jackson and his Sunday afternoon students: "In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind. … His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. … He was emphatically the black man’s friend." He addressed his students by name and they in turn referred to him affectionately as "Marse Major."
The "Stonewall Brigade", consisted of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia Infantry regiments. All of these units were from the Shenandoah Valley …