The Wreckers are bent on removing the statues of Stonewall Jackson along with those of General Lee. Old Jack is a poor target.
A few years ago, I signed up for a battlefield tour at Gettysburg. The night before the tour started, we heard a lecture by a military historian.
Our speaker was Dr. Richard J. Sommers, a professor of strategy at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
I was fortunate to sit next to Professor Sommers and admire his magnificent white beard.
Professor Sommers was born and raised in Chicago and went to college in Minnesota, but he earned his Ph.D. from Rice. He studied with Frank Vandiver, the author of Mighty Stonewall and many other books.
Dr. Sommers died at the age of 76 on May 14. The Army War College had named him a Distinguished Fellow in 2015. He had retired but continued to teach a course.
He made many other contributions to military history. In particular, his book RICHMOND REDEEMED: THE SIEGE AT PETERSBURG has become a classic.
The night I met him, Professor Sommers wore a large tie that featured the red battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.
“Can you get away with that tie at the Army War College?” I asked him.
“I’m just glad the war is over, and we are again a reunited people,” he said. Then he told the following story:
“Some time back, I went to Southside Virginia to speak at a black church. I walked into the sanctuary and saw, behind the pulpit, a large stained-glass window showing Stonewall Jackson on horseback advancing across the battlefield.
“‘That’s a very interesting window,’ I said to the pastor. ‘What’s the story behind that window?’
“‘We’re very proud of General Jackson in this church,’” the pastor said. ‘General Jackson taught my grandfather to read.’”
Dick Sommers spoke to the Houston Civil War Round table a year ago when he received its Vandiver Award, named for his teacher Frank Vandiver as one of the founders of the Round Table more than 60 years ago. I repeated the story to him as I had heard it. He made no change in it.
I don’t believe Dr. Sommers would mind my repeating it now that he is gone. The story tells us much about slavery and Stonewall Jackson.
Fearing slave rebellions, Virginia and other slave states had made it a crime to teach slaves to read and write. Forced illiteracy was one of the worst policies of slavery.
Jackson did not agree with that law.
Jackson had graduated from West Point and fought in the Mexican War in the 1840s. In th4e 1850s, Jackson resigned from the Army. Before the Civil War broke out, he taught physics and artillery at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.
In the meantime, Jackson had become a devout Presbyterian. He realized that Virginia law prevented slaves from reading the Bible.
Typical of Jackson, he took action. He created a Sunday school for slaves at the First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Virginia. Jackson’s school met Sunday afternoons after church.
The school was illegal. This is doubtless where the Virginia pastor’s grandfather learned to read.
Stonewall Jackson is rightly considered one of the great warriors of history. In his last triumph, the battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson and his commanding officer, General Robert E. Lee, employed a surprise flank attack to rout a Union army twice the size of Lee’s army. Chancellorsville was their greatest victory — of many.
On the first night of the battle, Jackson was making a reconnaissance in front of his lines. He led always from the front.
Returning to his lines, his own troops fired on him. He received severe wounds and was carried from the field. He lost his left arm.
Ten days later, he died.
At his death in 1863, Stonewall Jackson was an American hero, Even Union prisoners had cheered him. The North as well as the South mourned him. He was perhaps the most famous American in the world.
At Jackson’s death, the Northern historian Charles Francis Adams, Jr., wrote, “I am sure as Americans, this [Union] army takes a pride in ‘Stonewall’ second only to that of the Virginians and Confederates. To have fought against him is next to having fought under him.”
The wartime editor of the Washington Chronicle wrote, “Stonewall Jackson was a great general, a brave soldier, a noble Christian, and a pure man. May God throw these great virtues against the sins of the secessionist, the advocate of a great national crime.”
President Lincoln himself complimented this “excellent and manly” article.
History can teach much. The modern disdain for Stonewall Jackson is misplaced.