You might have heard of him by the nickname “Stonewall,” but his real name was Thomas Jonathan Jackson. He was only 37 years old when he began his Civil War experience as a major for his native state of Virginia. Two years later he was dead, but during that 24-month period this quiet Presbyterian had caught the imagination of men so firmly that even today his principles and methods are the admiration of soldiers everywhere. His name of Stonewall was won during the heat of battle and will linger with him as long as history books tell the story of the Civil War. The name evokes the qualities of a great defensive militarist, while actually Jackson made his mark as a brilliant master of the surprise attack.
When Jackson reported for duty with the Confederate forces in 1861, he was little known outside his home town of Lexington, Virginia. He had performed well in the Mexican War 14 years earlier, but had been a very young officer of 22 years of age and had not yet had much opportunity to be a commander of men. The people of Lexington had no unusual esteem for Jackson as he left to join the Confederate forces but he advanced rapidly from the rank of major all the way to lieutenant general in a series of rapid promotions during the two-year period. This was remarkable, because his experience was so limited.
Stonewall quickly showed that he had unusual abilities for leadership and an astute knack for doing the unexpected. He kept the Union boys befuddled with his imaginative attacks and maneuvers. He swept into the war with a cool know-how that bred confidence and loyalty from the men under his command. He had a never-ending supply of fertile ideas and plans that resulted in repeated tactical successes against the larger forces of Union Soldiers.
In May of 1863, General Jackson was engaged in the rugged Battle of Chancellorsville. After a day of extraordinary achievement, he was returning with a staff of his officers from a reconnaissance in the direction of the Union Army’s shattered right wing. Suddenly a volley from his own ranks poured into the horsemen. Cruel but mistaken bullets from his own men tore into the General’s right hand and smashed his left arm from elbow to shoulder. For a little over a week he lingered between life and death; then he died.
Robert E. Lee felt that part of his own body had been taken from him. He not only had great respect for the genius of Jackson’s generalship; he had also a deep love for the man. Less than two months later the terrible loss of life and position at Gettysburg led to the long, steady decline of the Confederate struggle. What made this young soldier from Lexington rise so speedily above other Virginia officers?
Stonewall was a leader because he was close to his men. He was able to bring a sparkling degree of discipline, authority, and confidence to those he commanded. They, like the General, believed that what should be done, must be done. Somehow this praying military man had the ability to communicate forcefully to each of his men. He reached them and permitted them to reach him. He motivated them with a lifting assurance that together they could do their job and do it well. These men were proud, close and united. This was Stonewall’s secret. He was quiet, but he could say a great deal in a few words, and those who listened were on the same wave length.
Many people who don’t have the touch that Stonewall possessed stumble all over the place as they clumsily try to display authority. It is very common for people to want to be the boss and they wield all kinds of unwise dominion over those who are under them. A great many of us are sometimes guilty of mishandling the authority we possess. This might be as a parent, a teacher, an employer, or as an officer of a garden club. It is important to lead by example.
One father and mother took their two small sons on a Saturday afternoon picnic to the nearby mountains. They had a glorious time roasting hot dogs over a fire near a cold, splashing stream of water. At the end of the day everyone was happily tuckered out. When all the supplies had been packed back into the trunk of the car, the family piled in for the homeward ride. Whoops—Dad couldn’t find the keys to the car. After repeatedly searching all around and in his and Mom’s pockets, Dad began to get irritated about the possible consequences, and some pretty strong language ensued.
Little Jeff finally spoke up. “My Sunday School teacher told us to pray if we have a problem, and God will help us. Why don’t you pray? Then God will show us where the keys are.” “Well,” said Mom, trying to speak in a soothing voice, “Maybe Daddy doesn’t feel like praying right now.” “Let me pray then,” said Jeff. Well, what are you going to do when a four-and-a-half-year-old boy wants to pray? You have to let him pray.
“Heavenly Father, my Daddy has a real problem. He’s getting awfully mad and I think you better show him where those damn keys are he keeps talking about. Thanks very much.”
The keys were found in the dust under the trunk of the car. I think Daddy learned what Stonewall Jackson knew: the importance of working together with mutual respect in order to get the job done.