I wasn’t able to find much written about religion during the War, except from the Northern point of view, and so I turned to one of my favorite characters, Stonewall Jackson. I found an interesting article about him on line, written by Stephen W. Sears, March 16, 1997, titled “Onward Christian Soldier”.
The article is about what was then a new book on Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, Professor at VPI. In discussing Jackson’s religious faith, Robertson quotes one of Jackson’s aides, James Power Smith: ”The religion of Stonewall Jackson will be the chief and most effective way into the secret spring of the character and career of this strong man.”
Robertson tells us:”Jackson was fanatical in his Presbyterian faith, and it energized his military thought and character. Theology was the only subject he genuinely enjoyed discussing. His dispatches invariably credited an ever-kind Providence. Assigning his fate to God’s hands, he acted utterly fearlessly on the battlefield — and expected the same of everyone else in Confederate gray. Jackson’s God smiled South, blessing him with the strength of Joshua to smite the Amalekites without mercy.”
Sears tells us: “Previous biographers have ignored or soft-pedaled this mercilessness in war, but Mr. Robertson underlines it as a source of Jackson’s fierce battlefield leadership.
This fanatical religiosity had drawbacks. It warped Jackson’s judgment of men, leading to poor appointments; it was said he preferred good Presbyterians to good soldiers. It branded him holier-than-thou, with an intolerance for others’ frailties, and this spilled over onto the battlefield to generate truly senseless confrontations with his lieutenants.”
One such, with General Hill, led Hill to rage at ”that crazy old Presbyterian fool” and seek to escape from Jackson’s command. Another lieutenant, reading in a Jackson dispatch that ”God blessed our arms with victory,” remarked irreverently, ”I suppose it is true, but we would have had no victory if we hadn’t fought like the devil!”
For Civil War buffs, Mr. Robertson provides plenty of debating points about Jackson’s two most-discussed campaigns — in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862 and, immediately afterward, in the Seven Days battle before Richmond. Here was Stonewall Jackson at his best, then at his worst. His.partnership with Lee reached its apogee at Chancellorsville – and then ended with shocking suddenness. Lee said it best: “I do not know how to replace him”.