The Burden of Being Presbyterian

From a recent review of Stonewall Jackson’s biography (thanks to our federal capital’s correspondent):

Though Jackson’s soldiers were in awe of him, he was a camp-and-battlefield tyrant who arrested and court-martialed subordinates for the slightest disappointment of his expectations. J. William Jones, an army chaplain and biographer of Robert E. Lee, believed that Jackson “probably put more officers under arrest than all others of our generals combined.” In August 1862, Jackson put a brigadier-general and five regimental commanders under arrest after discovering that some of their men had purloined, for firewood, a few rails from “a certain worm-fence at a little distance.”

But Jackson was also, for all his maniacal furies, a man of unusually intense Christian piety. James Power Smith, a member of Jackson’s staff, recalled that he “was that rare man . . . to whom religion was everything.” Beverley Tucker Lacy, a Presbyterian minister who served as a chaplain-at-large for Jackson’s troops, remembered that Jackson thought “every act of man’s life should be a religious act,” even “washing, clothing, eating.” Religion opened up in Jackson what amounted to a different personality. His prayers were “unlike his common quick & stern emphasis,” Lacy recorded. They were “tender, soft, pleading” and full of “confession of unworthiness.” He prayed with a self-effacement that carried “the doctrine of predestination to the borders of positive fatalism.”

One part Tim Bayly, one part John Piper.

Yowza.

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38 thoughts on “The Burden of Being Presbyterian

  1. Looks good:

    Book Review: ‘Rebel Yell’ by S.C. Gwynne
    In the hard-bitten culture of the U.S. Army, praying soldiers were shunned and professionally unrewarded.
    Allen C. Guelzo
    Sept. 26, 2014 4:48 p.m. ET
    56 COMMENTS
    Study in Gray
    Thomas Jackson,

    ca. 1862
    Thomas Jackson, ca. 1862 © CORBIS
    When she heard that “Stonewall” Jackson had died in Virginia at the midpoint of the Civil War, Martha Ann Haskins wrote in her diary: “I felt as miserable as if I could shut myself in some dark place where I could see no one and there cry, weep, mourn until the war was over.” At the time, Haskins was a 16-year-old schoolgirl far away in Tennessee, but her wail of mourning was anything but solitary. Jackson’s death occasioned an outpouring of grief throughout the South.

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    Little wonder, given Jackson’s legendary feats on the battlefield. But the man who occasioned such grief was a bundle of contradictions, and some of his most striking qualities were far from flattering. By all accounts he was a very unsocial man, who (according to his staffer Henry Kyd Douglas ) “kept himself always very much apart.” At the dinner table, he was “as grave as a signpost” and any staffer who ventured to tell “some little jokes” had to be sure they were “very plain ones for him to see them.”

    Though Jackson’s soldiers were in awe of him, he was a camp-and-battlefield tyrant who arrested and court-martialed subordinates for the slightest disappointment of his expectations. J. William Jones, an army chaplain and biographer of Robert E. Lee, believed that Jackson “probably put more officers under arrest than all others of our generals combined.” In August 1862, Jackson put a brigadier-general and five regimental commanders under arrest after discovering that some of their men had purloined, for firewood, a few rails from “a certain worm-fence at a little distance.”

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    REBEL YELL

    By S.C. Gwynne
    Scribner, 672 pages, $35

    But Jackson was also, for all his maniacal furies, a man of unusually intense Christian piety. James Power Smith, a member of Jackson’s staff, recalled that he “was that rare man . . . to whom religion was everything.” Beverley Tucker Lacy, a Presbyterian minister who served as a chaplain-at-large for Jackson’s troops, remembered that Jackson thought “every act of man’s life should be a religious act,” even “washing, clothing, eating.” Religion opened up in Jackson what amounted to a different personality. His prayers were “unlike his common quick & stern emphasis,” Lacy recorded. They were “tender, soft, pleading” and full of “confession of unworthiness.” He prayed with a self-effacement that carried “the doctrine of predestination to the borders of positive fatalism.”

    This piety made an odd man odder still, since the profession Jackson had chosen for himself did not, at the time, look favorably on soldiers fiddling with religion. Jackson was a West Point graduate (Class of 1846) and fought with well-noticed valor as a junior officer in the Mexican War. But in the hard-bitten atmosphere of the Army, praying soldiers were often socially shunned and professionally unrewarded. Jackson, though, rose to a generalship: From the time he was given independent command of a minor Confederate field army in July 1861 until his death in May 1863, he managed to execute some of the most extraordinary military operations in American history.

    S.C. Gwynne, a longtime editor and writer for Texas Monthly, has an eye for outlier characters. His “Empire of the Summer Moon” (2010) featured Quanah Parker, the mixed-race chief who was the last of the Comanches to surrender to federal military authority but who also became a successful rancher and the founder of the peyote cult. In “Rebel Yell,” Mr. Gwynne’s easy, loping style wraps itself effortlessly around the particulars of Stonewall Jackson’s life, from his back-of-the-mountain upbringing to the outburst of military genius in the Civil War. The result is a narrative vivid with detail and insight but so frankly admiring that few of Jackson’s foibles pass without rationalization and few of his failures without excuse.

    Jackson was born in 1824, descended from two convicts who had been transported as indentured servants to America in the 1750s. His luckless lawyer-father died in 1826; his mother re-married to a useless low-life, and the boy was farmed out to his father’s relatives, rough mill-owners in the western Virginia mountains. “He was not disposed to talk much of his childhood and youth,” remembered his future wife, Mary Anna Morrison, “for the reason that it was the saddest period of his life.”

    The way out of the mountains led through West Point, where a distant kinsman got Jackson an appointment in 1842. He arrived “dressed in homespun, a hat of coarse felt on his head”—and possessing a “terrible earnestness” to succeed. The Mexican War broke out just as Jackson was graduating, and he saw in it nothing but opportunity. “I really envy you men who have been in action,” he told another officer, “I want to be in one big battle.” He got his wish at Chapultepec on Sept. 13, 1847, when his battery section was caught in the open and Jackson continued to serve the gun even when all but one of his crew had been killed or driven to cover. Chapultepec won him the personal commendation of Army commander Winfield Scott.

    The postwar years were less happy for Jackson. He quarreled with his commanding officer at Fort Meade, and when a position at the Virginia Military Institute opened up, he resigned from the Army to become an instructor. He married in 1853, only to have his wife die in childbirth. His habits in diet, health and manner became ever more eccentric, though he managed to re-marry quite happily in 1857.

    By now, the entire nation was becoming consumed in the toxic run-up to the Civil War, and Jackson found himself, as a slaveowner, torn between his strong Union feeling and his anxiety that “the Free States” were determined to override the states’ rights “which the fair interpretation of the Constitution . . . guarantees us.” When Virginia joined the Confederacy in April 1861, Jackson first served as a drillmaster and was then soon promoted to colonel. By July, he had been promoted still further, to brigadier general, and had taken charge of a Virginia brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run. His brigade’s defiant stand earned him the nickname “Stonewall” (“there stands Jackson like a stone wall,” cried one Confederate general), and the nickname became Jackson’s banner.

    But he was only beginning his rise to fame. In 1862, with less than 20,000 ragged rebel infantry, Jackson defeated three separate Union armies in five lightning battles in the Shenandoah Valley and derailed the great Union campaign against Richmond. He struck fiercely, swiftly, as though he had read the minds of his opponents and could anticipate their every bewildered response. Later that summer he bloodied another Union army at Cedar Mountain and helped his admiring commander, Robert E. Lee, trap and smash another Union force at the Second Bull Run. He then went on to capture Harpers Ferry and bag more than 12,000 Union prisoners. He was key to Confederate survival at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg and commanded the crushing blow that collapsed the Union Army at Chancellorsville and sent it fleeing for the fords of the Rappahannock River.

    All of this Mr. Gwynne narrates in fine style. His description of Jackson’s actions at Second Bull Run, in August 1862, is probably the finest short account of that battle on offer. But there are many respects in which Mr. Gwynne remains as baffled by Jackson’s oddities as Jackson’s contemporaries were.

    Jackson’s health obsessions were legion. He suffered from gastrointestinal pains; he was obsessed with his vision, liver, kidneys and lungs and pursued quack cures with a gullible intensity. Granted that much of this was psychosomatic, Mr. Gwynne nevertheless misses an opportunity to use these obsessions to re-create the environment of anxiety with which all 19th-century Americans surrounded themselves on the subject of disease and death.

    Mr. Gwynne appreciates more than many Jackson biographers the extraordinary administrative skills that went with Jackson’s dazzling military moves. And he clearly understands that the Union and Confederate armies were collections of part-time amateurs and that only a few officers had any experience at maneuvering large bodies of men. As a result, the Civil War’s senior generals were a timid lot. Their West Point educations (when they had one) taught them how to build fortifications, not lead troops in combat. Uncertain of how to maneuver and supply their commands, they preferred hesitation and caution lest their undisciplined cohorts fall apart.

    Not Jackson—which raises the compelling question of what made him so different. Nothing in his West Point education distinguished him from his counterparts. Was his rapid rise to prominence in the Civil War merely a matter of good timing, pitting him against unusually incompetent Union generals like Nathaniel Banks ( Shenandoah), John Pope (Second Bull Run) and Joseph Hooker (Chancellorsville)? Or did he possess a special genius that the Civil War had suddenly revealed?

    John Esten Cooke, a writer who served in the Confederate army, thought that Jackson’s battles would be studied in the future “as the campaigns of Caesar and Napoleon are studied—as the recorded work of a master in the art of war.” One modern commentator, A. Wilson Greene, has summed-up Jackson’s greatness in six parts: “deception and secrecy; celerity on the march; strong discipline; decisiveness in combat; belief in total victory; and personal bravery and modesty.” James I. Robertson, author of the magisterial “Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend” (1997), praises the Shenandoah Valley campaign as “a strategic masterpiece.” Jackson himself was simpler: “I always have one single, simple opinion . . . and that is to attack the enemy wherever we find him.”

    Others, however, have not been so sure that this formula necessarily translated into greatness. After Jackson’s death, the London Times suggested that Jackson “was not a great strategist” but did have a knack for solving immediate battlefield problems. Jackson’s performance during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, in which he marched in the wrong direction and loitered with unusual passivity out of reach of the fighting, has always been a puzzle. Mr. Gwynne, like many of Jackson’s partisans, blames it on poorly written orders from Robert E. Lee and a lamentable let-down by local guides. Robert G. Tanner, who wrote the finest overall study of Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah campaign, “Stonewall in the Valley” (1976), wondered whether Jackson’s victories were worth the toll they exacted from his own men. Peter Cozzens, in “Shenandoah 1862” (2008), noticed how, under the whip of Jackson’s march-or-die demands, “nearly a third of his force melted away during the campaign.” Jackson tended “to feed his army into battle piecemeal” and so caused “unnecessarily high losses and prolonged some contests longer than was warranted.”

    Mr. Gwynne, however, is much more protective of Jackson. On the whole, he presents Jackson’s military prowess as largely the by-product of a well-managed secrecy and deception and an unrelenting aggressiveness. He implies that if Jackson erred by too much aggression—for instance, by his clangorous urging that the Confederate army take the war into the North, burning a path if necessary all the way to Lake Erie—the Confederacy’s slim chances gave Jackson little choice but to take great risks.

    A more nagging question, not sufficiently explored in “Rebel Yell,” concerns Jackson’s religion and what it might have led him to do had not the skirmishers of the 16th North Carolina mistook him for the enemy after dark at Chancellorsville, Va., in May 1863, and inflicted the three gunshot wounds that helped kill him. (Strictly speaking, he died of pneumonia.) Mr. Gwynne understands that Jackson’s eccentricities were, in part, emblems of an inner struggle between his unhallowed ambition and genuine piety. But he is not as discerning about the direction in which those anxieties were tending.

    After the South’s secession, Jackson was clearly disappointed that the Confederacy had not seized the chance to re-construct an explicitly Christian nation. “I am afraid that our people are looking to the wrong source for help,” Jackson complained to his pastor. “If we fail to trust in God & to give him all the glory our cause is ruined.”

    But apart from a brief allusion to God in the new Confederate constitution, the Confederate government did no more than the U.S. Constitution to legalize the recognition of Christianity. Jackson hoped to find in evangelical Christianity a form of virtue that could govern public order in the Confederacy in the way it governed his private life. “It was his earnest desire,” wrote Jackson’s chief of staff and personal theologian, Robert Lewis Dabney, that “the people of the Confederate States . . . should recognize the rights of God more distinctly, and that the Christian Church should put forth more saving power in society.”

    No wonder, then, that Jackson turned such ferocious energies against the Yankee armies: They threatened the opportunity to install a new Christian order in an independent Confederacy. “I myself see in this war, if the North triumph, a dissolution of the bonds of all society,” Jackson wrote in 1862.

    Although the conventional wisdom holds that religion made Stonewall Jackson a repressive personality, his Calvinistic Presbyterianism in fact acted permissively on him, allowing him to advocate all-out war on his subordinates as much as on the Yankees. According to Lacy, Jackson’s most “often speculated topic was: ‘Duty ours, consequences God’s.’ ” Religion made him the domineering soldier he was, not because it forced him to inhumane policies but because it gave a man who was, in private, humane, shy and gentle the permission he needed to pursue them.

    It’s worth wondering whether, had a bullet cut down Robert E. Lee rather than Thomas Jonathan Jackson at Chancellorsville, Jackson might have succeeded in making the Army of Northern Virginia over into the “converted army” he told Lacy he desired and then using it to march on the centers of power and install a Christian government.

    But it was not to be and probably could never have been. Southerners mourned Jackson’s death, but in the postwar years the apostles of the Lost Cause found greater ease in making Robert E. Lee—the genteel aristocrat and mild-mannered Episcopalian—into the model Confederate soldier, a public personality far less relentless than that of Thomas Jonathan Jackson.

    —Mr. Guelzo is the author, most recently, of “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.”

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  2. But, Curt, there were plenty of more staid believers in its defense (and hedonists opposed). Don’t be so quick to use your favored political hobby horse to impugn.

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  3. Curt, Jackson thought “every act of man’s life should be a religious act.”

    Where else aside from OldLife do you hear a challenge to that conception? In fact, you are just as bad as Jackson since you can’t isolate notions of social justice from teachings about redemption.

    Look in the mirror.

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  4. I have thought that Jackson, for all his admirable courage, seemed to be more of a fatalist than a Calvinist. Riding on horseback behind his troops calmly while bullets whizzed by, he thought God would protect him regardless of what he did. Advised not to go out on patrol at night at Chancellorsville, he insisted and was shot by his own sentry. Contrast the story of his chaplain, Dabney, who was seen behind a large tree as bullets were whizzing by. The soldiers teased him later about why he didn’t believe God would protect him, and he retorted something like, “God did protect me, he planted that oak tree right there.”

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  5. Jackson also confused his role in war with Joshua’s etc. It was a crusade or holy war in his mind. Not because of slavery. He seemed to have a view that it was legal and therefore the divinely ordained order of things, at least for the present, although he taught a Bible class to slaves before the war. Like Lee, once the invasion was threatened, Jackson was ready to fight.

    Too bad Meredith Kline was not around to teach Southern Presbyterians and Northern abolitionists that they weren’t living in a theocracy. Maybe they could have negotiated a better solution over time instead of believing that the nation needed to be cleansed of evil by war.

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  6. DougH,

    Kline was there, sort of, in the spirit of Stuart Robinson:

    “The preacher’s business in the pulpit is to make Christians; and not free-soilers, Maine law men, statesmen, historians, or social philosophers. Are Bible principles never to be applied to the correction of the social evils of the day? …only so far as God applies them in the Bible, no farther. A minister does not cease to be a citizen and patriot because he has become a minister, but when he appears in the pulpit, he appears not as a citizen, but as God’s herald. …The importance of the soul’s redemption is transcendent. All social evils, all public and national ends, sink into trifles beside it.”

    “I have simply contended, first, on the highest doctrinal grounds that the church had no function touching such political questions, and violated fundamentally, her great charter in meddling with them. And secondly, on the grounds of the highest Christian expediency, that the church sinned enormously in thus driving from her ordinances and influences into infidelity and Popery ten millions of the people to whom she has been commissioned to preach the gospel.” (letter to President Lincoln)

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  7. I sincerely hope Harry Reeder, Steve Wilkins, and Douglas Wilson are reading this.

    I also recall an account from a Civil War era slave who watched her ‘missus’ pray and read scripture all morning long, and then when she arose from her piety, she beat her slaves with the rod.

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  8. About Curt in about 100 years –

    And that piety led him to buy goods from companies that used overseas slave-like labor to produce it’s goods?

    Curt today – but but but but…

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  9. One need not agree with all of Jackson’s piety to admire the sincerity of his faith, practical trust in God, and ready obedience to duty. He lived in a Presbyterian world that at the same time staunch in conviction yet changed by the two Awakenings. He may have tended to fatalism which is not uncommon among Calvinistic men (such was my faither), but he did not so much think God would protect him as the God ordered his life. He said, “My faith teaches me to feel as safe on the battlefiled as in my bed.” When he asked his pastor if if should pray in the Prayer meeting and was told he should, he asked to be called on. When he was called on, he was so nervous he made a botch of it. The pastor resolved not to call on his again, but Jackson insisted that, if he had a duty to engage in public prayer, then the pastot should contintue to call on him, which the pastor did. He had a wonderful application of “pray without ceasing” saying that when he took a drink of water he gave thanks for it and when he put a letter in the mail he prayed for the recipient. When his wife told him he was going to die and aske if he were reconciled to it, he said, “I prefer it.” No Southerner is unmoved by his last words, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”Jackson and Lee are heroes of mine and have been since boyhood, and you’ll not take my heroes from me by pointing out the obvious – that they were flawed, as are we all. At the same time it is hard for us, more flawed perhaps than they, to believe that they were men of sincere faith, Christian gentlemen, and brave.

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  10. I have ancestors who put on gray, but my sympathies are blue, and we do have a blue connection, also. I wonder many times if the southern Presbyterian Church of that time was confused about covenants, and were emphasizing the Sinai covenant (which would support slavery, people/nations bowing to Israel, or types of Israel – CSA). I am not a scholar on these issues, but I have seen the sermon texts which justify the white superiority over the slaves, and how ‘blessed’ the slaves were for being delivered out of Africa and it’s paganism and Islam. That type of thinking is Sinai language any way you slice it. But still, I have great respect for the men of honor in the conflict, on both sides. Some were fighting with the hope that they (the gray) could one day free their slaves, and some grays, (many, most, probably) were fighting to protect their homes and families. Still, the South was wrong – in principle. It’s such an important event in American history, and should always be studied, visited, and revisited for the lessons it can teach us for now and for the future.

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  11. The obvious ‘elephant in the room’ was that the South was fighting to retain their economic engine of
    ‘King Cotton’ – which, like the fibers in a rope – required slave labor. But I do think that many southerners were fighting for different reasons,too. Yes, state’s rights also, but that was another fiber of the ‘rope’.

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  12. Catton’s Stillness at Appomattox, I’m told on good authority, is worth it. I listened to this of his, on my commute, maybe 5 years ago. Civil war history is indeed fascinating. That’s all I got.

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  13. Thanks AB – really appreciate it! I’ll be sure to look it up. It is an important event that deserves intense research and scholarship.

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  14. It was Jim:

    An aerospace engineer now retired from Lockheed, Jim enjoys classical and American folk music, Civil War history books, and mystery novels (particularly Agatha Christie).

    who told me about Catton. I’m told I have developed crushes on OPC elders, so watch out. Don’t know your story (reformed, you are? I imagine so), but glad you hang around the bar.
    peace.

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  15. I, being from NW FL am indeed a Cracker. I Virginian? Don’t think so. As for the burden of being Presbyterian y’all might consider Gardiner Spring, he of the infamous Resolution and of the Distinguishing Traits. Might try reading that work this afternoon for your comfort and joy. Reading all these comments confirms me tendency to attach the usual adjective to “Yankee.” And, as Stonewall, was wont to say. “Give ’em the bayonet, boys!’

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  16. Thank you Bill, I’m honored! Definitely, though, I will concede that the South had the style! The Union blues were just modest government issue…..

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  17. Appreciate it AB – yes, I am Reformed and I do enjoy hanging around the bar here! Another Landshark, please…….

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  18. Bill, have you not noticed that some born, bred, and buttered Yanks have here tried to stand up to other ones in their self-righteousness? Whatever their weaknesses, I thought southerners were bred with a courtesy that recognized friends when they saw them.

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  19. Southerners are not monolithic, Steve. I don’t agree that “Still, the South was wrong – in principle.” I think the South had much the better of the Constitutional and historical argument. If a state voluntarily agreed to join the Union it seems reasonable it could disassociate itself. Then, the South did not make war on the North; the North made war on the South by invading it. Shelby Foote tells the story of a Northern soldier who asked a Southern soldier, “Why are you fighting?” and the Southerner replied, “Because y’all are down here.” On the two occasions when the South invaded the North (Antietam and Gettysburg) the South did so to try force negotiation that would lead to its independence, not for the purpose of conquering and occupying territory. On the other hand the North’s invasion of the South was to conquer and occupy, and Sherman made war on civilians and their homes. The South wanted simply to be let alone. Rather it got invaded and occuppied and to this day lives under laws that apply only to it. The whole country got from it a powerful central government. I can and have criticized the South. I hate the indirection and smiling while backstabbing that is so prominent among Presbyterians in MS. But, in the end these are my people.

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  20. Thanks Bill; what is so curious, though, is that so many southerners say that the Civil War was the ‘War of Northern Aggression’, and yet, the very same lay claim to starting the conflict/firing the first shot.

    http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/life/2014/04/18/winter-building-witnessed-historic-downtown-events/7892075/

    I do respect your views tremendously, and most of all, theologically, we are very close indeed, as your thoughts seem to be solidly Old Side/Old School.

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  21. Bill, neither are Yanks monolithic, which was my only point. Some of us are sympathetic to your points (even if a bit anachronistic) and aren’t wild about others in our ranks throwing slavery in your face from high upon their horse at every opportunity (hi, Curt) . Surely we aren’t all to be damned head for head?

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  22. Southern Bill, Edward Everett isn’t going to take your rebel sympathies without retaliatory verse: “Is there not some hidden curse,/Some chosen thunder in the stores of heaven,/Red with uncommon wrath to blast the man/that seeks his greatness in his country’s ruin?” (1862)

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  23. Bill,

    I appreciate you, my friend, and have read your blog with great interest and am so thankful to know of you and your ministry. I wish you were still in the PCA, but I do understand.

    I know the Civil War discussions are ongoing, and there is so much to mine out of the event. I’m afraid that for a season of time anyway, the importance of the Civil War as a study and national memory is going to be lost for a generation(s) or until our nation is able to define itself. This would be a tragedy.

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  24. Semper Reformanda,
    I appreciate your comments. Part of the issue of dealing with Civil War discussions is parsing through “the Lost Cause” arguments which amount in some cases to diatribe instead of historical arguments. For a gentle response to Bill Smith, whom I also respect enormously, I recommend a book by a former Hillsdale College prof, Thomas Krannawitter, “Vindicating Lincoln.”

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  25. Years ago I owned (and listened to) a Christ Church Moscow history conference tape set that included a Steve Wilkins lecture on Stonewall Jackson. I enjoyed it. Those conferences were pretty interesting. I think I remember a talk on Mencken of all people.

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  26. Doug H – Advised not to go out on patrol at night at Chancellorsville, he insisted and was shot by his own sentry.

    Erik – The same fate as Douglas C. Neidermeyer in Vietnam…

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  27. For a 21st century military role model I prefer Dick Winters as portrayed by Damian Lewis in “Band of Brothers”. One of the best roles in one of the best things ever recorded on film.

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  28. Richard,

    Thanks for your kind reply on the Civil War and mutual respect for Bill – he is tremendous. I so appreciate the referral on the book also. I would like to look into that. Sorry I am late posting, but work started again and it’s been full-tilt.

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