A Compelling Voice in the Lee/Jackson Day Debate

As Lee/Jackson Day approached this year, a number of my fellow bloggers wrote passionately about the subject.  Some even wrote petitions in an attempt to either scrap or preserve the celebration in the commonwealth.  Although I didn’t write a post on my page concerning the topic, I did offer some brief thoughts.  As both Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson fought on behalf of our home of Virginia, risking their lives, their honour, and their fortunes, I believe that such an effort should be remembered and celebrated.  Yesterday morning, I found in article in my local paper, the Daily News Record, which presents a convincing argument in favor of the day.  Even though most of you do not get the DNR, I didn’t want you to miss out.  After a bit of email correspondence last night, I am pleased to present that article here.  I hope you enjoy it as I did.

Lee, Jackson Share Common Ground With King
By Luanne Austin “The Rural Pen”

As a tender young Yankee being educated in public schools as required by the State of New York, all I knew of the Civil War was that we (the North) were against the enslavement of blacks and they (the South) were for it.

On Long Island, my fellow residents and I had no reminders of the war. There were no battlefields or dead heroes among us.

In my 30 years of living in the Shenandoah Valley, I have learned much of this period in our nation’s history and have come to think of it as the War of Northern Aggression. For I believe Virginia’s two great Confederate generals fought passionately, not for slavery, but to defend their homes.

Today is Lee-Jackson Day in Virginia, a legal holiday honoring these men, followed on Monday with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Lee’s devotion to God is well known. “No day should be lived unless it was begun with a prayer of thankfulness and an intercession for guidance,” he said.

Though Northern troops wreaked destruction on the South – its towns, farms and homes – Lee refused to retaliate in kind. When it was suggested that he do so, he responded, “I cannot hope that Heaven will prosper our cause when we are violating its laws. I shall, therefore, carry on the war in Pennsylvania without offending the sanctions of a high civilization and of Christianity.”

Though a slave owner, Lee knew slavery was wrong. His defense of the South had nothing to do with defending slavery. He wrote, “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country,” and said, “If the slaves of the South were mine, I would surrender them all without a struggle to avert the war.”

Indeed, in his letter to Lt. General Winfield Scott dated April 20, 1861, Lee resigned from the U.S. Army, stating, “Save in defence of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword.”

Of Jackson’s faith, his friend Harvey Hill remarked, “I never knew anyone whose reverence for Deity was so all pervading and who felt so completely his entire dependence upon God.”

One year after the death of his wife and firstborn son, Jackson started a Sunday school for the slaves who attended his church in Lexington. In the book, “All Things for Good,” author J. Steven Wilkins writes that in the fall of 1855, Lexington Presbyterian Church had 318 members, 11 of whom were slaves. Soon after the class got going, Jackson had more than 100 students enrolled.

When the war became imminent, Jackson said, “People who are anxious to bring on war don’t know what they are bargaining for.”

It’s so fitting that we celebrate the lives of these men today, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. One hundred years after the Uncivil War, the rights of blacks were fought for in a civil war by a man who heard clearly from God.

“God is a living God,” said King. “In him there is feeling and will, responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart: this God both evokes and answers prayers.”

King’s strategy of nonviolent resistance is unparalleled in America’s short history. However, King’s battle was no less daring or dangerous than Lee and Jackson’s. He was arrested and jailed numerous times. His home was bombed twice, his family received death threats daily, and he was the victim of a near-fatal stabbing. Ultimately, he died for what he believed in.

Still, he won. We all won.

If only his method had won, too.

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at www.RuralPen@aol.com or care of the DN-R.