General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier, by Judith Brockenbrough McGuire, Chapter 12

General Robert E. Lee, The Christian Soldier


THE fighting was continued for three days longer, and on the 5th of May General Lee reported to President Davis: “We have reoccupied Fredericksburg, and no enemy remains south of the Rappahannock, or in its vicinity.”

The campaign was over, but the victory was too dearly won. General Jackson died of pneumonia, the result of his wounds, on Sunday, the 10th of May.

On the 7th, General Lee had issued an address to the army, appointing Sunday, the 10th, as a day for the troops to unite in returning thanks to God for the victory. His words were, “While this glorious victory entitles you to the praise and gratitude of the nation, we are especially called upon to return our grateful thanks to the only Giver of victory for the signal deliverance He has wrought. It is therefore earnestly recommended that the troops unite on Sunday next in ascribing unto the Lord of Hosts the glory due unto His name.” Then he communicates to the army the following letter from President Davis, as an expression of his appreciation of the victory:

I have received your dispatch, and reverently unite with you in giving praise to God for the success with which He has crowned our arms. In the name of the people, I offer my cordial thanks to the troops under your command for their addition to the unprecedented series of great victories which our army has achieved. The universal rejoicing caused by this happy result will be mingled with a general regret for the good and the brave who are numbered among the killed and wounded.

While the army was engaged in returning thanks for the victory, and doubtlessly praying, earnestly praying, for the restoration of “Lee’s great lieutenant,” of whom he was wont to speak as his “right arm,” the redeemed spirit of General Jackson winged its way to the bosom of the God who gave it, to the Saviour who redeemed it, and to the Holy Spirit who sanctified it. He “walked with God, and was not; for God took him.” The nation wept and mourned for him, rind could not be comforted.

The personal relations between Lee and Jackson had been of the most friendly character; their admiration for each other was without the blemish of selfishness; each accorded to the other the praise due him. The dazzling fame of Jackson did not disturb the great soul of Lee. He rejoiced in it as a blessing to his country.

“Say to General Jackson,” he said to a young staff officer who came with a message, “that he knows just as well what to do with the enemy as I do.”

The tone of the messages sent by him, when Jackson lay wounded, were both affectionate and familiar, showing the feeling that existed between them. “Give him my affectionate regards, and tell him to make haste and get well, and come back to me as soon as he can. He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”

When it became reported that the wound might prove fatal, Lee was greatly shocked, and exclaimed with deep feeling, “Surely General Jackson must recover! God will not take him from us, now that we need him so much. Surely he will be spared to us in answer to the many prayers which are offered for him.”

Then pausing in deep emotion, he added, after a silence of some moments, to the young officer who made the sad communication to him:

When you return, I trust you will find him better. When a suitable season offers, give him my love, and tell him I wrestled in prayer for him last night as I never prayed, I believe, for myself.

In a day or two, it became necessary for him to issue a general order, which must have caused him one of the bitterest pangs of which his heart was capable. It was as follows:

With deep grief, the Commanding General announces to the army the death of Lieutenant-General T. J. Jackson, who expired on the 10th instant, at a quarter past three P.M. The daring skill and energy of this great and good soldier, by the decree of an all-wise Providence, are now lost to us. But while we mourn his death, we feel that his spirit lives, and will inspire the army with his indomitable courage and unshaken confidence in God as our hope and strength. Let his name be a watchword to his corps, who have followed him to victory in so many fields. Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in defence of our beloved country.

R. E. LEE.

That the sentiments of Lee for Jackson were fully reciprocated by Jackson, there can be no doubt. He regarded him rot only as a great soldier, but as a good Christian; and his love and admiration for him were known by his friends to be almost unbounded. He was always the warm defender against those who found fault with Lee; for even he could not in all respects escape calumny.

He was once spoken of, before General Jackson, as being “slow.” In a moment he became indignant, and exclaimed, “General Lee is not ‘slow.’ No one knows the weight upon his heart—his great responsibilities. He is commander-in-chief; and he knows that if an army is lost, it cannot be replaced. No! there may be some persons whose good opinion of me may make them attach some weight to my views; and if you ever hear that said of General Lee, I beg you will contradict it in my name. I have known General Lee for five-and-twenty years. He is cautious. He ought to be. But he is not ‘slow.’ Lee is a phenomenon. He is the only man whom I would follow blindfold.

Soon after the battle of Chancellorsville, General Lee determined again to cross the Potomac; and by the 1st of June he was ready for the advance. His masterly strategy in less than two weeks drew the Federal army from the Rappahannock to the upper Potomac; and he was now preparing to cross into Maryland, and thence to Pennsylvania. This movement led to the disastrous, but bravely fought battle of Gettysburg. The account of the battle does not belong to this little volume; but we love to dwell on the humanity and kindness exercised by General Lee and his officers during the march through the enemy’s country. Strict orders were issued to the men to respect private property; and the fidelity with which the guards discharged their duty is shown by a biographer of General Lee in a single instance. “A trooper, with a half-starved horse, keeping watch over a wheat-field, prevented his own horse from cropping the grain.”

“No burning homestead,” said the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, –illumined his march; no shivering and helpless children were turned out of their homes to witness their destruction by the torch. With him all the rules of civilized war, having the higher sanction of God, were strictly observed.”

A Northern correspondent of the day spoke of it in praise. “It must be confessed, that though there were over sixty acres of wheat, and eighty of oats and corn in the same field, it was most carefully protected; and the horses were picketed so that it could not be injured. No fences were wantonly destroyed; poultry was not disturbed; nor did the soldiers our blooded cattle so much as to test the quality of a steak or roast.”

Many of the troops were very restive under these orders.

“My fingers itched,” said a plain soldier, “just to burn down two houses, one to pay for my own, and the other for my brother’s home that the Yankees burnt on Mississippi River, but Mass Bob said I must n’t, and so I did n’t.”

A Southern newspaper at the time seemed to partake of the same feeling, and remarked sarcastically, “General Lee becomes irate at the robbing of a cherry-tree, and if he sees that the top rail of a fence has been thrown down, he will dismount and replace it with his own hands.”

He issued an order while at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in which he expresses to the troops the “marked satisfaction with which he has observed their conduct during their march,” and warns them that the “duties required by civilization and Christianity are as obligatory in the enemy’s country as our own.” . . . “It must be remembered,” he continued, “that we make war only on armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemy, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove vain. The Commanding General, therefore, earnestly exhorts the troops to abstain, with most scrupulous care, from unnecessary or wanton injury to private property; and he enjoins upon all officers to arrest and bring to summary punishment all who shall in any way offend against the orders on the subject.”

None but a Christian could have issued such an order under such circumstances. He had been robbed of his property; had seen his invalid wife and young daughters refugees from the beautiful home of their inheritance; had seen the down-trodden fields and burning dwellings of his own State; had heard the wail of woe from the captive cities of the far South; and while his heart burned within him at the wrongs of his people, by the grace of God, he was enabled to rise nobly above human nature and by his example to exalt the army above the feelings which would have prompted them to lay waste and to destroy, and to return in full measure, the ills which had been inflicted on them. None but one born of the Spirit, Heaven-taught and Heaven-directed, could have exercised such Christian forbearance.

The old question, Is it right in the sight of God? naturally arose to his mind, and decided his course here, as it had done through his whole life; and he went on through the rich valleys of Pennsylvania, not to victory over the troops of the enemy,—that was denied him there,—but exercising that victory over evil, that power of ruling his own spirit and the spirits of other men, which proved him to be far “greater than he that taketh a city.”

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