January is often referred to as "Generals Month" since no less than four famous Confederate Generals claimed January as their birth month: James Longstreet (Jan. 8, 1821), Robert E. Lee (Jan. 19, 1807), Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson (Jan. 21, 1824), and George Pickett (Jan. 28, 1825). Two of these men, Lee and Jackson, are particularly noteworthy.
Without question, Robert E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson were two of the greatest military leaders of all time. Even more, many military historians regard the Lee and Jackson tandem as perhaps the greatest battlefield duo in the history of warfare. If Jackson had survived the battle of Chancellorsville, it is very possible that the South would have prevailed at Gettysburg and perhaps would even have won the War Between the States.
In fact, it was Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British armies in the early twentieth century, who said, "In my opinion, Stonewall Jackson was one of the greatest natural military geniuses the world ever saw. I will go even further than that—as a campaigner in the field, he never had a superior. In some respects, I doubt whether he ever had an equal."
While the strategies and circumstances of the War of Northern Aggression can (and will) be debated by professionals and laymen alike, one fact is undeniable: Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson were two of the finest Christian gentlemen this country has ever produced. Both their character and their conduct were beyond reproach.
Unlike his northern counterpart, Ulysses S. Grant, General Lee never sanctioned or condoned slavery. Upon inheriting slaves from his deceased father-in-law, Lee immediately freed them. And according to historians, Jackson enjoyed a familial relationship with those few slaves that were in his home. In addition, unlike Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant, there is no record of either Lee or Jackson ever speaking disparagingly of the black race.
As those who are familiar with history know, General Grant and his wife held personal slaves before and during the War Between the States, and, contrary to popular opinion, even Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves of the North. They were not freed until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed after the conclusion of the war. Grant's excuse for not freeing his slaves was that "good help is so hard to come by these days."
Furthermore, it is well established that Jackson regularly conducted a Sunday School class for black children. This was a ministry he took very seriously. As a result, he was dearly loved and appreciated by the children and their parents.
In addition, both Jackson and Lee emphatically supported the abolition of slavery. In fact, Lee called slavery "a moral and political evil." He also said "the best men in the South" opposed it and welcomed its demise. Jackson said he wished to see "the shackles struck from every slave."
To think that Lee and Jackson (and the vast majority of Confederate soldiers) would fight and die to preserve an institution they considered evil and abhorrent—and that they were already working to dismantle—is the height of absurdity. It is equally repugnant to impugn and denigrate the memory of these remarkable Christian gentlemen.
In fact, after refusing Abraham Lincoln's offer to command the Union Army in 1861, Robert E. Lee wrote to his sister on April 20 of that year to explain his decision. In the letter he wrote, "With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the army and save in defense of my native state, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed . . ."
Lee's decision to resign his commission with the Union Army must have been the most difficult decision of his life. Remember that Lee's direct ancestors had fought in America's War For Independence. His father, "Light Horse Harry" Henry Lee, was a Revolutionary War hero, Governor of Virginia, and member of Congress. In addition, members of his family were signatories to the Declaration of Independence.
Remember, too, that not only did Robert E. Lee graduate from West Point "at the head of his class" (according to Benjamin Hallowell), he is yet today one of only six cadets to graduate from that prestigious academy without a single demerit.
However, Lee knew that Lincoln's decision to invade the South in order to prevent its secession was both immoral and unconstitutional. As a man of honor and integrity, the only thing Lee could do was that which his father had done: fight for freedom and independence. And that is exactly what he did.
Instead of allowing a politically correct culture to sully the memory of Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson, all Americans should hold them in a place of highest honor and respect. Anything less is a disservice to history and a disgrace to the principles of truth and integrity.
Accordingly, it was more than appropriate that the late President Gerald Ford, on August 5, 1975, signed Senate Joint Resolution 23, "restoring posthumously the long overdue, full rights of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee."
According to President Ford, "This legislation corrects a 110-year oversight of American history." He further said, "General Lee's character has been an example to succeeding generations . . ."
The significance of the lives of Generals Lee and Jackson cannot be overvalued. While the character and influence of most of us will barely be remembered two hundred days after our departure, the sterling character of these men has endured for two hundred years.
What a shame that so many of America's youth are being robbed of knowing and studying the virtue and integrity of the great General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.