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"I would bet that he would have wanted to take Baghdad in 21 hours--not 21 days."
- Michael Aubrecht

Religion, war can be a risky combination
By Michael Zitz, The Free Lance-Star
Date published: 6/25/2005 TOWN & COUNTRY

Faith and fearlessness are admirable traits. But they also can be dangerous. Both Osama bin Laden and President Bush believe they have been chosen by God to carry out his will on Earth.

A Spotsylvania County man who is the author of a book about spirituality and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson says religious conviction can become a double-edged sword in time of war.

Michael Aubrecht is the author of the 2005 book, "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" (Pinstripe Press, 75 pages, $11.95 online).

A companion volume, titled "Christian Cavalier," about Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, will be released this fall. Aubrecht is currently working on a fictional Civil War book, "Battlefield Believers," that's being illustrated by Christian artist Vicki Talley McCollum.

He lives in the Massaponax area and attends Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church.

"Religion has always played a part in every major conflict, whether for good or evil," Aubrecht said. "Faith in one's God can provide a great sense of strength and comfort to soldiers and civilians, but it can also be distorted for the justification of aggression and atrocity. It can be a blessing as well as a danger.

"I like to think that our leaders have the best of intentions and believe they are doing the right thing at the time. Sometimes this proves to be true and sometimes it doesn't."

Aubrecht said most believers feel they have a purpose, and that the meaning of life is to discover and fulfill that purpose.

"This should always be done for the betterment of mankind, but sometimes it backfires," Aubrecht said. "My own definition of 'human nature' includes mankind's innate ability to foul things up. I think one of our most important tasks is to learn from our own mistakes."

Jackson was fearless on the battlefield because he believed God had predetermined his fate.

"My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed," Jackson once said. "God has fixed the time of my death."

Aubrecht said: "On one hand, the belief that his time of death was already determined, enabled him to stand, unflinchingly, amid the chaos on the battlefield. Often, it inspired his troops to achieve victory against all odds."

But some, Aubrecht said, believe his "divine inspiration" was self-destructive and contributed greatly to Jackson's untimely demise.

"I consider Jackson as similar to George Patton in some respects," he said. "He was a ferocious warrior who preached the swift and total destruction of the enemy. Although he took no pleasure in waging war, he believed that the quickest way to end a conflict was to give no quarter to the enemy. He urged his superiors to attack when at all possible and his intentions were to cripple the opposition into surrender. Faith made him cautious, as he often depended on prayer when making decisions, but it also made him careless, as it gave him a sense of invincibility."

Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men on May 2, 1863, in the confusion at Chancellorsville.

Jackson continues to fascinate people. His story seems to have captured the public's imagination as much as any figure during the war, aside from Lincoln and Lee.

"Throughout the course of history, those that we remember are usually ordinary people who only become noteworthy due to extraordinary circumstances," Aubrecht said. "These are normal, everyday folks like you and me, who simply chose to seize a moment or rise to the occasion."

He said Jackson inspired the writing of so many books not because of his battlefield heroics but because of his complex background and personality.

"He had experienced a depressing childhood due to the unexpected deaths of his father, sister, mother and brother," Aubrecht said. "He was raised predominantly by his relatives and struggled as a young man, both academically and socially, while attending West Point."

He later lost his first wife and child.

That, combined with religious devotion, turned him into a serious and strait-laced man, and "very unpopular with his students at the Virginia Military Institute," Aubrecht said. "He was obsessive, compulsive and eccentric, but ultimately a good man."

Off the battlefield, Aubrecht said, "Jackson was probably a bit of a bore, but on it he was a passionate genius."

Aubrecht began to become fascinated with the Civil War in 1978, at age 6, when his family visited the National Military Park at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

He recalls, "feeling so small while looking up at these giant monuments of bearded men on horses." Later, while working as an essayist for, he was inspired by the film "Gods and Generals" that featured what Aubrecht characterized as "a breathtaking performance of Jackson by Stephen Lang."

"Jackson was a devout Presbyterian, and I was personally inspired by the strength of his faith," Aubrecht said. "Religion, in my opinion, was the foundation for what made him such a brilliant and fearless leader."

Aubrecht said he believes Jackson would be a far less effective general today because of 21st-century politics and political correctness.

"Let's put it this way I would bet that he would have wanted to take Baghdad in 21 hours--not 21 days," Aubrecht said.

"Much more than just a general, Thomas Jackson was a true believer," he said. "He lived every day for the fulfillment of his duty. In the end, perhaps this Christian soldier's biggest victory was not in defeating his foes on the battlefield, but in convincing others to serve both God and country.

"His is a story that reminds us what it means to be an American. More importantly, his is a story that should never be forgotten."

For more information on Jackson and Aubrecht, visit

Michael Zitz is a staff writer with The Free Lance-Star. Contact him at 540/374-5408, or mikez@freelance




Also online at:
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"The teaching of history--particularly Civil War history--should be balanced."
- Michael Aubrecht

Billy Yank and Johnny Reb both had merits.
Op-Ed by Michael Aubrecht
Date published: 6/12/2005 EDITORIAL

The other day, my father and I were discussing the volume of letters recently published in The Free Lance-Star on the Civil War and its impact on our region. This led to a friendly debate of our own--and I was reminded of how very different the War Between the States is presented depending on where you live.

At the age of 33, I've spent the first half of my life living just a few hours from Gettysburg and the last half living in Fredericksburg. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I was taught the Union's point of view, while my adult education in Virginia has focused more on the Confederacy's. Regardless of what "side" you line up on, it should bother all of us that "Rebs and Yanks" living in the same country are being intentionally skewed in their understanding of the Civil War.

In the North, "the Gray" is often portrayed as the bad guys, a bunch of barefoot, slave-owning ingrates. In the South, "the Blue" is often remembered as an evil dictatorship, hell-bent on invasion and the nullification of states' rights.

In many ways both are right, and both are wrong. Now, given the relaxed teaching standards in schools today, imagine what our kids think.

I remember in sixth grade, the Civil War took up months of our history-class curriculum. Today, it seems that many schools are glazing over the conflict in a matter of weeks. Many of the newer textbooks, for example, leave out important events and present what is left over in a very generic and politically correct manner.

This can be partially blamed on teachers who blindly use whatever lesson plan is presented to them from the book-of-the-month club.

Also, parents are at fault--as we often accept this "generic" American history (in abbreviated format) as adequate material for our children's education.

Finally, writers and historians (me included) share the guilt as we often present our own findings with a loyalist attitude.

School textbooks and lesson plans need to be written for the whole country, not just a part of it. They need to teach both sides of the war factually and equally. And they should not sit on the same shelf as books like mine. Children are an audience that can be easily influenced, and sometimes not for the better. Adults, on the other hand, can judge for themselves.

Although there is a time and place for the personalization or editorialization of history, history should (at its most rudimentary level) be presented with a fair and impartial agenda.

A good foundation must be balanced before you can build on it. That foundation starts in the classroom.

Why can't schools on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line simply present data in a clear and concise manner, and allow the individual's opinions to form later, based on a well-rounded education?

Why do we have to either ignore things like they never happened, or rewrite them as we see fit, according to our geographic location?

How do you honestly define the "bad guy" when it was brother against brother?

I don't expect every kid in America to become a Civil War buff or grow up to be a re-enactor--but I would like children to have an opportunity to learn the facts about both sides. This problem is not limited to our area, and it's not limited to the Civil War.

History depends on the recording and presentation of accurate data. Anything else is about as truthful as advertising. Nowadays, our country doesn't seem to get that.

One of the many major issues of the War Between the States revolved around equal rights--and that is the exact principle we should be practicing when teaching our kids about it. Otherwise, we are simply breeding ignorance and continuing the struggle for future generations.

Michael Aubrecht, of Spotsylvania County, is the author of "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart."


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