Digital Diary: Random reflections and lessons learned

By Michael Aubrecht. Stonewall Study: Principles of godly living and leadership.
Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fall, 2008.


The purpose of this online journal is to record and share my personal experiences as a course leader using the curriculum that was developed by the Good News Bible Church and based on my book “Onward Christian Soldier.” As this is the inaugural version of the course (for me) at SPC, I too am learning as I go along. I have supplemented the base curriculum with additional book readings and letter transcripts, as well as some additional multimedia to enhance the classroom experience. This course has generated some excellent feedback from the participants and I plan to post overviews of the entire course experience as it progresses. It is my sincere hope that others will use this diary and curriculum as an example in order to develop their own programs that help spread God’s glory. Beyond fellowship and scripture study, the ultimate goal of this course is to use the life and legacy of Thomas Jonathan Jackson as a character blueprint to help model our lives as Christians after.


FREE Downloadable course materials:
OCS Course Origin
Leader Study Guide (PDF) 
Attendee Study Guide (PDF)


These are raw excerpts reprinted from my blog. They will be updated weekly.


OK I admit it. I spent the better part of this weekend in the pool when I should have been finishing up some projects… I did manage to get a little work done for the upcoming study group that I am leading at Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church as part of their fall semester. This two-month course is based on a curriculum that was developed by Christian scholar James Riddle of the Good News Bible Church in New Hampshire using my first title “Onward Christian Soldier” as the base. The courseware that was developed is spectacular and other than granting permission to use my book, I had absolutely nothing to do with the product. This September I will be teaching the course myself and I am looking at finding ways to make the class ‘my own’ by adding additional materials and media. The 6-part series features an excellent Leader Guide and Attendee Workbook and the title of the published study is "Stonewall Jackson: A Life of Unconditional Faith." You can download free PDFs of the original materials above.

Mr. Riddle’s curriculum will be the foundation for the course and act as the primary material for the corresponding workbook. I also have 8-10 handouts w/ devotions from my book “The Southern Cross.” Each focuses on a different character attribute of Jackson and will be used as examples of godly living and leadership. Needless to say this course is 100% religious-based and will utilize the KJV Bible throughout. Additional portraits on the good general, such as those of Dr. Robertson, are also quoted throughout the workbook. The addition of a DVD viewing at the first class and a very special field trip at the last will extend the course from 6 to 8 weeks. The film, “Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story,” was developed by our good friend Richard Williams and Franklin Springs Family Media. This 40-min documentary will be a great introduction to both the man and the class. I also plan to use a PowerPoint on my laptop to show photos and scripture passages. Here is a brief outline and syllabus:

The Stonewall Brigade: A Study for Prayer Warriors.
Synopsis: Principles of godly living and leadership as exhibited through the life and death of ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. (SPC Men’s Ministry, Fall 2008.)

Opening-closing prayers and assigned reading (weekly)

o         Week 1: Introduction to course: Overview of Riddle curriculum, Author’s conception for book. Topic: Definition of Unconditional: Without conditions or limitations: absolute. DVD viewing “Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story.” Distribute OCS books and workbooks. (Readings: Romans and Corinthians)

o         Week 2: Thoughts from Chapter 1 (1824-1842). Question: What and who are the bases of Thomas Jackson’s Foundation? Lesson 1:  We all carry the memory of wounds we have suffered through our lives. The love we receive and the values instilled at an early age, combined with God’s healing power will determine how ugly and visible the scars that remain and how we allow them to define our character. (Readings: Psalms and Proverbs)

o         Week 3: Thoughts from Chapter 2 (1842-1851). Question: What were some of Thomas Jackson’s character trait(s) that were observed in this chapter? Lesson 2:  Be not discouraged by disappointments and difficulties, but on the contrary, let each stimulate you to greater exertions for attaining noble ends and an approving conscience at least will be your reward. (Readings: Proverbs and Joshua)

o         Week 4: Thoughts from Chapter 3 (1851-1856). Question: What do you think Stonewall meant by “To eradicate ambition”, in respect to Elinor’s death? Lesson 3: With church affiliation, Jackson underwent an instant and remarkable change. No other single event in his life equaled the impact on mind, soul and action, as did the acceptance of God through Presbyterianism. Indeed, Jackson did not accept this religion: he absorbed it --- hungrily, totally. (Readings: Revelations and Romans)

o         Week 5: Thoughts from Chapter 4 (Thomas Jackson, Prayer Warrior). Question: Recall the event where General Richard S. Ewell observed Jackson in his tent on his knees praying. “If that is religion, I must have it.” on Page 31. Lesson 4:  A most personal and valuable lesson. Do not give into your fears of public prayer and speaking. Allow God to give you the voice and confidence to honor him. (Readings: Philippians)

o         Week 6: Thoughts from Chapter 5 (1856-1861). Question 1: How should the word ‘absolute’ guide us in our conduct and activities as Christians? Question 2: What qualities should one seek in a marriage partner? Question 3: The clouds of war are gathering. Was the root cause one of slavery, states rights, a religious nature, or a combination of all? Lesson 5:  Unconditional faith and complete trust in the Lord conquers all vices, blesses us with joy and happiness where only darkness once appeared, and gives strength and courage in times of adversity. (Readings: Psalms)

o         Week 7: Thoughts from Chapters 6-10 (Civil War begins and Jackson’s parallels to Joshua). Question 1: What does the term “Black Flag” and “Give no quarter to the enemy mean?” Question 2: Approximately how many times did Joshua “Give no quarter to the enemy?” Lesson 6: Live each day boldly without fear, loving and serving the Lord our God in all things, and be prepared to leave this earth for our heavenly home at any time. (Readings: Joshua)

o         Week 8: Field trip to Stonewall Jackson Shrine. Meet at SPC and carpool to Guinea Station. Walk-in NPS tour of building and grounds with talk to follow. Read quotes following Jackson’s death. Discuss Stonewall’s legacy and impact as a Christian first and a soldier second. Discuss lessons learned and how we can apply them in our own daily lives. (Final Reading: Timothy) Q&A.

o         Weekly scripture reading list (*prefer King James Version):

  • 1. Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians: 5:1-5:21
  • 2. Proverbs 10:16, 28:1, 22:29, Joshua 10:25
  • 3. Psalms 116:15, 28:8, 46:1-2, Proverbs 14:26, 30:5, 22:6
  • 4. Proverbs 10:16, 28:1, 22:29, Joshua 10:25
  • 5. Philippians 2:3-4, Proverbs 3:6, Revelation 21:4, Romans 8:28
  • 6. Philippians 4:6-7, Psalm 27:1-3
  • 7. Joshua 1:7, 3:9-10, 6:10, 10:9-10, 10:19, 6:21, 8:22, 10:19
  • 8. 1 Timothy 3:1-3:7




Today I had to send my logistical details and media/room request information to the church office and order a case of ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ from my publisher. I’ll be spending the next few weeks compiling workbooks and finalizing my lesson plan. There are some tremendously blessed history teachers across the blogosphere who have offered some great advice on course management. In the past, I’ve led two men’s ministry bible studies, but this session requires a completely different focus. Here is my final synopsis that will be posted in the church’s group study program.

STONEWALL STUDY: Based on SPC member Michael Aubrecht’s book “Onward Christian Soldier” this course teaches what it truly means to be a prayer warrior by focusing on Christian principles for lifestyle and leadership. This history/theology course will include a viewing of ‘Still Standing’ and conclude with a special field trip to the nearby Stonewall Jackson Shrine. Leader: Michael Aubrecht. Requirements: Bible (KJV preferred), Copy of the book (*Discounted copies are available for $12.) Workbooks will be provided at no cost. Starts Sept.10. Wed. nights at 6:30. Calvin Room.

Beyond fellowship and scripture study, the ultimate goal of this course is to use the life and legacy of Thomas Jonathan Jackson as a character blueprint to help model our lives as Christian men after. Faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was the foundation of Jackson’s strength, tenacity and genius. Religion gave him an immaculate courage and principle both on and off the battlefield. In retrospect, he was a far better man than you or I and we should all try to learn from his example as a deacon, soldier, husband and father. I have struggled myself to walk in a similar path knowing that I will most certainly fall short of the bar that Jackson set. Sacrifice and discipline are two virtues that I still wrestle with. Both were pillars in the life of this righteous southern hero. (And while the 'secular-enemy' continues to tear the legacy of 'Stonewall' Jackson and his contemporaries down, I will strive to build them back up.)

My life has already been changed forever through the study of this godly man. It has cost me many pleasures (that were really vices), most of my ‘pre-saved’ friends (who were really bad influences), and forever altered the way that I look at the world (much simpler and convicted). Of course this is much more difficult living in our broken world in 2008. Fortunately we have the wisdom of the Word and the footsteps of those believers who came before us to lead the way. Stay tuned for details on what I pray will be a life-changing experience for all who participate.



This Wednesday evening the family will be attending a special dinner at the church to kick off the fall semester and meet and greet our students. This particular course session will be extra special for the Aubrechts as my wife Tracy is also teaching a children’s class. She already runs the nursery on Sundays and Wednesday mornings, and is on the offering counting-committee, so it’s about time I start doing my part too. Although I led a small Sunday night men’s bible study at SPC for two years, this will be the first class that I lead as a teacher. I am blessed beyond words.

My goal with this 8-week history/theology course is not to have the students walk away well versed in the life of Thomas Jackson, he is just the platform. The goal is to have them leave with a greater appreciation for the fearlessness and strength that can be achieved through a resolve to live according to the Word, and how that can be applied in our own lives. The key question is what makes a man stand like a stone wall on a battlefield? The answer in my opinion is faith. I’ll let you know how the dinner and introductory session goes. The following class we will be watching ‘Still Standing’ before diving right into the book and workbook in anticipation of touring the Jackson Shrine at the end of the 8 weeks.



Tonight’s introductory ‘meet and greet’ was a great start to what I hope will be an exciting two months. I gave a short pitch at the pulpit for last minute sign-ups (along with the other teachers) and later I had every chair in my classroom full, with even more students to come next week.

This is what is so great about living and worshipping in Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania… In my class I have a National Park Service volunteer (Chatham guide), a professional relic hunter who lives adjacent to the Spotsylvania Battlefield, an Ellwood Manor volunteer whose backyard butts up against The Wilderness trenches, a retired Army Intelligence officer who has his advanced degree in Military History, a student of the Great Southern Revival, a VMI graduate, several lifelong residents whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy and a couple of 'Yankee' transplants who moved here for the history. It’s a great mix of age, experience, and knowledge and I petitioned everyone to contribute to the course with their own insights as well.

I was VERY happy to see some ladies register too, as we will be discussing Thomas Jackson’s relationships with his mother and two wives. It will be a blessing to get a woman’s perspective. Everyone seemed to get along well and they were attentive and enthusiastic when I went over the syllabus and workbooks. Next week we kick things off officially with a viewing of “Still Standing” before diving into the book and study guides. Stay tuned for postings on the class discussions and debates that evolve from the readings.


Week 1: Introduction to course

Last night we kicked-off the first ‘official’ installment of the course I am teaching on the spiritual life of “Stonewall” Jackson at Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church. I had mentioned that I had a full house last week at the meet and greet and this week I had several new students register with plans to welcome a couple more. I am especially pleased with the number of outside attendees who do not belong to our church. If I accomplish nothing else over this 10-weeks, I will be satisifed that I introduced some newbies to our congregation and perhaps they will stick around after the class is completed.

Tragically, we had a 49 year-old elder pass away suddenly last week, so many of those who regularly attend the Wednesday night dinner and programs went to the viewing at the funeral home. This meant that we had only 12 people in attendance (out of 16 or so) and I made a point of opening the session with a group prayer for the grieving family and their loved ones. Fortunately, we were scheduled to watch a DVD and will not be getting into the actual book and workbook until next week. Therefore no one missed any of the courseware.

The 40-minute film was “Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story,” which is a wonderful religious documentary that specifically deals with Thomas Jackson’s faith and how it influenced his legacy. Produced by Franklin Springs Family Media and based on the work of our good friend Richard Williams Jr., I used the film as an overview of the Christian character of a man who is both an inspirational and bewildering subject. I added it so there would be some familiarity as they began the book. The film also fills in a lot of background information on Jackson’s childhood. The rest of the course will be using my books “Onward Christian Soldier” and “The Southern Cross,” as well as transcripts of Jackson’s letters to his wife and his book of maxims.

After the movie concluded I pointed out the contradictions that make this devout believer so fascinating. Here we have a man who shamelessly practiced civil disobedience while establishing a Sunday school for free and slave blacks in Lexington, then rose on the battlefields of Virginia to become one of the Confederacy’s most fearsome warriors, brilliantly commanding an army fighting for a government that maintained the institution of slavery. I also presented the irony of a man who was one of the "worst instructors" in the history of the Virginia Military Institute (Dr. Robertson’s words), yet his statue alone adorns the entranceway, his words are chiseled throughout the campus, and his horse is buried on the grounds and preserved in the VMI museum.

It seems that “Stonewall” left behind a complicated legacy that begs to be examined – especially in a spiritual sense. Secular historians can say whatever they want, but everything that made Thomas Jackson the courageous general we remember today was a direct attribute of his faith in God. If not for it, he would have succumbed to despair and disappeared from memory. Ultimately his story is just like ours. He was a believer, a sinner, and a servant - imperfect, flawed, and forgiven.

I can already tell that this is a real savvy group. The discussions, both on the history and theology side of things should be extremely insightful and enlightening. This week they have been assigned to read Chapter 1 of “Onward Christian Soldier” and we will begin the study guides and scripture readings next week (Psalms and Proverbs). We are using the King James Bible and I am looking forward to spending time in the Word.

Maybe it is because I speak at museums and universities on a fairly regular basis now, but I am really enjoying teaching and conducting a classroom. The interaction and open discussions taking place are tremendous and I have found that I am gleaning more wisdom off my students than they are probably gleaning off of me. I’ve only begun, but I can already say for a fact that you teachers out there have a great gig. (It's hard to believe that just a few short years ago, I was absolutely terrified of public speaking.)

Stay tuned as I am anxious to get into the prepared courseware which was developed to be very interactive and intimate. I’ve been in bible studies that can get emotional at times and although I will never post any personal testimonies that are shared behind closed doors, I will share general observations on them. For instance, Lesson 1 deals a lot with the multiple family-related tragedies in the Jackson home that left young Thomas an orphan and ultimately scarred him for life. The discussion point then asks participants to share a scar from their lives (voluntarily of course). This is to bridge the gap between Jackson’s faith helping him to heal - and our faith enabling us to do the same.

Spiritual strength is the goal of this entire 10-week exercise. “Stonewall” is simply the foundation for a study that is intended to show us how to find courage and apply it in our daily lives. The course is not by any means a forum for hero worship, it’s a forum for worshipping through a hero.


Week 2: Thoughts from Chapter 1 (1824-1842)

This past Wednesday night we had our second ‘Stonewall Study’ at Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church. I had another full house and several new members decided to join us. It appears that this course is a popular one on the SPC schedule (due to the topic – not me) and we may be moving to a larger classroom to accommodate the growing membership. I ran out of workbooks and have to get some more produced for next week’s meeting. What a blessing indeed!

I am ecstatic about the participation of more women and several students who are not members of our church. In fact, a growing portion of the class is from outside denominations and/or congregations. That is a rarity for our Wednesday night programs and I hope that they will consider joining us after the course comes to a conclusion. (NOTE: I would love to get some of the participant’s feedback and insights and share them with you here. Attention: I know some of you “students” frequent this blog. Please feel free to email your thoughts and I’ll gladly post them online.)

We examined Chapter 1 of my book ‘Onward Christian Soldier,’ which primarily focused on the Jackson family’s ancestral background and series of personal tragedies that occurred in Thomas’ childhood. (Workbook excerpt: Question: What and who are the bases of Thomas Jackson’s Foundation? Lesson 1:  We all carry the memory of wounds we have suffered through our lives. The love we receive and the values instilled at an early age, combined with God’s healing power will determine how ugly and visible the scars that remain and how we allow them to define our character. Readings: Proverbs 10:16, Proverbs 28:1, Proverbs 22:29, Joshua 10:25)

I presented how this notion of ‘that which does not defeat us spiritually makes us stronger’ was the basis for the whole book and quoted the opening paragraph: “This is a story about faith. A story filled with the kinds of heartache and hardships that would leave many of us questioning our own beliefs. It is a love story that is filled with sorrow, testimony, hope and despair. It is a story that reaffirms the power of prayer and that all things in Him are possible. Ultimately, it is the story of a man who suffered greatly, but chose to embrace the Will of his Savior as the foundation for a legendary life.”

We then outlined the traumatic events that occurred in the first 17 years of Thomas Jackson's life:

o         Age 2: the death of his sister followed 3 weeks later by the death of his father

o         Ages 2–7: witness his mothers illness, and marriage to an uncommitted step-father

o         Age 7: sent away by his mother to live with an unknown uncle

o         Age 7: the death of his mother

o         Age 8 1/2: the death of his stepfather

o         Age 17: the death of his only brother

It is a heartbreaking list to say the least and would have had a profound affect on any teenager in his formative years. Therefore, pain and personal loss must have played a part in young Thomas’ journey toward discovering salvation. I augmented the curriculum with readings taken from Henderson’s monster bio on Jackson, as well as several letters about his mother that were penned by Jackson’s stepfather shortly after her death. (I will continue to augment our courseware with readings from a wide-variety of Jackson-related studies and publications.) These recollections presented his mother as a fine Christian woman, who clearly left a positive and lasting impression on her son. This nurturing relationship, and the fond memory and example of his mother, was also a building block in his foundation.

Our open-discussion revolved around the idea of personal tragedy and how faith can provide comfort and strength to those experiencing it. Jackson, through the sudden deaths of his family, suffered tremendous loss and ultimately had no spiritual foundation to fall back on. His lack of a religious outlet during this period most likely influenced his dark perspective on relationships and life, induced a level of resentment and anger (that may have been suppressed until adulthood), and made him an eccentric and borderline hypochondriac when it came to his personal health practices.

By examining a timeline of Jackson’s upbringing, these early dark days may explain his outward sense of awkwardness and lack of social graces, his anti-social, but academic enthusiasm at West Point, his infectious enthusiasm for religion at Lexington, and his almost suicidal ferocity on the battlefield.

Our study guide compared ‘Stonewall’ to Joshua who led Israel in the conquest of Canaan, vanquishing Jericho and other cities to bring Palestine under Israelite control. Joshua's leadership, with the divine guidance of God, was marked by courage and devotion to the law given to Moses. Through his strong faith, he reinforced the resolve and beliefs of his fellow soldiers as he shepherded his followers into battle.

Sound familiar? The goal with these early lessons is to define what makes an individual so steadfast in their beliefs and what experiences may have influenced them in the first place. I have said it many times before that my fascination with ‘Stonewall’ Jackson is not what he did on the battlefield – it is what would make a man, any man, ‘stand like a stonewall’ in the face of such carnage.

It is my belief that these untimely deaths in the Jackson family created a void in Thomas’ life that he was only able to fill after joining the Lexington Presbyterian Church and starting a family of his own. Faith became his saving grace and gave him a sense of peace that had been lacking all his life. Unfortunately, more tragedy would befall the man, but this time he would resolve them to God’s will. Most Christians share that very same sentiment. I know I do. Romans 8:28 redefined Jackson's life, as well as mine: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God."

Next week we will be discussing Chapter 2 and the character traits that defined the man Jackson was prior to the outbreak of war. I am having the best time teaching and the course material is proving to be excellent. I plan to add more scripture readings and some additional DVD viewings in the coming weeks.


Week 3: Thoughts from Chapter 2 (1842-1851)

Stonewall course continues... Despite the fact that a few of my 'students' were not able to come to class last night, it was another blessed evening and the one-hour discussion was great. Focusing on Chapter 3 of 'Onward Christian Soldier' we looked at Jackson's experiences at West Point, Mexico and VMI. (He is now on the brink of his "spiritual awakening," which will occur in Lexington.) I incorporated a new series of visual aids including photos of a young Thomas, Lt. and Maj. Jackson, his sister, his VMI statue, and more. I read several letters written from him to his sister during these periods, and we examined his exploration of the Catholic Church in Mexico. I also read some less-than-flattering recollections of his students, as well as excerpts from Henderson's and Dr. Robertson's books.

One of our members, an attorney who graduated from VMI, spoke about the legacy that Jackson left on the campus. We talked about the irony of a terrible teacher becoming the identifying 'brand' of the institution.

We also read extended scripture from Proverbs and Joshua. In particular, the following lines of Proverbs 10 reminded me of Jackson's character:

o         (2) Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.

o         (7) The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.

o         (16) The labour of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin.

o         (29) The way of the Lord is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.

o         (30) The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.

Another member, whose ancestor fought in the Stonewall Brigade, talked a little about his relative's recorded impressions of "Old Jack.' We all came to a consensus that much of Jackson's opportunities and successes were so far out of reach for someone in his state, that a combination of earthly luck and Heavenly Providence from the Lord were the only logical explanations for his path toward infinite memory.

The theory that everyone has a God-ordained purpose here on earth, and that our lives are not at all supposed to be about us, rings true when examining individuals like Jackson. So much of the highlights of his life and legacy had nothing to do with directly benefiting him. He was always part of a greater cause than his own, both off and on the battlefield. We have collectively decided to view some specific Jackson-related scenes from 'Gods and Generals' (acknowledging that it is a dramatization) and take an additional field trip over to the Chancellorsville Jackson Monument near where he was struck down. This will speak to how he is immortalized today.

I will be quoting passages from Richard William's excellent book next week as we begin to see Jackson's rebirth in Lexington where he first plants the seeds of faith and family. Following the mention of my class in the paper last week, I was also told that more members may be joining us and that they may ask me to do this course again next semester. I am amazed at the interest and expansion of what I thought would be a small bible study.

A professor from Mary Washington University, who attends our church, said I may have a hidden talent for teaching. We'll see. At least I know I'll be better than my subject was at VMI. As far as I know no one's called me 'Old Mike' behind my back. Frankly, I think we've all recognized the fact that Virginia will let anyone teach a class on Civil War history, no matter what their perspectives are.


Week 4: Thoughts from Chapter 3 (1851-1856)

Last night we met for the fourth time and covered the third Study Guide section of our bible-study course on Stonewall Jackson’s principles for lifestyle and leadership. (My oldest daughter broke several fingers in gym class, which required me to cancel last week’s session).


Despite having a small audience (the final presidential debate was on) our discussion was as usual, very enjoyable, as we focused on the young man Thomas Jackson's initial spiritual transformation that became apparent around the 1850's. We examined the untimely death of his first wife and unborn child and how he handled that tragedy (one of many in his life up to that point) with a much different resolve.


Once again, I used several photos (of his first wife Elinor Junkin) along with other images that presented their short life together. We all found it very sad that Jackson had finally achieved a sense of real ‘intimate’ purpose only to have it snatched away for reasons beyond our understanding. A family, for which he had so dearly longed for, was here and gone before he even had a chance to really embrace the role as a husband and father.


This IMO, resulted in a divine spark that not only reinforced Jackson’s newfound faith, but also initiated a sense of empowerment in him. His spiritual ‘surrender’ to the will of God gave him a sense of strength and comfort that he had not possessed with earlier tragedies that befell him. One of Jackson’s favorite scriptures (and mine) was: Romans 8:28 which states, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’


This period of course was also the point in his life that prayer became a mainstay in his daily life. I read from several of his personal letters and also from a thesis written by a Scottish evangelist that focused on Jackson’s creed of “Duty is ours. Consequences are Gods.” Although I wrote about this earlier in the text, I returned to it and read excerpts from several Christian-based essays all of which presented Jackson’s sense of being part of a much higher purpose and accepting of God’s Will, whatever that may be. There were certain maxims of his life which had much to do with framing his character. One was that "you can be what you resolve to be", the other, "do your duty." Both are inscribed on the walls at VMI.


I quoted passages from several letters written from Jackson to relatives following his wife’s death. One verse written in a letter to his sister validated his religious awakening. It stated: My Dear Ellie thought to pass over the stage route from here to Beverly was a hard undertaking for her. After she returned home she was pleased with her visit. She has now gone on a glorious visit though through a gloomy portal. Her companion are of the glorified Host. I look forward with delight to the day when I shall join her. Religion is all that I desire it to be. I am reconciled to my loss and have joy in hope of a future reunion where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.


Clearly, as most Christians do, Jackson looked at his love’s untimely death as a bittersweet blessing as she was now in the presence of her Lord and Savior. He in a way, celebrated her journey from this life to an eternity in Heaven and looked forward to the future when they would be reunited. This was a very different response from what likely occurred during the deaths of his father, mother, and sister. He was maturing on multiple levels. Church was a place of sanctuary for him and would become THE keystone in his future foundation. It was as if every tragedy in his life led him to the Lord’s table.


We briefly discussed Jackson’s sabbatical trip to Europe, as well as his return to Virginia where he reunited with his departed wife’s family. Next week we will get into his growth in the Presbyterian Church, as a deacon, public prayer leader, and soon to be husband and Sunday School teacher. I also plan to incorporate a DVD of ‘Gods and Generals’ using several of the scenes, as played out by Stephen Lang, for reinforcement (knowing that they are dramatized to a point, but ultimately based on factual events).


I will also be distributing this reading list of recommended titles including Jackson bios, staff memoirs, West Point studies, and books that focus on Christianity and chaplains during the war. I am quoting from a pile of books each week and several students have asked for my favorite sources. Of course Dr. Robertson’s work tops my list:


Recommended book on the life of Thomas J. Jackson (by M. Aubrecht)


Jackson Biographies


o         Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend by James Robertson

o         Stonewall Jackson's Book of Maxims by Stonewall Jackson and James I. Robertson

o         Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend by Richard G. Williams Jr.

o         Life and Campaigns of Lieutenant Gen.Thomas J Jackson  by Robert Lewis Dabney

o         Stonewall Jackson And The American Civil War by G. F. R. Henderson


Staff Memiors


o         I Rode with Stonewall by Henry Kyd Douglas

o         With Stonewall Jackson in the Army of Northern Virginia by James Power Smith

o         Hunter Holmes McGuire: Stonewall Jackson's Doctor by John W. Schildt


Military Studies


o         Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign by Peter Cozzens

o         The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan, and Their Brothers by John Waugh


Religion In The Civil War


o         Christ in the Camp or Religion in the Confederate Army by Rev. J. William Jones

o         Religion and the American Civil War by Randall M. Miller, Harry S. Stout, Charles Reagan Wilson

o         Faith In The Fight: Civil War Chaplains by John W. Brinsfield, William C. Davis, Benedict Maryniak, and James I., Jr. Robertson

o         The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains--The Confederacy by John Wesley, Jr. Brinsfield

o         The Spirit Divided: Memoirs of Civil War Chaplains--The Union by Benedict R. Maryniak and John Wesley, Jr. Brinsfield


Week 5: Thoughts from Chapters 4 & 5 (1856-1861) 

Last night’s session was some of the best interaction we’ve had to date. I started our discussion with a short timeline review (on the board) that highlighted noteworthy events from the life of Thomas Jackson, from a young boy, up to just before he married his second wife Mary Anna Morrison. The point of this visual was to trace his journey (or path) towards religion.

I recalled the untimely deaths of his beloved family members, his anti-social behavior at West Point, his successful, but unpleasant experience of fighting a war in Mexico, his unpopularity as an awkward teacher at VMI, and of course the horrific death of his first wife, Elinor Junkin, and unborn child. Cleary this timeline of tragedy and despair would have been enough to destroy any man’s constitution, yet Jackson remained steadfast and continued to be drawn closer to the Lord’s Table. It is as if every heartbreak that he suffered became another brick in the foundation of his faith. These ‘building blocks’ formed a pyramid that pointed straight up towards God. If not for these catastrophes that kept plaguing his life, Jackson would likely not have become the devout practitioner that we revere today.

I also correlated these misfortunes as tests of faith, much like those presented in the Book of Job. I interpret this scriptural lesson to be that everything that happens in our lives (including tragedies) occur according to God’s Will. We may not always agree with them, or understand why they occur, but we must accept the fact that God is in control. It is our role as believers to summon the spiritual strength necessary to survive the bad times that may befall us. Only then can our faith be truly exercised, as it is far too easy to be a ‘good Christian’ when all is going well.

Job 1:18 While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother's house: 1:19 And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

Job 1:20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

I moved on to Jackson’s early introduction to service in the Presbyterian Church, first as a struggling speaker, failing miserably at public prayer, (he later became a gifted orator) – to a deacon, and finally a Sunday school teacher, who practiced civil disobedience while educating both free and slave blacks on the Word of God. We also examined his relationship with the Reverend White and the strict daily regiment of bible study and devotions that were practiced in the Jackson household. (Even the most disciplined members of my class cited Jackson’s daily devotion routine as being practically unobtainable. We were all impressed to say the least.)

The rest of the class we focused on his second marriage. I read several letters from his wife Mary Anna Morrison, a devout Christian woman and student of the Word, and we all concluded that only she would have been able to fill the void in Jackson’s soul that was left from Elinor’s passing. I personally believe that Elinor had a direct impact on Jackson’s fancy over Mary Anna and the resulting courtship. In a letter to his sister announcing his engagement Jackson wittingly wrote:

I will tell you that Miss Mary Anna Morrison, a friend of mine in the Western part of N. Carolina and in the Southern part of the State, is engaged to be married to an acquaintance of yours living in this village & she has requested me to urge you to attend her wedding in July next. To use her own words she says "I hope your sister will come. You must urge her to do so. I should be very glad if she could come." The wedding is not to be large. I told her that I would give the invitation & having done so, feel that I am free from all further responsibility in the matter. I told her that I didn't think that you would be able to accept it, and if you can't just let me know in your next & transfer the invitation to your humble servant, and he will not decline, for he is very anxious to go as he is much interested in the ceremony & the occasion & the young lady is a very special friend of mine.

Jackson’s second wife was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and she was educated at Salem Academy from 1847 to 1849. She met her beloved Thomas in Lexington, Virginia, while visiting her sister, Mrs. Dana Harvey Hill. Jackson was a friend and frequent visitor at Major Hill's home while he was a professor of natural philosophy and artillery tactics at the Virginia Military Institute. Mary was 21 years old, seven years his junior. Thomas and she bought a home, and they became the idealized southern Christian couple.

Unfortunately, more tragedy is still to come for the newest Jackson family, but from here on in, there is a completely different reaction and resolve. Thomas, with the aid of Mary Anna, is in the final stages of becoming the prayer warrior. (We are now going to read 2 chapters a week in order to make room for a second DVD viewing of selected scenes from Gods and Generals. Our field trip may also be expanded. Stay tuned.)


Week 6: Thoughts from Chapters 6 & 7 (1861-1862) 

I was blessed at last night’s Stonewall class with another excellent session. My students added some excellent commentary to our discussion and really helped to expand the lesson beyond the workbook. I am VERY fortunate to have several guys with both military and history experience who add some wonderful insights, as well as some real Bible scholars. It makes it very easy for me to facilitate a discussion and we ran for almost 2 hours. (My lovely wife even stopped by to drop off some extra Halloween goodie bags that were left over from her children’s class.)

At this point in the course we are half way through my book and in the early stages of the Civil War. Jackson has sided with his beloved Virginia, is training his troops, and he has petitioned the Presbyterian General Assembly for the inclusion of chaplains in his corps. We discussed in detail how secession progressed in Virginia and its affect on the local church and denominations.

Many forget that the split between the Northern and Southern states resulted in the split between the denominations, as well as Bible producing societies, and Christian missionary groups (whether they publicly voiced their support for either cause or not.) Many churches across the south (even here in Fredericksburg) had already been divided over the institution of slavery and believers everywhere were trying to cope with the uncertainly of war, just as much as the volunteers who were answering the “Call to Duty.”

Moving from the home-front to the field, I focused on the wartime contributions of the Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy and his peers. I read from several letters commending chaplains and clergy on both sides for their selfless contributions to the cause. We examined their blessings in providing both strength and encouragement before a battle and comfort and charity after it.

We then discussed Jackson’s mindset as a warrior. This included his ferocious reputation (as he achieved victory after victory), an affinity for the bayonet, inclinations toward the Machiavellian theories of combat, and the preaching of the “Black Flag.” We chatted about the difficulties in being a Christian soldier and how it must have troubled Jackson to be ultimately responsible for ordering the deaths of so many young men. He wasn’t the only one.

All Christians likely felt a sense of sadness (maybe even guilt at times) over taking another man’s life, and Jackson’s passion for both evangelism and war-fighting had to result in some kind of internal conflict. We concluded that he justified this within his conscience as believing that he was the right side and perhaps even an extension of the hand of God.

The curriculum included a wonderful and in-depth comparison to Jackson and Joshua, who next to David, was perhaps the most prolific warrior in the Old Testament. We read several passages of scripture that told the story of Joshua’s military prowess while obeying orders from the Lord.

Joshua 8:1 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: 8:2 And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it.

Joshua 8:3 So Joshua arose, and all the people of war, to go up against Ai: and Joshua chose out thirty thousand mighty men of valour, and sent them away by night.

Joshua 8:4 And he commanded them, saying, Behold, ye shall lie in wait against the city, even behind the city: go not very far from the city, but be ye all ready: 8:5 And I, and all the people that are with me, will approach unto the city: and it shall come to pass, when they come out against us, as at the first, that we will flee before them, 8:6 (For they will come out after us) till we have drawn them from the city; for they will say, They flee before us, as at the first: therefore we will flee before them.

The belief of Providence followed and just as God had ordained Joshua, Jackson may have also felt a similar inclination. Of course no one knows the validly of that theory, only God himself knows why man does what he does. I concluded our class with what I like to call the “double-edged sword of theology.”

This concept is that faith and fearlessness are admirable traits, but they also can be dangerous. Historically, religion has always played a part in every major conflict, whether for good or evil. The GOOD is that faith in one's God can provide a great sense of strength and comfort to soldiers and civilians. The BAD is that it can also be distorted for the justification of aggression and atrocity. Simply stated, it can be a blessing as well as a danger.

In regards to Stonewall Jackson, the strength of his faith, and his belief in Presbyterian doctrine that states that our deaths are predestined, played a role in how he conducted himself on the battlefield. This resulted in both triumph and tragedy. He himself repeatedly stated, "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death." He added, "I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me." This (IMO) is a wonderful way to live, but I see it as being somewhat problematic in a war zone.

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 in another way, this "divine inspiration" was self-destructive and contributed greatly to Jackson's untimely demise. He also may have felt protected as he stated, "Our God was my shield. His protecting care is an additional cause for gratitude." This (IMO) may have played a role in his accident at Chancellorsville. The bottom line is that a commander of his ranking should not have been anywhere on the field where he might be susceptible to "friendly-fire" - or any fire for that matter. By putting himself in harm's way, Jackson unwillingly jeopardized the entire command. Ironically, Christianity may have also played a role in his death as it made him feel "untouchable."

In other words, his feeling of invincibility (as a soldier for the Lord), combined with no logical fear of death (on the battlefield) made him incredibly courageous, and a little careless at times. I consider Jackson as similar to George Patton in some respects. 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.

We all agreed that religion plays a tremendously positive role, especially in times or war, BUT… it can be used to spread evil ideology, inflame division, and justify acts of atrocity. It can also be perverted, or politically skewed, for the recruitment and execution of an unrighteous cause. We have seen this before, and we still see it today. Man’s ‘Holy Wars’ are rarely "holy" at all.

(Next week’s class we will examine the bittersweet story of “Old Jack and Janie Corbin,” as well as Jackson’s thoughts as a family man. I will be reading extensively from his wife’s letters that describe the loving husband and ‘tender papa’ who barely got a chance to dote over his daughter.)


Week 7: Thoughts from Chapter 8 (1862-1863)

This week’s class yielded another great discussion that went far beyond the book material and into our class’ own personal experiences as parents. The main focus of the session revolved around Jackson’s time as a family man and father, however short-lived it was. We recalled the string of child-bearing tragedies that surrounded Jackson’s life including the death of his mother while giving birth to his step-brother, his first wife’s and unborn child’s death, as well as his second wife’s first born child’s passing. The conclusion we derived was how desperate he must have felt to have a family and how grateful he must have been when he was finally blessed with a healthy daughter. The joy must have been indescribable.

I read the wonderful letter that Mary Anna, his wife, sent to announce the birth of their daughter. She wittingly composed the letter as if it was written from baby Julia herself:

My own dear father,

As my mother s letter has been cut short by my arrival, I think it but justice that I should continue it. I know that you are rejoiced to hear of my coming, and I hope that God has sent me to radiate your pathway through life. I am a very tiny little thing. I weigh only eight and a half pounds, and Aunt Harriet says I am the express image of my darling papa, and so does our kind friend, Mrs. Osborne, and this greatly delights my mother. My aunts both say that I am a little beauty. My hair is dark and long, my eyes are blue, my nose straight just like papa s, and my complexion not all red like most young ladies of my age, but a beautiful blending of the lily and the rose. Now, all this would sound very vain if I were older, but I assure you I have not a particle of feminine vanity, my only desire in life being to nestle in close to my mamma, to feel her soft caressing touch, and to drink in the pearly stream provided by a kind Providence for my support. My mother is very comfortable this morning. She is anxious to have my name decided upon, and hopes you will write and give me a name, with your blessing. We look for my grandmother to-morrow, and expect before long a visit from my little cousin, Mary Graham Avery, who is one month my senior. I was born on Sunday, just after the morning services at church, but I believe my aunt wrote you all about the first day of my life, and this being only the second, my history may be comprised in a little space. But my friends, who are about me like guardian angels, hope for me a long life of happiness and holiness and a futurity of endless bliss.

"Your dear little wee Daughter.”

We also discussed the heart-wrenching story of “Old Jack” and Janie Corbin. In the winter of 1862-1863, Stonewall's troops made headquarters at Moss Neck Plantation, located on the banks of Virginia's Rappahannock River. Owned and operated by Richard and Roberta Corbin, the estate provided a perfect location for stationing a weathered army in desperate need of rest and replenishment. At the start of the war, Richard departed to serve in the Confederate army, while Roberta stepped in to take over the day-to-day duties of running the plantation. A true southern belle, Mrs. Corbin welcomed General Jackson's troops with open arms and allowed them full use of her grounds and facilities. As hostesses, Mrs. Corbin and her daughters entertained the officers with piano recitals or hymnal sessions, and home cooked meals were also prepared for the senior staff. Jackson could often be found drinking lemonade on the front porch of the big house, and it was during these regular visits that he developed an endearing friendship with the Corbin's five-year old daughter, Janie.

We examined the mutual benefits of this relationship. Innocence like Janie's was rare in war times, and her wonderful gift of laughter lifted the morale of all that met her. Above all others though, it was her relationship with the general that quickly blossomed, and was nurtured by the fact that they temporarily filled a void in each other's life. With Richard's absence, Thomas became an "adopted" father of sorts, and Janie happily played the role of a daughter who Jackson had yet to meet.

In March, General Lee sent orders to Jackson's troops to initiate maneuvers for the upcoming spring campaign. After carefully striking their camp, with the utmost respect for the Moss Neck grounds, the Stonewall Brigade prepared to move out. Before leaving, Thomas and his staff went to the Corbin house to thank the entire family for their service to the country. The general also wanted to have a few moments alone, to give a proper goodbye to his dear little girl. Unfortunately upon their arrival, Janie's mother informed them that all of the children had come down with a fever. Visibly concerned, Jackson immediately offered the services of his personal surgeon, but was reassured by Mrs. Corbin, who cited her own doctor's prediction for a rapid recovery. After a short visit to the child's bedside, Thomas pushed on, aware that another fight was on the horizon. One day later, word reached camp that Janie's condition had been hopeless, and that she died from scarlet fever.

This led to a talk about Jackson’s final weeks, when he was blessed with an opportunity to spend time with his beloved wife and daughter, and how fortunate he was to have them there with him when he passed away. Several members of the class shared their own personal stories as parents, some sad, some happy, all uplifting. Next week we will be closing out the book with Jackson’s untimely death, plus a clipped screening of the Jackson bio that is included on the Gods and Generals DVD.

Session 8 will be our final classroom meeting and our field trip to the 'Stonewall' Jackson Shrine is slated to take place on November 22. I’ll be sure to take plenty of photos and share the final recap of the course here. I have a very special prayer planned for the occasion. Our last class session will focus on Jackson’s resolve that God’s will be done (even in his final hours), his memory as a Christian warrior today, and we will be watching the 15 minute bio on Jackson that is included on the G&G DVD.


Week 8: Thoughts from Chapters 9-10 (1863)

Our final classroom session covered the last two chapters of ‘Onward Christian Soldier.’ These of course dealt with Jackson’s accidental wounding, subsequent death, and its affect not only on his family and friends, but also on the whole Southern Confederacy. As with the book, I presented several accounts of the last days and hours leading up to Jackson’s passing from his wife and Dr. McGuire, as well as several staff members who were present. (As the story of Jackson’s final hours and the witness’ accounts are such crucial elements to the goal of the book, I won’t recap them here. They must be read together in context to fully appreciate the lesson.)


We were all struck by the grace, courage and resolve that Jackson exhibited when he faced his final breath. We should all hope to die that way. As Christians, we are taught to celebrate the life of those loved ones that have passed away, but to also find solace in the knowledge that they leave this broken world to spend eternity in the presence of our Lord and Savior. Jackson believed that his affliction and impending death had occurred according to God’s will and that it would be ‘infinite gain’ to be in Heaven. Dying with dignity doesn’t even begin to describe that kind of strength through faith.


At one point Jackson asked his surgeon, “Doctor, Anna informs me that you have told her that I am to die today; is it so?” After hearing the doctor’s confirmation he replied, “Very good, very good, it is all right.” When staff member Pendleton came into the sickroom at 1 o’clock that afternoon, he asked who had preached at headquarters that day. Pendleton told him the entire army was praying for his recovery. Jackson replied, “Thank God, they are very kind.” He added: “It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday.” Jackson kept the Sabbath holy in his heart to the very end.


As word spread throughout the South of “Stonewall’s” untimely and tragic death, many supporters of the Cause fell into hopelessness and despair. No one, most of all his own staff, believed that anyone could ever replace him. Even today, many historians credit the death of Jackson as the key turning point in the War Between the States. No other commander had ever been able to push his men to such heights on the battlefield, and many of the engagements that followed his death might have been won, were it not for his absence.


Perhaps the most decisive of all battles, Gettysburg has long been debated as the definitive victory for the Union. During an interview on CSPAN in 2001, noted Civil War expert Shelby Foote stated that he believed if Jackson had lived, he definitely would have taken Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. That victory alone determined the high ground, the outcome of the battle, and possibly the war. Of course this is all speculation, but the fact that Jackson’s death dealt such a blow to the Southern Confederacy speaks to the impact he had on the national consciousness.


The subject of Jackson’s memory being elevated was also discussed as he had inevitably died at the pinnacle of his military career. Despite being considered one of Lee's greatest victories, the loss of the man he affectionately referred to as his “right arm” may have marked the beginning of the end for the Army of Northern Virginia. Today his likeness and name are displayed all over the South. Places like VMI are covered in Jackson’s memory. (As a bonus, we watched the 15-minute “Stonewall” Jackson biography that came on the Special Features section of the ‘Gods and Generals’ DVD. I was particularly appreciative of Dr. Robertson’s touching commentary, as well as Colonel Gibson’s presentation.)


We will be examining his legacy in more detail at our field trip to the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine in two weeks. Following a NPS tour of the outbuilding at Guinea Station, we will be sharing a special prayer session on the lawn. That will conclude the course and I’ll be sure to share my final thoughts and a few photos. I am also hoping to petition a few of the students to share their thoughts on the course from the attendee’s perspective. I promise to post them here.


Field Trip to the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine

This morning I had the honor of leading a small, private tour of Stonewall Jackson’s last days. After meeting at Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church, I took both students and visitors on a carpool caravan along Jackson’s Ambulance Route, down to the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine at Guinea Station. Although a large portion of my class was unable to attend due to prior commitments, we still had a great group and even picked up some additional attendees along the way. As I was giving my lecture in the parking area, we were joined by a young minister from Ohio and his family, as well as a lovely retired couple for Georgia. All in all I think we ended up with 12 people.

Following my talk, we were treated to a wonderful tour of the shrine’s interior by NPS Volunteer Kin Wagner. Kin has a special gift for telling the story of Jackson's wounding and evacuation and we were grateful that his shift was today. After that we went outside for a special prayer reading and I personally led the couple from GA down to the Civil War Life Soldier’s Museum. It was a great way to spend 2 hours on a Saturday and I hope to make this a semi-regular routine. I invited my students to email their thoughts on the course and the tour and I will share them here, as well as on my website. Stay tuned.

Last year, I was approached about doing a complete tour of Jackson's last days from the site of his wounding, to the site of his amputation, along the ambulance route, and finally ending at the shrine, all presented from a Christian perspective. With a little funding, I think I could create a nice little 1/2 day program with brochures, maps, and a lunch stop. Perhaps that may come to fruition someday. (Anyone who wants to fund a Christian Civil War tour, email me.) Here is a photo of the attendees that stuck around after we finished the formal presentation.