Stonewall's Traveling Salvation Show
Published in the Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church Post
by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2007

During the Civil War, a movement referred to as "The Great Revival" took place throughout the Army of the Confederacy. By the war's conclusion, it is estimated that at least 100,000 Confederate troops were "born-again" after being introduced to the Biblical teachings of Jesus Christ. Much of this can be credited to the efforts of the South's commanders who petitioned the government for the acquisition of chaplains to accompany their men into the field. One of the most pious officers during the War Between the States was a camp crusader named General Thomas J. Jackson.

Wherever "Stonewall" went while on campaign, he always took his prayer book and prayer table, along with a bell for summoning his troops to worship services. Regular devotions and study times were also adhered to at all costs. At every encampment under his command, Jackson ordered a special tent to be set up as a field chapel, and at the frequent religious services that he held there, the general often acted as an usher for his own men and subordinates.

Left: Personal items that were used in the portable chapel that Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson traveled with. They include his personal Bible, a specially crafted prayer table that also acted as a pulpit and communion alter, and the brass bell that was used by the general to summon his troops to service. The bell is engraved with the words "Stonewall Jackson Camp Prayer Bell" and the clasp on the Bible has the initials "Maj. T.J.J. USA" which refer his days as a major in the United States Army.

Photo: Time-Life Books Civil War Series, "Decoying the Yanks" (Page 23)

As both a deacon and Sunday school teacher at his Presbyterian Church back home in Lexington, Jackson had gone through a spiritual transformation. It took him from a shy believer with little self-confidence and a fear of public speaking, to a fervent prayer warrior, whose passion for the power of God's Holy Word became an infectious motivator throughout the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia. Once a quiet man, Thomas Jackson grew to become a seasoned speaker, capable of giving fiery speeches to thousands of men before each battle. Ultimately, his words became a weapon of their own, inspiring his men to overcome all odds in the name of their general, their God, and their beloved Confederate States of America.

Not all Southern gentleman shared Jackson's passion for prayer. At times, his religious enthusiasm annoyed those who were agnostic, including members of his own staff. Several shared the notion early on that Jackson's dependence on prayer hindered his ability to make swift decisions. One evening during a council of war, the general listened intently to various options presented by his subordinates. After the meeting had concluded, he thanked them for their efforts, but added that he would present his own plan in the morning. Leaving him to ponder their strategies, Lt. General A.P. Hill said, "Well, I suppose Jackson wants time to pray over it."

Later that night, Hill's counterpart, General Richard S. Ewell, returned and observed his superior through the tent flap, on his knees praying intensely for guidance regarding the difficult movements that lay before him and his troops. Upon hearing the excitement in Jackson's voice and witnessing the sincerity in his heart, Ewell said, "If that is religion, I must have it." He later attributed his profession of faith to Jackson's influence and example. Following the untimely death of his mentor, Ewell assumed the post and services of his chaplain, the Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy. Following the South's surrender, he continued to practice his faith and eventually became a communicant at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Determined to spread the Good News of the Gospel, Jackson's evangelism off the battlefield remained a top priority with him. Whenever his military services were not required, the general spent all of his mental energy witnessing to others in the name of the Lord. As the "Stonewall Brigade" continued to fight with honor, word of their general's religious zeal spread throughout the South. One writer from the Richmond Whig described one of Jackson's speeches following the Battle of McDowell:

"General Jackson addressed his troops in a few terse and pointed remarks, thanking them for the courage, endurance and soldierly conduct displayed at the battle of McDowell on the 8th inst. [of this month], and closed by appointing 10 o'clock of that day as an occasion of prayer and thanksgiving throughout the army for the victory which followed that bloody engagement. There, in the beautiful little valley of the South Branch, with the blue and towering mountains covered with the verdure of spring, the green sward smiling a welcome to the season of flowers, and the bright sun, unclouded, lending a genial, refreshing warmth, that army, equipped for the stern conflict of war, bent in humble praise and thanksgiving to the God of Battles for the success vouchsafed to our arms in the recent sanguinary encounter of the two armies. While this solemn ceremony was progressing in every regiment, the minds of the soldiery drawn off from the bayonet and sabre, the enemy's artillery was occasionally belching forth its leaden death; yet all unmoved stood that worshipping army, acknowledging the supremacy of the will of Him who controls the destinies of men and nations, and chooses the weaker things of earth to confound the mighty."

Regardless of his unquestionable dedication to duty, one aspect of military service did not set well with Jackson. Throughout his religious renewal, "Stonewall" had strictly observed the Sabbath, refusing to take part in any work-related activities on Sundays. In war however, calendars are rendered meaningless and Jackson was often called upon to fulfill his military obligation in place of worship. As a result, many prayer vigils were held before and after battles in place of Sunday service. Whenever possible though, a strict schedule of morning and evening worship on the Sabbath as well as Wednesday prayer meetings was faithfully maintained.

Protecting the sanctity of religious practices did not end with Jackson as the entire Presbyterian denomination, as well as their contemporaries, were extremely concerned about the repercussions of the wartime climate. First and foremost was the inevitable splitting of the denominations following the South's secession. And although there appeared to be no immediate hostilities harbored by Christian leaders on either side, the fact remained that the political split in the country - also split the church. This had a profound affect on virtually every aspect of their operations.

For example, up until the outbreak of the Civil War, the American Bible Society, based in New York, handled the production and distribution of most Protestant-based materials including Bibles and tracts. After the conflict began, an entirely new system had to be formed in order to meet the needs of the Southern congregations. Many of these dilemmas were addressed in the minutes of the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly. One major point addressed the need to establish a new chapter of the Bible Society to shoulder the task of producing and distributing religious materials in the Confederate States.

Another concern pertained to the issue of camp worship and the negative affects of military operations on the Sabbath. A letter was therefore drafted and forwarded to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. It stated:

"To the President of the Confederate States of America: Sir: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America venture to address your Excellency in reference to the desecration of the Sabbath in our armies. In common with very many of our fellow-citizens, we have been deeply pained at the prevailing disregard of an institution which lies at the foundation, not only of Christianity, but of morality as well. The God who ordained the Sabbath is that God to whom we are accustomed to appeal for the justice of our cause--upon whom we are calling for that help which alone can avail to bring our country successfully and triumphantly through the present great struggle. How can we hope for God's blessing, or consistently ask it, when we are deliberately and habitually setting aside, and treating with contempt that which He has enjoined upon us to remember and keep holy. Surely never could circumstances more imperiously call upon us, as a people, to put away every thing which might be displeasing to that Great Being on whose favor we are so utterly dependent; and do not our soldiers and officers eminently require the salutary influence of the Sabbath amid the manifold temptations of the camp, and the fierce perils of the battle-field?

The Assembly have learned with regret that it is not uncommon for the military arrangements of the Sabbath to be of such a nature as seriously to interfere with the observance of public worship. The General Assembly would, therefore, respectfully request your Excellency to use your influence and authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to do away with dress parades, inspections, reviewals, or unnecessary movements of troops on the Sabbath, and also to see that the officers shall not interfere with the observance of religious services, but on the contrary, afford all proper facilities for the same.

The uniform interest manifested by your Excellency in all that pertains to Christianity, leads us to hope that a matter of such moment will secure the attention it merits. Let us remember that "righteousness exalteth a nation," and that God has declared that they that honor Him will be honored, whilst they that despise Him shall be lightly esteemed. With earnest prayer to God that he will grant you, dear sir, wisdom and grace for your exalted and responsible station in these dark and troublous times, and with great respect, We are, &c."

Petitions such as these continued throughout the war as each branch of the church did their best to shepherd their flocks in the field. By establishing the presence of chaplains and offering regular worship services, influential believers like Jackson were able to spread their message of the path to salvation, while simultaneously providing their troops with a spiritual comfort zone. This ultimately aided them in dealing with the rigors and horrors of war. And by putting his trust in God, this general was able to inspire those under him to rise to all occasions and overcome all adversities that came upon them. With total confidence, Jackson routinely bragged of their bravery saying, "Who could not conquer with such troops as these?"

Source: Excerpts taken from "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" by Michael Aubrecht, Time Life Books Civil War: "Decoying the Yanks: Jackson's Valley Campaign," Letter quoted from: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America: Electronic Edition, (Pages 16-17).



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