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More Than A Military Genius

Still Standing
The Stonewall Jackson Story
DVD Review by Michael Aubrecht
Date published: 1/5/2008, FLS Town & County

  • Order DVD online at Amazon
  • Visit Franklin Springs Family Media
  • Order 'SJ: The Black Man's Friend'
  • Visit author Richard G. Williams Jr.


  • The religious devotion of Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson remained a constant source of strength in all facets of his life. Unfortunately, for more than 145 years, most historians have chosen to focus only on the military legacy of this intense-prayer warrior, whose tenacity and ferocity in battle overshadowed the compassion of the man within.

    Most often neglected are his charitable efforts on behalf of local blacks, including the rarely discussed establishment of the first black Sunday school in Lexington. It is this kinder and gentler side of the Christian soldier that provided the basis for a new film, "Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story."

    This highly original DVD is based on the critically acclaimed book by noted historian Richard G. Williams Jr., "Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend." It was Williams' study that initially reopened the door to this long-ignored aspect of Jackson's civilian endeavors.

    As a fellow "Stonewall" biographer, I was very curious to see how the breathtaking panoramic cinematography, for which Franklin Springs is known, would match up with the unapologetic and insightful narrative based on the text of Williams.

    After viewing the piece, I must say that I am very impressed. The scenes fill the screen with glorious images of Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. There is wonderful commentary interwoven by noted historians, such as James I. "Bud" Robertson Jr., Dr. George Grant, William Potter, Virginia Military Institute Col. Keith Gibson, and Francis Lightburn Cressman, who is the great-granddaughter of Civil War Union Gen. Joseph Lightburn. It is, visually and mentally, a veritable feast.

    The overall storyline of Jackson's life is familiar, but what makes this documentary special is the particular focus on his religious piety and evangelical efforts before the War Between the States.


    Throughout the film, we are told stories about young Tom Jackson growing up among slaves in Jackson's Mill and his particular fondness for them as an adult. We are also told about the special relationship that he shared with his personal servant and cook, Jim Lewis.

    Truly, Jackson was more than just a military commander. He was a paternal deliverer of black literacy and was instrumental in aiding those seeking the teachings of Christian doctrine. Four churches blossomed from this foundation and most are still operating today.

    However, it is his valiant leadership on behalf of the Confederacy that poses a fascinating contradiction that is still being debated today. Fortunately, we have historians and filmmakers who are willing to explore this topic to a greater degree than their predecessors did in the past.

    Tender footage of a recent reunion and church service, attended by descendants of the original black congregation and the Jackson family, reinforce the notion of faith crossing the racial divide for generations to come.

    Clearly, Jackson's evangelical mission is validated even today. It's a touching story that will appeal to a wide audience of Civil War enthusiasts and believers alike.

    Bonus features include an interview with the author, Richard G. Williams Jr., as well as comments by award-winning Christian film director Ken Carpenter, who openly acknowledged the controversial nature of this subject.

    Not all who view "Still Standing" will be of the same mind-set. However, no one can deny that the story of Thomas Jackson is one of complexity that demands a deeper examination.


    In an e-mail interview with me, Carpenter expressed the satisfaction he derived while working on this project.

    "One thing that makes a film shoot especially memorable is the opportunity to work in a uniquely beautiful setting," he wrote. "When Keith Gibson welcomed us to the campus of VMI, I knew immediately that I would be enjoying an experience I'll always remember. Shooting in and around Lexington, and most notably at VMI, was a filmmaker's dream."

    He added, "Our greatest hope with 'Still Standing' is that audiences will be inspired to, yes, delve deeper into an understanding of those critical years in American history. But more than that, I hope that the film inspires viewers to live their lives with the character and integrity embodied by Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson."

    Author Richard Williams described the gratification he perceived in seeing his work translated into moving pictures. "Having my book serve as the basis for 'Still Standing' is a real honor," he said.

    "After the book was published, I actually contacted four filmmakers about doing a documentary based on the book. Of those four, I received responses of interest from three, narrowed those to two, and finally settled on Franklin Springs. It was really an easy choice. Ken Carpenter and his firm have an impeccable reputation, both in Christian circles and in the broader film industry as well."

    Williams added, "I advise viewers to watch the film a few times, in order to really get all of the 'gems' in the narrative which knit the story together, beginning with Jackson's days at his Uncle's Mill and continuing to this very day. It really is an amazing story of faith and friendship and one which, in my opinion, has not been told until now, both through my book and through this film project."

    Another expert on the life and times of Thomas Jonathan Jackson is Col. Keith Gibson, who is the director of museum Programs at Virginia Military Institute, where the general taught before the start of the Civil War. His comments in particular add tremendous insight into Jackson's early military career and search for spirituality. He has worked as a consultant on numerous films, including "God and Generals," and "Gettysburg."

    "That's what's gratifying in working with film; that you have an opportunity to speak to a huge number of people and provide them with an accurate and correct statement of the past."

    "Still Standing" does just that by opening the door to a long-neglected chapter in the life of one of our nation's most fascinating figures. It's the type of piece that initiates discussion, ignites debate, and beckons its viewers to delve deeper into the subject matter. After all, isn't that exactly what a documentary is supposed to do?

    For more information on "Still Standing: The Stonewall Jackson Story," or to watch a trailer of the film, visit the Franklin Springs Family Media Web site at stonewallfilm .com.

    LECTURE: Col. Keith Gibson, director of museum programs at Virginia Military Institute, will give a presentation on Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on Friday, Jan. 11, as part of the free Spotsylvania Historical Lecture Series. His presentation on "Jackson Before The War" will be at 7 p.m. in the Spotsylvania Middle School Auditorium.

    MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a historian from Spotsylvania County. He is currently working on his fourth book, titled "Houses of the Holy: Historic Churches of Fredericksburg." For more information, visit his Web site at




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