Twelve or thirteen years ago, I was at a historical society meeting where there was a raffle. Among the prizes was a framed print of a Mort Künstler painting, entitled "There Stands Jackson Like a Stone Wall!" This has, and always will be, one of my favorite pieces of artwork simply because of what Jackson represents in the painting.
Sitting astride his horse, Little Sorrel, Jackson is among the young, untested soldiers of what would eventually become known as the Stonewall Brigade in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, while holding position just behind the crest of Henry House Hill at Manassas.
Jackson earned his nickname on July 21, 1861, his wife's birthday. It was a name which would forever become synonymous with him; with his personal standards being the most emblematic of what being a good soldier was. Jackson was tough, did not tolerate nonsense, and was highly educated. His prowess on the battlefield was not matched by any Union commander.
When not leading soldiers in battle, Jackson was a highly devout Presbyterian. He could often be seen praying, which he did non-stop, except when sleeping. Jackson was regarded as a kind, considerate, respectful, and genuinely loving man, and father. Especially to his slaves.
I have always admired the good qualities of Stonewall Jackson. His commitment to duty, ensuring that everyone was treated equally and fairly; and his willingness to be both humble and honest with everyone with whom he was acquainted.
Unfortunately, as I said, Jackson was a slave owner. He was also a regular violator of Virginia state law in regards to his slaves.
Jackson, being every bit a man of his time, was disagreeable to the practice of human bondage. He went out of his way to never mistreat a slave, and in fact, as I said, broke the law in regards to educating slaves. Both he and his second wife, Anna, taught a Sunday school class at their church, reserved only for the community's enslaved members. Jackson was so kind to the slaves he taught, that according to all accounts, that those whom he owned had requested that he purchase them; with one asking to be allowed to work for his freedom. According to all resources available, Jackson was doting on those whom he owned, just as much as he was on those whom he did not.
Jackson never left behind an account of his personal thoughts on the matter, but those who knew him, particularly his widow, would repeat that the reason he was so kind to these people is that he felt sorry for them. He, being a strict follower of Christianity, viewed slavery as the will of God. He felt, as did many of his contemporaries, that while their personal feelings were often conflicted; it was not their place to challenge the natural order of the world.
And this is where I differ with General Jackson, and why I love this painting so much.
To me, this image represents the past looking forward into the future. The perspective is that of history, eyes viewing what has happened, while what is to come is unknown. As a work of art, that thought is profoundly apparent. It has always been comforting to me as a student of history, as it is a reminder that we can learn so much from what has happened, and though we do not know is to come; we can better prepare for it.
And, this is also where I differ. Unlike Jackson, I have little to no interest in preserving things the way that they are. I do not see things ordained to be so by the will of a higher power in the way he does. In fact, I believe that if we want to see a better world, we must be willing to fight for it. We must be willing to be able to put our eyes onto the past, see what was wrong, and move forward from there.
We must not stand as a stone wall.