Religion and the American Civil War

By Randall M. Miller; Harry S. Stout et al. | Go to book overview

8
Stonewall Jackson and the Providence of God

DANIEL W. STOWELL

When General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson died on May 10, 1863, all white southerners were stunned. Religious southerners were especially disturbed, however, because Jackson embodied the Christian attributes they considered vital to the success of the Confederacy. A Presbyterian deacon and Sunday school superintendent, Jackson had encouraged revivals among his troops and had often inquired about the spiritual state of his men. He prayed fervently before and during battles and ascribed all successes to God's providential assistance. For a people committed to the belief that an omnipotent God controlled the destiny of men and of nations, Jackson's death was a spiritual crisis. 1

Midway through the Civil War and nearly eight weeks before the disasters at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Jackson's death forced white southern evangelicals for the first time to consider whether God would ultimately grant them victory. What did Jackson's life--and death--mean, they pondered. The ways in which southern Christians answered this question revealed much about the southern religious interpretation of the Civil War that began to take shape. Two years later, when faced with the larger crisis of the death of the Confederacy, religious southerners revived and extended the understandings of God's providence that they had developed in the aftermath of Jackson's death. Furthermore, Jackson's death and the mourning that followed formed an important cultural ritual that later helped southerners individually and collectively grapple with the end of the Confederate States of America. Jackson became the first of a pantheon of heroes that would later be enshrined in southern hearts through the Lost Cause movement. His death at the zenith of the Confederacy's bid for independence began a process of individual religious reflection and corporate cultural ritual that would continue for decades. What

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