“Lord of the Valley”
By Dale Gallon
Today. January 21st is the birthday of one of America’s greatest military commanders. His premature death, at the hands of his own victorious soldiers, may have altered the course of the War Between the States. The picture shown above graces my living room wall in Romney, West Virginia. Thomas J.”Stonewall” Jackson is seated on the right. I reside approximately 3 miles from the house he used as headquarters during his first command of that war. Jackson’s strategy was simple. “Hold Romney and you hold the Valley”. From there he could defend the Potomac River crossings to the north and the South Branch River crossing to the west. Offensively, he could strike at the rail lines in Cumberland Maryland and disrupt supplies to the Union armies in Ohio. After establishing the garrison in Romney, he returned to Winchester Virginia to confront Gen. Banks Union army to his north. That first winter in Romney was a frozen nightmare for the poorly equipped and provisioned Confederate volunteers. The general that Stonewall left in charge had political friends in Richmond. Without consulting Jackson, he wrote for permission to withdraw his troops closer to Richmond. Permission was granted and the Confederates abandoned Romney just before the start of a Union attack. Stonewall was furious that his orders had been countermanded by the politicians and rode directly to Richmond and thereupon resigned his commission in the army. General Lee and his allies in Richmond were stunned. Their left flank lay deserted and now without a commander. Eventually, given guaranties and assurances that his orders would never again be interfered with by political intrigue, Jackson was persuaded to resume his command. Romney changed hands more than any other city during the course of the war. The local graveyard is home to the very first Confederate veterans memorial erected after the war. It had to be shipped here without the inscriptions being engraved as it was feared it would be sabotaged by Unionist sympathizers in Baltimore. They were only added after the monument was erected.
Now. Pay attention. Today is also the day that we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is a day to reflect on Civil Rights, slavery, racism and freedom. Strange that it is also the day Thomas J.“Stonewall” Jackson was born in 1824. There is a connection that I first ran across while reading James I Robertson Jr’s biography “Stonewall Jackson”. Although originally not religious, Jackson was often asked to give a sermon at his local church. He took to preaching and gave a sermon to his troops every Sunday (he preferred not to fight on Sundays if at all possible). As his string of victories grew, his Sunday sermons also grew in popularity. Had he not been accidentally killed, he may have changed the war into a religious “Crusade”. It may have gone entirely differently.
Even before the war, Jackson was appalled at the plight of the Negro children in Virginia. Without being taught to read, he reasoned, they would never come to know the Bible and could not attain the Grace that is the right of every Human Being to strive for. To undo this evil, as he saw it, he established the first religious school for black children in Virginia. The following quote is from Wikipedia, but it accurately reflects what I read in Robertson’s book.
“Little as he was known to the white inhabitants of Lexington, Jackson was revered by many of the African-Americans in town, both slaves and free blacks. He was instrumental in the organization in 1855 of Sunday school classes for blacks at the Presbyterian Church. His second wife, Mary Anna Jackson, taught with Jackson, as “he preferred that my labors should be given to the colored children, believing that it was more important and useful to put the strong hand of the Gospel under the ignorant African race, to lift them up.”  The pastor, Dr. William Spottswood White, described the relationship between Jackson and his Sunday afternoon students: “In their religious instruction he succeeded wonderfully. His discipline was systematic and firm, but very kind. … His servants reverenced and loved him, as they would have done a brother or father. … He was emphatically the black man’s friend.” He addressed his students by name and they in turn referred to him affectionately as “Marse Major.”
So! That is my story for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A tribute to two great Americans. Both slain at the pinnacle of their respective careers. Both preachers, both leaders. The fates indeed weave a strange and rich tapestry.
From Romney, West Virginia.
Posted by Svinrod. January 21st 2008