August 23, 2002

I once read of a saint, or so it seemed to me. Accounts of his devotion to the Lord and doing his duty surpass my poor powers of imagination. I could offer a hundred anecdotes of his dedication, intelligence, or how admirable and worthy of respect he was. A man’s man.

Before I read a biography my prejuidice showed; I thought him a redneck, hilljack, dumb and reckless.

His name was Thomas, and a more devout soldier one could scarcely imagine. His solace was the solely in the Lord and he prayed nearly always. Even the deaths of his first wife and first child could not shake the beautiful and resolute faith in Christ.

He read Shakespeare or the scriptures to his wife every night when he was home, sitting in the parlor of their Virginian home. He wasn’t home often enough though, due to the war that raged.

He remains to me a source of fascination, for this man who I so admire was on the wrong side of the Civil War and the wrong side of truth. And it seems a scandal to imagine someone so close to God could, at the same time, be so wrong about slavery and about Catholicism. His name? Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

How discouraging that even the devout can be so mistaken, can so misread the will of God. And while we cannot judge hearts, we can see and understand sacrifice, and on that score Thomas J. Jackson was nearly without peer.

I visited his tomb in Richmond last year and stood a few paces from his remains. If I had lived at that time, I would surely not have rated an audience with him. But with the democracy of death, a hundred and forty years later this soft, lazy, Yankee Catholic - verything he wasn't - can stand a mere ten feet from his bones.

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