James I. Robertson, Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend. New York: Macmillan Publishing USA, 1997. Pp. xxi + 950.

          In his introduction to Stonewall Jackson, James I. Robertson writes "The intent here is to see life as Jackson saw it, to hear his words, to read his thoughts, to walk besides him and know little more than he knew at a given time and place." Robertson has studied Thomas Jackson so thoroughly that he believes he can tell us what went on in Stonewall's head. He can even eavesdrop on Jackson's conversations with God, as he relates Jackson's private prayers (p. 259). That is both the principal strength and the principal weakness of his book Stonewall Jackson.

"Robertson writes the kind of 'vivid' history that, while popular and novelistic, is not scholarly."

     Of particular interest to Robertson as well as to readers of this journal is Jackson's religious faith. Although much of his discussion of the specifics of Jackson's belief is buried in his footnotes, he shows that contrary to common impression, Jackson was not an orthodox Presbyterian, at least not when he joined the church; his doubts about predestination were so great that his testy brother-in-law Harvey Hill told him to go to the Methodists. (p. 810, n. 9) Indeed, according to Hill, Jackson's "repugnance to predestination was long and determined." (p. 134) This certainly helps us understand Jackson's Presbyterianism, for otherwise it is hard to understand how a man so devoted to remaking himself could accept a denomination that so stressed man's inability to do anything of the kind where it most concerned his soul.

     Robertson treats the relationship between religion, ideology, and Confederate service with care. In his introduction he explains, "Like many men of the South in 1860, Jackson was convinced that Northerners had violated principles of both the Founding Fathers and Christianity by attempting to create a new society that lacked order as well as cohesiveness. The North seemed to be striving to alter basic American structures. Such activity flew in the face of God's preordained notion of what America should be." (p. xii-xiii.) But his footnote for this passage does not concern Jackson; instead Robertson cites Drew Gilpin Faust's Creation of Confederate Nationalism. The one piece of direct evidence that Robertson cites for this interpretation is a conversation Jackson had with his brother-in-law Rufus Barringer in summer of 1862. "'I myself see in this war, if the North triumph, a dissolution of the bonds of all society,' Barringer remembered Jackson saying. 'It is not alone the destruction of our property, but the prelude to anarchy, infidelity, and the ultimate loss of free responsible government on this continent.'" (p. 514; Robertson also quotes this same speech on p. 234.) For an argument so central to this biography, I wanted more evidence, although I am delighted with what Robertson does provide; the more Jackson's beliefs can be fit into the framework of conventional white southern thought, the better.

     Robertson provides a detailed and careful account of Jackson during the secession crisis. On the issue of slavery, he concludes, with no evidence, Jackson "probably opposed the institution." (p. 191) Robertson's bibliography does not list much in the way of the history of southern religion; for example, Mitchell Snay's study of the "sacralization" of slavery is missing. While Charles Royster's controversial Destructive War is cited, it is obliquely dismissed, not engaged. "The geniunely good Jackson biographies number no more than a half-dozen and are unfortunately dated." (p. xvii) Readers of this journal will spot many hares Robertson started and then let get away.

     Robertson has drawn an often persuasive portrait of Jackson, but when readers turn to the footnotes for evidence, they will often be disappointed. Too often Robertson's argument consists of an "undoubtedly," as in "Undoubtedly [Jackson's] appraisal of life at Puebla coincided with that of a fellow artillery officer Lieutenant David Frost who declared. . . ." (p. 61) Robertson writes the kind of "vivid" history that, while popular and novelistic, is not scholarly. One wishes he had made a different decision, as this biography of Jackson is rich in research and interpretation. One also suspects that the academic community is not the community to which Robertson addresses this book.

Reid Mitchell, University of Maryland

© 1998 by The Journal of Southern Religion. All rights reserved. ISSN 1094-5234

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