“I feel like Jane Fonda speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution.” So said Professor James Robertson, Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech, as he admitted to having some sympathies for the Southern cause. The venue was a symposium in the main library of Miami about Lincoln, who kept the country united despite the creation of a Southern Confederacy in the 1860s.
Robertson, author of an acclaimed biography of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, compared and contrasted Lincoln and Jackson in his talk. “I spent eight years producing the biography of Jackson, and I found that Lincoln and Jackson kept crossing paths.”
Jackson, said Robertson, “grew up with an unloving, unscrupulous uncle. In short, he was an orphan- he suffered all the personality defects of an orphan. He never knew parental affection.”
Lincoln’s stepmother Sarah, by contrast, had a great and positive influence on the young Abraham. “He looked on her as his life’s protection.”
When Jackson entered West Point military academy in 1842, he ranked dead last in a group of 102. Despite calls for him to quit, “he realized West Point was probably the only chance he had to make something of his life.” He became a dedicated student; the only demerit points he got were for things like unclean buttons because he spent all his time studying.
His eventual success at West Point elicited a phrase from Jackson that has gone down in American history. “You can be whatever you resolve to be.”
Robertson noted that while Lincoln enjoyed humour, Jackson was the exact opposite- he never understood a joke.
They differed greatly in personality, but were both devoted husbands, and they both loved animals. “Lincoln always remained one with the common folk- he was called Father Abraham by the people.” Jackson’s deep religious beliefs, which governed every aspect of his life, kept him apart.
“He had strange views,” explained Robertson. “He thought the American Constitution was an extension of the Bible, and he thought God was displeased with Americans, which is why he brought the scourge of civil war to the country. He considered himself God’s instrument in that war.”
Robertson said the greatest tragedy of the civil war is that both sides fought for the same thing- America, “but they had different views of what America should be.”
“What,” asked Stonewall Jackson, “is life without honour?” That he fought with that idea in mind in beyond doubt. That he was on the wrong side of history is also beyond doubt. He died in 1863, and without the man who gave General Robert E. Lee the mobility of troops that Jackson could deliver, the Confederacy was doomed.
Lincoln went on to become “a symbol of hope for the oppressed,” and it his awesome reputation that inspires people today.
Robertson has written a great book, The Untold Civil War, which has recently been published by National Geographic. One of the most distinguished names in Civil War history, Dr. Robertson was Executive Director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission and worked with Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson in marking the war’s 100th anniversary.
Story and photo by Cliff Cunningham, copyright Sun News Miami.