The Prayer Life of Stonewall Jackson

The Prayer Life of Stonewall Jackson

Written by David T. Crum |
Thursday, August 24, 2023

It was the General’s dream to have a Christian praying army. While such a notion was not possible, we can only awe in reverence to the idea. Imagine the sight of an opposing army committed and engaged in prayer, ready to battle its enemy forces. Such a thought should tremble our souls and provide comfort in the Lord’s Providence.

The Scriptures teach that prayer should occur throughout the day, “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). Prayer is our direct communication with the Lord. It should be the cornerstone of our daily living, and a custom so familiar to us that we need not question if we are abounding in our prayers.

Through our prayers, we praise the Lord, seek His will and guidance, ask for understanding, and acknowledge our sins. While several notable Christians served in the U.S. Civil War, Stonewall Jackson stands out when discussing his prayer life. Prayer remained one of the most deciding parts of the general’s fame. He once said, “I have so fixed the habit in my own mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without lifting my heart to God in thanks and prayer for the water of life.”[1]

As Jackson grew older and matured in the faith, those who knew Jackson best realized that he never decided his daily affairs without seeking the Lord. Whether it was battle plans, sending a letter in the mail, or seeking wisdom in his Scripture reading, the general remained faithful in prayer. One biographer said praying was like breathing for him.[2] Charles Hodge best described prayer:

“Prayer is the soul’s conversation with God. Therein we manifest or express to Him our reverence and love for His divine perfection, our gratitude for all His mercies, our penitence for our sins, our hope in His forgiving love, our submission to His authority, our confidence in His care, our desires for His favours and for the providential and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others.”[3]

The believer knows that prayer underlines our faithfulness and submission to God’s will. The Lord eloquently taught us the standards of prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) so that we may live in constant contact with our Father in heaven. Contrary to modern beliefs, Stonewall sought peace before and during the War Between the States. He constantly prayed for reconciliation and sought the prayers of others, seeking an end to the conflict. While earning a strong, admirable reputation during the Mexican-American War as a great military warrior, by the time the Civil War started, those who knew Jackson often referred to him as a professor of religion, living strictly for the Lord. During the war, accounts emerged of his constant prayer life, even amid intense battle. One biographer wrote:

While the battle was raging and the bullets were flying, Jackson rode by, calm as if he were at home, but his head raised toward heaven, and his lips were moving, evidently in prayer. Meeting a chaplain near the front in the heat of a battle, the general said to him, ‘The rear is your place, sir, now, and prayer your business.[4]

In another instance, Presbyterian Rev. R.L. Dabney recalled:

As soon as Jackson uttered his command, he drew up his horse, and dropping the reins upon his neck, raised both his hands toward the heavens while the fire of battle in his face changed into a look of reverential awe. Even while he prayed, the God of battles heard; or ever he had withdrawn his uplifted hands the bridge was gained, and the enemy’s gun was captured.[5]

Such dedication to prayer, even in war, is remarkable and serves as an example for us today. However, such commitment should not surprise the reader if they are aware of the Christian life of Stonewall Jackson. His prayers brought him understanding, comfort, hope, forgiveness, and a growing love of his Savior. Often mocked for seeking God’s will and direction in every aspect of life, his prayer life assisted in the conviction and ultimate conversion of Lt. General Richard S. Ewell.

Prayer should not only be the focal point of our lives; it should also serve as an example to others. Whether it be to your spouse, children, fellow Christians, or unbelievers, the power of prayer is indestructible. William S. Plumer wrote, “But there is no form of religion without prayer, and surely there is no salvation to those who restrain prayer. Our wants as creatures, and our necessities as sinners, can be supplied by Him who is infinite. Prayer is a duty by natural religion.”[6]  Prayer humbles the soul and reminds the believer that the Lord is in control.

It was the General’s dream to have a Christian praying army. While such a notion was not possible, we can only awe in reverence to the idea. Imagine the sight of an opposing army committed and engaged in prayer, ready to battle its enemy forces. Such a thought should tremble our souls and provide comfort in the Lord’s Providence. Rev. John R. Richardson remarked, “Jackson believed that if anyone came before the Searcher of hearts, with sincere motives for light and guidance, he was sure to receive it. It was because he believed so strongly in Providence that he believed so strongly in prayer.”[7]

When struck by friendly fire and succumbing to death a few days later, Jackson’s prayer life impressed those surrounding his bedside. He said to his wife, Anna, “Pray for me, but always remember in your prayers to use the petition, Thy will be done.’”[8] Jackson died shortly after, but his legacy continued. The story goes:

Mr. W.P. St. John, president of the Mercantile Bank of New York relates this incident. He stated that he was in the Shenandoah Valley with Gen. Thomas Jordan and at the close of the day, they found themselves at the foot of the mountains in a wild and lonely place. The only place they could find for rest was a rough shanty. There they found a rough looking, unshaven man. They were amazed when the time came to eat that this rough backwoodsman rapped on the table and bowed his head and prayed. The banker said, “Never did I hear a petition that more evidently came from the heart. It was so simple, so reverent, so tender, so full of humility and penitence, as well as thankfulness. We sat in silence and as soon as we recovered, I whispered to Gen. Jordan, “Who can he be?” To which he answered, “I don’t know, but he must be one of Stonewall Jackson’s old soldiers.” And he was. Asking him “Were you in the war?” “Oh yes,” he said with a smile, “I was with old Stonewall.”[9]

Our prayers can and will influence the lives of others. Prayer should be like breathing, remaining steady in our lives, allowing us to live in everlasting communication with our Lord and Savior. Prayer will radically change our lives if we engage in the practice, and perhaps will even lead others into eternity and the salvation of Christ. While an entire Christian praying military army may not be feasible today, the power, boldness, and faithfulness of the body of Christ in prayer are. Allow us to bring such veneration to the world through our prayers.

David Crum holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. He serves as an Assistant Professor of History and Dissertation Chair. His research interests include the history of warfare and Christianity. He and his family attend Trinity Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Bedell, New Brunswick. 

[1] Byron Farwell, A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), 114.

[2] John Esten Cooke, Stonewall Jackson: A Military Biography, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1876), 198.

[3] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1988), 498.

[4] J. Williams Jones, Christ in the Camp, (Atlanta: The Martin & Hoyt Co., 1904), 93.

[5] Robert Lewis Dabney, The Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1983), 413.

[6] William S. Plumer, Theology for the People Or Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 2005), 15.

[7] John R. Richardson, The Christian Character of General Stonewall Jackson, (Weaverville: The Southern Presbyterian Journal Company, 1943), 3.

[8] Mary Anna Jackson, Life and Letters of General Thomas J. Jackson, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1892), 100.

[9] Richardson, The Christian Character of General Stonewall Jackson, 15.

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