1863: “Friends Among Strangers”

February 14, 1863

…Your delightful letter of six pages received a welcome reception this evening. I am thankful to see that our kind Heavenly Father is again restoring mother to health. I felt uneasy about her, and thought that Joseph had better make a visit home. I have made the restoration of mother’s health a subject of prayer; but then we know that our dear ones are mortal, and that God does not always answer prayer according to our erring feelings. I think that if, when we see ourselves in a glass, we should consider that all of us that is visible must turn to corruption and dust, we would learn more justly to appreciate the relative importance of the body that perishes and the soul that is immortal…

Your accounts of baby are very gratifying, and intensify my desire to see her. If peace is not concluded before next winter, I do hope you can bring her and sped the winter with me. This would be very delightful. I f we are spared, I trust an ever-kind Providence will enable us to be together all winter. I am glad little Julia was pleased with her present, and wish I could have seen her laugh…

I do serve the 27th of next month as a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting, as our President has designated in his proclamation.

Tomorrow is the Sabbath. My Sabbaths are looked forward to with pleasure. I don’t know that I ever enjoyed Sabbaths as I do this winter…

I don’t think I have written you about recent presents. About a week since, I received from Mr. W.F. De la Rue, of London, a superb English saddle, bridle, holsters, saddle-cover, blankets, whip, spurs, etc. – the most complete riding equipage that I have seen for many a day. Its completeness is remarkable. This evening I received from Mr. John Johnson, of London, a box containing two flannel shirts, two pairs of long woolen stockings extending above the knees, a buckskin shirt, a pair of boots, a pair of leather leggings extending about eight inches above the knees, two pairs of excellent fitting leather gloves, and a very superior variegated colored blanket. Our ever-kind Heavenly Father gives me friends among strangers. He is the source of very blessings, and I desire to be more grateful to Him…

General Thomas J. Jackson to his wife, February 14, 1863

General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, 1863

International “Friends”

In this rather typical Thomas-Jacksonian letter, the Confederate general comments on news from the family’s homefront, shares a little of military life, and frequently expresses his faith. One of the remarkable pieces of news details gifts sent to the general from Europe.

Europe? Right. “Stonewall” Jackson had captured the imagination of the South, the fears of the North, and the interest of England. Due in part to his military victories and in part of his reported eccentricities, this international fame (or infamy) was quite an asset to Confederate diplomatic efforts. In 1862, reports of Jackson’s victories and his name in the headlines alongside other successful generals contributed to that year’s doubt in the international community to the outcome of the war. Though public opinion in Britain had generally shifted by the beginning of 1863 with the announcement of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, that didn’t mean the Confederacy had lost all interest. (In fact, some British shipyards were building vessels for the South and merchants were involved in secretive deals.)

Nowadays, persistent celebrity fans might tweet at them or try to join the paparazzi. Back in 1863, a typical way to get a famous person’s attentions was to visit (or attempt to visit) or send a remarkable gift. Mr. De La Rue and Mr. Johnson of London admired “Stonewall” Jackson and sent some expensive gifts to their hero of the hour. Other Europeans actually traveled to North America to meet with famous Confederate generals, Jackson included. They might have been a little disappointed when they arrived because Jackson – though polite – didn’t have much time or toleration for pomp and circumstance and, a little shy by nature, he didn’t like to have the spotlight.

Still, the mention of the gifts is a reminder of the international image Jackson was projecting for the Confederacy and the continuing interesting in the American struggle by European onlookers.

Little Julia, all grown up. Notice the necklace portrait of her father. (No known restrictions on the image).

Little Julia

Julia Laura Jackson – daughter of Thomas and MaryAnna Jackson – had been born in November 1862. Her father, devoted to duty, had been unable to visit North Carolina where Julia and her mother lived during the war. However, the general wrote frequently to his wife, asking about Baby Julia, and clearly enjoying the reports about his little daughter.

In this letter, Jackson suggests that MaryAnna and Julia will spend the winter of 1863-1864 with him, if the war is still continuing. However, mother and daughter would have an opportunity to visit much sooner: in April 1863. Julia Jackson was about five months old when her father finally saw her for the first time.

Sadly, Julia would grow up without her father and with no memories of him, aside from what her mother and friends told her. Shortly after the April visit, the Battle of Chancellorsville began, and days later on May 10, Julia’s father died of pneumonia and battlefield injuries.

Julia Jackson grew up, married, and had two children. She died in 1889 and is buried with her family in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia.

Historical Musings

At the beginning of the letter excerpt, General Jackson mentioned his mother-in-law’s recent illness. (He calls her “mother.”) Then he said he considered sending Joseph home to see her. Who is Joseph?

Joseph Morrison (no known restrictions)

Joseph Morrison was Jackson’s brother-in-law, one of MaryAnna’s younger brothers. Prior to the war, Lieutenant Morrison was at Virginia Military Institute (where his brother-in-law served as professor) and would have graduated in the class of 1865. However, in 1862, he left school and obtained a lieutenant’s commission and appointment to General Jackson’s staff; his first battle experience was at Cedar Mountain, and after that, he was with the general at all the major battles.

General Jackson believed his mother-in-law’s illness might have been serious enough that her son needed to return; however, she recovered before Joseph had a chance to visit. Mortality becomes a common theme in Jackson’s letters, leading some researchers to wonder if he thought he would survive the war or was only reflecting on his religious beliefs.

As Jackson wrote letters from winter quarters, he was fully aware of human mortality and spiritual immortality, but he could not have known that three months later he would be dead. He only knew what was happening at the moment. And in February 1863, Jackson was an internationally known commander. He was a father, longing to see his baby girl for the first time. He was a religious man, always considering the importance of his faith and testimony. He was a husband, writing a letter to his wife.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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