Still Standing—The Stonewall Jackson Story
Franklin Springs Family Media, Color, 48 minutes, $19.95
Irony and paradox: those are the words used to characterize the life of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the documentary Still Standing— The Stonewall Jackson Story, directed by Ken Carpenter. They describe Jackson as arising from humble circumstances to accomplish extraordinary things. Beautifully filmed, the DVD has a pleasant musical score and relies more on live action video of sites from the general’s life than on the still photograph panning that has become standard procedure for historical documentaries.
Based on the book Stone wall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend by Richard Williams, the program focuses on Jackson’s spirituality during phases of his life, beginning with his traumatic separation from his mother at age 7 to be sent to live with his uncle Cummins at Jackson’s Mill in what is now West Virginia. Jackson biographer James I. Robertson describes Jackson’s boyhood as one of solitude and loneliness that scarred him so that he “did not know what love was,” but one in which Jackson came to accept the gospel because of Cummins’ slaves and his friendship with future Union general Joseph Lightburn.
Jackson’s time at West Point is covered briefly, and discussion of his Mexican War service is limited to his three brevet promotions, his dalliance with Catholicism, and the influence on his religious development of his superior officer Francis Taylor. As for his post-war career, we learn of his baptism while stationed at Fort Hamilton and of his leaving the army to teach at Virginia Military Institute, but nothing of why he left or any role his ambition—later described by Dr. Hunter McGuire as “far beyond what ordinary men possess”—may have played in his decision. While Jackson’s role at First Manassas and in the Valley Campaign is explored, there is scant analysis of his Civil War record. The film jumps from the Valley Campaign straight to Chancellorsville and his mortal wounding, avoiding entirely the paradox of Jack – son’s spotty performance during the Seven Days Battles.
At the center of the documentary is Jackson as a husband, father, and the benefactor of a Sunday school for slaves and free blacks in Lexington, Va.While establishing himself in the town, he joined the Presbyterian Church and married Eleanor Junkin. Fourteen months later, with his wife and new son dead, Jackson’s faith is said to be all that pulled him through. He toured Europe, and on his return courted and married Mary Anna Morrison. By all accounts Jackson deeply, even romantically, loved his wife.
Jackson, who believed that every human being was a child of God, helped to fund a Sunday school to teach slaves and free blacks to read, in order for them to more closely follow the teachings of the Bible. While in violation of Virginia law, he felt that God’s law trumped the law of man. Committed to the project, he sent his monthly stipend for the school from the battlefield of Manassas. This scenario presents perhaps the most significant paradox of Jackson’s life. While Robertson asserts that Jackson did not, in fact could not, fight for slavery, the paradox remains that his actions helped sustain a government dedicated to the preservation of that institution. That’s a paradox the film failed to explore.
Originally published in the May 2008 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.