With his Scots-Irish roots and staunch Calvinist beliefs, the Reverend George Junkin must have seemed a good fit for the presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Va., in 1848. An Old School Presbyterian, Junkin was no stranger to academics or to ideological controversy.
Representing the more conservative, doctrinaire side of the church, Junkin settled into Lexington’s Presbyterian community, which included Major Thomas J. Jackson, who married Junkin’s daughter Elinor in 1852. But the secession crisis forced Junkin’s hand on the issue of disunion. As Virginia moved to secede in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860, Junkin declared, “I would not dissolve this union if the people should make the devil President!” He left the South for Philadelphia in 1861, though several family members chose to stay in Virginia, including his daughter Margaret Junkin Preston. Preston became a poet of some renown; among her best known poems are “Beechenbrook: A Rhyme of the War” and “The Shade of the Trees,” inspired by the dying words of her former brother-in-law: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
Having previously published treatises on Presbyterian theology, the Rev. Junkin returned to writing. Among his wartime works was Political Fallacies (1862), an argument against using the Constitution to justify secession. In 1867 he became a contributor to The Christian Statesman, a journal dedicated to the philosophy that government was ordained by God to carry out Christian principles. Junkin’s essay “Civil Government: A Divine Ordinance” appeared in an early issue of the Statesman and proclaimed, “every man who enjoys the franchise at the polls, is an elector of divine appointment….What a responsibility lies upon the head of every free man!”
Junkin also continued to minister, visiting Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, Md., and at Fort Delaware. He died in Philadelphia on May 20, 1868.
Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.