Not since Ben Hur have I seen a film so respectful of the Christian faith. In God's and Generals the Bible is reverently read and quoted from. Fervant prayers are offered - and answered. The vibrant Christian faith of General Robert E. Lee and especially General 'Stonewall' Jackson are powerfully portrayed.
All the complexities and depth of character of Stonewall Jackson are depicted: his lecturing at Virginia Military Institute before the war, his intense affection for and devotion to his wife and child, his intimate walk with the Lord, his fearlessness under fire, his Bible study, his brilliant military strategy, his tenacity and aggression in battle, his ruthlessness with deserters (he had them shot), his tenderness towards children, his conflicts with other officers, his humility, his friendships with black people, his anger towards the treachery of the Union invaders. All this and more is graphically portrayed in this, over 3 hour, masterpiece.
God's and Generals is produced by Ron Maxwell as a prequel to his highly acclaimed Gettysburg. Whereas Gettysburg focused on the bloody 3 day battle which was the turning point in the war, God's and Generals covers the first 2 years of the war - when the Confederate armies were victorious.
The film begins with Robert E. Lee being offered the overall command of the Union forces. Lee refuses because of his "higher duty" to his state, Virginia. At first critical of the secession and unwilling to join it, when President Lincoln makes clear his intention to raise a Union army to invade and crush the Southern states, the Virginia legislature votes to resist. Geographically in the middle, Union troops had to go through Virginia in order to invade the Confederate states. Lee then accepts command of the Confederate forces to resist this.
General Robert E. Lee stands out as an exemplary Christian gentleman, deeply loved and revered by all sides. Like Field Marshal Rommel in WWII, Lee was even respected by his enemies - who provided an honour guard and saluted him at the end of the war at Appomattox.
To this day, Lee remains the only cadet in the two centuries of the US Military Academy at West Point, to have completed the 4 year programme without receiving a single demerit. For his courage and accomplishments in the Union army, as an engineer and in the Mexican War, Lee was acclaimed by the Commander in Chief as "the greatest soldier in the American Army". Lee's humility, brilliant strategy and dynamic Christian faith are honoured in this new film. What only gets passing mention, however, is Lee's opposition to slavery and attempts to have it abolished before the war even started.
'Stonewall' Jackson received his nickname after the first chaotic battle of Bull Run when fleeing Confederate soldiers were inspired to rejoin the attack by the sight of General Jackson sitting prominently on his horse with bullets whistling by and canon fire exploding all around.
As Jackson commented afterwards: "… my religious beliefs teach me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me … that is the way all men should live …"
The film also powerfully depicts the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville when Jackson electrified the world with one of the most stunning large scale ambushes in military history. Commanding a force only a fraction the size of his foe, Jackson moved his men through the woods to outflank the Union forces. Achieving complete surprise the Confederates stampeded the colossal Union invasion army of 143 000, routing and throwing them back in headlong retreat.
Tragically Jackson was shot - by his own side - in the confusion of this tumultuous battle. When Jackson died as a result of these wounds, inflicted by 'friendly fire', the cause of the Confederates was doomed.
As Winston Churchill observed in his history of the war: "on such agate points do the balances of the world turn." Almost all historians of the American War Between The States agree that had Jackson been alive for the battle at Gettysburg - two months later - the South would have won. Lee and Jackson together had been unbeatable.
However, at Gettysburg, Lee's generals failed to secure the high ground after the first day. Jackson, had he been there, would have fulfilled Lee's orders and secured the high ground. That night the Union forces moved in and began to entrench themselves on the high ground. Even at that point, Jackson would have moved to outflank them, or retired to choose to fight on ground more favourable to them. His successors, however, went into the same kind of trap Lee and Jackson had set for the Union forces at Fredericksburg. The devastating result of Pickett's charge - courageous but futile - cost the South the war.
As General Lee declared: "We have appealed to the God of battles - and He has decided against us." As Jackson taught: "Duty is ours. The results are God's." Ultimatly we can see God's hand of judgement on the South. Better soldiers, incredibly brave, but failing to heed Lee's plea to free all the slaves - invited God's Judgement.
I highly recommend this superb film: "God's and Generals" and the book by Ted Baehr and Susan Wales: "Faith in God and Generals".
Dr. Peter Hammond
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