The Presbyterian Sabre of His Soul

Well, I've got a couple of new enthusiasms, and they make me feel younger (I'm as old as many trees). One of them is listening to books-on-tape in the car, and the other is a renewed interest in the Civil War (see new design of this very site).

When the Swait family visits the downtown library here in G'ville, there are two places we must visit: I must swing by the Young Adults section to look for comic books, and Kimberly's got to stop the Electronic Media section to look for a movie or two. We are obviously big library people.

Well, during our last visit downtown they only had a couple of comics I hadn't read yet, so I wandered over to where I thought Kimberly would be (video section). As I approached her I saw from the corner of my eye Thomas J. Jackson staring balefully at me. Embarrassed that he should see me carrying comic books, I picked up the cassette case his face was emblazoned on and jammed it under my arm so that he wouldn't see me carrying a Wonder Woman comic. Of course, once I'd picked him up, I had to do the decent thing and check him out.

So last week I listened to Standing Like A Stone Wall, by one James I. Robertson. Man, I had so much fun! Let's just say it beat the pants off talk radio or pop radio. So now I'm hooked...the books-on-tape thing and the Civil War thing are here to stay for a while. I'm now listening to one of Bruce Catton's volumes , and I've checked out the print adult version of Standing Like A Stone Wall (which was a rewrite for kids).

I've also been rereading favorite passages of Stephen Vincent Benet's John Brown's Body, and those involving Jackson. I've always been a bit of a military history buff, but the Civil War was never a big gig of mine...but I think I might be getting into it a little more...woo hoo!

I quite enjoy Benet (what of him I've read), I think for the same reasons I like Carl Sandburg. He's one of those early 20th-century Ho! for America! poets that are so often annoyingly humanistic...but he and Sandburg do it honestly, admiring sweat and hard work. Don't be a super-spiritual weeny like Emerson, tht's what I say. Wouldn't last long in a fist-fight, that fellow.

is a beautiful country," said John Brown.

The gallows-stairs were climbed, the death-cap fitted.

Behind the gallows,

Before a line of red-and-grey cadets,

A certain odd Professor T. J. Jackson

Watched disapprovingly the ragged militia

Deploy for twelve long minutes ere they reached

Their destined places.

The Presbyterian sabre of his soul

Was moved by a fey breath.

He saw John Brown,

A tiny blackened scrap of paper-soul

Fluttering above the Pit that Calvin barred

With bolts of iron on the unelect;

He heard the just, implacable Voice speak out

"Depart ye wicked to eternal fire."

And sternly prayed that God might yet be moved

To save the predestined cinder from the flame.

And later, on Jackson, after First Bull Run (that appelation for the battle gives away my Yankee-ness):

And Washington was theirs for the simple act

Of stretching out a hand to the apple up on the bough,

If they had known. But they could not know it then.

They saw too many spectres--unbroken Union reserves

Moving to cut their supply-line near Manassas.


While only the stiff-necked Jackson saw it clear

As a fighting-psalm or a phrase in Napoleon's tactics.

He said to the surgeon who was binding his wound,

With a taciturn snap, "Give me ten thousand fresh troops

And I will be in Washington by tomorrow."