Editor’s Note: Troop discipline in combat has been a central issue in war since time immemorial. Stonewall Jackson defined leadership in combat and had very specific ideas about desertion. Director Ron Maxwell’s “Gods and Generals” is the epic film about Jackson’s leadership of the the Stonewall Brigade during some of the most intense combat in American history.
In the exceptionally cold winter of 1862-1863 the Army of Northern Virginia was encamped in the vicinity of Moss Neck, along the Rappahannock River, south of Fredericksburg, VA.
In this scene, Sandy Pendleton, one of Stonewall Jackson’s aides de camp, brings news that three members of the Stonewall Brigade have been apprehended after leaving their posts and charged with desertion. It’s a particularly painful moment for both Pendleton and Jackson because they personally know these men and have fought together since the start of the War in ’61. But as can be vividly seen in this film clip, Stonewall Jackson didn’t merit his nickname for nothing. The events depicted really happened. The dialogue is my own, imagined from my extensive studies of the man and those who knew him. Jackson is portrayed by Stephen Lang and Pendleton by Jeremy London.
“Desertion is not a solitary crime. It is a crime against the tens of thousands of veterans who are huddled together in the harsh cold of this winter. Against all those who have sacrificed. Against all those who have fallen. Against all the women and the children we have left alone to fend for themselves. I regard the crime of desertion as a sin against the army. Duty is ours, the consequences are God’s.”