May I paraphrase you… out of context… General Jackson?

Posted on January 6, 2009 by


Looking through the unit history for the Staunton Artillery yesterday (for something pertaining to a post over at BullRunnings), I came across a quote that sounded familiar. Then I realized that it was from a Gods & Generals conversation between “General Jackson” and “Captain Smith.” Remember? It was one held at the artillery position (Ricketts’?), when Jackson finds the VMI cadet outstretched across the tongue of the Parrott rifle… it’s about 52 minutes into the movie.

“Captain Smith” asks…

General, how is it you can… keep so serene… and… so utterly insensible… with the storm of shells and bullets raining about your head?

“Jackson” responds…

Captain Smith, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death, I do not concern myself with that, but to be always ready, whenever it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and all men would be equally brave.

Well, truth be known, that was not a conversation had between Jackson and Smith, nor was it a conversation made on the battlefield… or in a similar situation… and, it was slightly tweaked (well, at least that part stated by “Captain Smith”).

It was actually something taken from one of Captain John D. Imboden’s recollections and was from an exchange had between Imboden and Jackson three days after the battle, when Imboden visited Jackson at his headquarters near Centreville. Imboden wrote,

Although it was barely sunrise, he was out under the trees bathing the hand with spring water. It was much swollen and very painful, but he bore himself stoically. His wife had arrived the night before. Of course, the battle was the only topic discussed at breakfast. I remarked, in Mrs. Jackson’s hearing, ‘General, how is it that you can keep so cool, and appear so utterly insensible to danger in such a storm of shell and bullets as rained about you when your hand was hit?’ He instantly became grave and reverential in his manner, and answered, in a low tone of earnestness: ‘Captain, my religious belief teaches 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 be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me.’ He added, after a pause, looking me full in the face: ‘Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.’

I felt that this last remark was intended as a rebuke for my profanity, when I had complained to him on the field of the apparent abandonment of my battery to capture, and I apologized. He heard me, and simply said, ‘Nothing can justify profanity.

There you have it. Certainly, this is an interesting quote, but clearly there was no time to include it in yet another scene to extend the length of the film. So, it appears that, since someone found the quote so great, they inserted it into a situation that was filled with greater drama… and made a bigger splash of it by tweaking the original comments ever so slightly and out of context.

Don’t ya just love Hollywood for the way it delivers history? Yes, I know, this is but one departure from “the facts” in this particular movie, but I wonder how many people actually believe that the conversation was had in the way it was depicted in the movie. I also wonder how many people would ever know or make the effort to know that it was not a conversation between Jackson and Smith, but with Imboden (a very interesting, though to most, probably a much less conspicuous character than Smith in contemporary reflection of the war).

I don’t have a copy of the book… does it appear in the book as in the movie? I’d just like to nail down the point of departure from fact.