Jackson Declines An Invitation To Dinner
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ON one occasion having an appointment to lecture at Frederick, Maryland, I registered at the hotel and went to my room. In less than an hour the bellboy brought me a card with a name on it unfamiliar to me. Going down into the office, I found a well-built, intelligent-looking, kind-spirited, middle-aged man, who said: " My name, sir, is Gambrill; if you are the per-son I think you are, you are my cousin. I have come to invite you to stay at my house while you are in the city. No relative of mine shall stop at a hotel while in this town.
Being the man he thought I was, I went with him, where I was entertained in good old-fashioned Southern style, with good eating, and warm-heartedness, and intelligent companionship enough for a king. After the lecture, as we were seated by the open fireplace chatting away, I remarked that I had been to the cemetery in the afternoon to see the grave of Barbara Frietchie, and as I unfolded a piece of paper containing some dried grass that I had pulled from the grave, my cousin smiled, I thought from the way he looked, at my credulity.
I continued, " How about that story upon which Whittier based his poem. It is historically correct, is it not? " He replied, " There was such a woman as Barbara Frietchie who lived in a plain house on a corner not far from here. She was a good old soul. Her sympathies were with the North. But the picture of her putting her white head out of the window and waving a little Union flag as the Confederate soldiers marched by, and of Stonewall Jackson commanding his soldiers to let her alone, was the creature of Whittier's imagination." I inquired of my cousin if he knew' Stonewall Jackson. The response came quickly, " Yes, very well." I asked him if he could remember any story about him which had never been printed. He said : " Yes, there is an incident which came under my own observation which you may be pleased to hear. When the Confederate forces were encamped near the town, I concluded it would he the kind and proper thing to have Stonewall Jackson come in and take dinner with me. I thought Sunday would be the best day. I had a splendid breed of bronze turkeys on my farm, and the finest one I had killed on Saturday for the dinner next day. A little before noon on the Sabbath, I drove in my carriage out to camp, and was passed through the guards to General Jackson. I found him on a rude stool seated before a plank which served as a table, with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a chunk of corn bread in the other, and an open Bible before him. I said, ` General, I have come to take you home to dine with me to-day. I will not keep you long. The rest and recreation will do you good; beside, I notice you have not a great variety of food on your table.' "
" The general said : ` It was a beautiful thing for you to think of me, and to come and ask me to partake of your hospitality, but I shall have to decline your invitation. In the first place, it is my custom to take the same kind of fare exactly that my soldiers have, and in the second place, I employ the meal-time when I can as a season for reading the Bible, meditation and prayer. On this, the Lord's Day, I have peculiar rest and enjoyment in communing with my Heavenly rather.'
" I said to him, ` General, while I thought the two or three hours visit would-be good for you, I was not unselfish in inviting you, for I prize your friendship and anticipated great happiness in your company. But your democratic spirit, your love for your men, your faith in God make me respect and love you more than ever before.' " I told my cousin that of all the stories I had heard of Jackson, none was more beautiful than the one he had related, and that the great Confederate General, by his singular military genius, his high and noble character, his splendid devotion to his men and his faith in God, had commanded the respect and affection of the people of the North as well as the South.
Real greatness is in plain living and high thinking. Great generals share the hardships of the camp with their men. Everything that lives feeds, the body on bread, the mind on truth, the heart on the Bible and on God.