An American Family and the Civil War

By:  John J. Dwyer
An American Family and the Civil War

In the days immediately preceding the U.S. Civil War, strongly held personal beliefs drove families apart as members took sides. When war began, suffering visited all.

The Rev. Dr. George Junkin was among the first to arrive on the great and terrible field of carnage and destruction that was 1863 Gettysburg. Tens of thousands of America’s bravest sons had fallen the previous three days during events now consecrated in the national memory — Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, and Pickett’s Charge. The turning point of Americans’ epic war with themselves, history would call Gettysburg. Junkin possessed a closer connection to what some would cite as a more crucial event that occurred two months earlier.

It had been a long time since he sat at the head of the table of one of the most interesting American families ever to gather for supper. While president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, from 1848-1861, he could often look around the table and see his sons John, George Jr., Ebenezer, and William; his daughters Maggie, Ellie, and Julia; his brother David and that man’s son George G.; and his sons-in-law John Preston (co-founder of Lexington’s Virginia Military Institute or VMI) and Tom Jackson, as well as Preston’s son (and Maggie’s stepson) Willy. Junkin and his own children were Pennsylvania-born-and-raised.

Junkin shined as a lionheart of spirit and learning, and was renowned nationally in educational and Presbyterian circles. He became a close friend, spiritual mentor, and surrogate father to Tom Jackson — an eccentric professor at VMI — even before romance blossomed between the orphaned young man and Junkin’s beautiful and winsome daughter Ellie. The two men shared a fervent adherence to the Reformed theological doctrines of sovereign grace espoused by John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and others. These teachings emphasized a high view of God, a keen sense of the depravity and need of humankind, the abiding necessity of the Lordship of Christ over every facet of a person’s life at all times, and a preeminent trust that “All [not just most, some, or good] things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Of all the Christians great and small whom Junkin had known in his long and extensive service and leadership in Christ’s church and academia, he declared he had never known a more devout person than Tom Jackson. The younger man gave him what would prove perhaps the most precious gift of his life, a gold-headed cane. The two delighted in marathon theological discussions, along with Junkin’s sons, some of whom anticipated serving in the ministry. “My dear son,” Junkin called Tom after the latter wed Ellie, with all the love an older man could have for a son, even as Tom’s heart brimmed over with the love of an orphaned younger man for a father.

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