Cemeteries have endless stories to tell. In Fayette and Upshur counties, 100 miles apart, you’ll find the final resting places for two of the women most dear to Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
In Westlake Cemetery, just off U.S. 60 in Ansted, is the grave of Stonewall’s mother, Julia Neale Jackson Woodson. She was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, in 1798 to Thomas and Margaret Neale.
When she was 2, the family moved to what was then known as Neal’s Station. There, they became a founding family of what would soon become Parkersburg.
In 1817, Julia married attorney Jonathan Jackson, who hailed from a prominent western Virginia family. They had four children: Elizabeth (1819), Warren (1821), Thomas (1824), and Laura (1826).
The family moved to Clarksburg in the early 1820s. Almost certainly, the youngest two children were born in Clarksburg, although a marker on Parkersburg’s floodwall claims Thomas, the future Civil War general, was born near that spot.
Some have suggested that Thomas was born in Parkersburg during a visit to see Julia’s relatives.
The following years were tragic. In March 1826, Elizabeth died of typhoid. A year later, Jonathan died of the same disease, the day before the birth of their fourth and final child, Laura.
Making Julia’s life all the more daunting, Jonathan had accumulated quite a bit of debt, leaving the 28-year-old widow virtually destitute with three small children to raise alone. While the extended Jackson and Neale families were prosperous, Julia refused to accept charity. She sold off everything she owned of value to ward off Jonathan’s creditors, ran a private school and did odd jobs to make ends meet.
In 1830, Julia married attorney B.B. Woodson, who was 15 years older than her. Just months later, in February 1831, Fayette County was created, and B.B. was appointed the first court clerk. The family set up housekeeping in the original county seat of Mountain Cove, today’s Ansted. Later that year, Julia gave birth to her only child with B.B., William Wirt Woodson (1831-75).
Like Julia’s first husband, B.B. had money problems, and, on a personal level, he disliked his three stepchildren.
After a very taxing 33 years, Julia’s health began to decline rapidly, very possibly due to complications from childbirth. B.B. used her illness as an excuse to dispatch his stepchildren to live with their relatives. Warren went to stay with the Neales in Parkersburg. Thomas and Laura moved to Jackson’s Mill to live with their Uncle Cummins Jackson, who historian James Robertson described as “unscrupulous and vindictive.”
A weathered wayside marker at Westlake Cemetery says Thomas returned to Ansted only one more time in his life: “in the autumn of 1831, to see his mother shortly before she died.”
We don’t know precisely when he visited or when she passed. The state of Virginia didn’t require counties to record births and deaths until 1853. A wooden marker placed on her grave had disappeared by 1855. The current gravestone, erected after the Civil War by one of Stonewall’s former soldiers, notes that her death occurred in September 1831. However, numerous genealogy sites state that William Wirt was born on Oct. 7 of that year. If so, Julia obviously passed away on or after Oct. 7.
Some sources cite her death date as Dec. 4. We’ll likely never know for sure. Given the minute details we know about her famous third child, this lack of information is another sad symbolic footnote to her short life.
The Jackson children
For the Jackson children, losing both parents at such a young age must have affected them the rest of their lives. Warren Jackson became a schoolteacher but died of tuberculosis in 1841 at age 20. In 1835, after the death of Thomas and Laura’s step-grandmother, the brother and sister were split up and sent to live with relatives: Thomas with his aunt and uncle near Clarksburg and Laura with her uncle, Alfred Neale, in Parkersburg.
Unhappy at his new home, Thomas soon returned to Jackson’s Mill. In part through Cummins’ political connections, Thomas received an appointment to West Point in 1842.
In 1844, Laura married Jonathan Arnold. The couple bought a house in Beverly in Randolph County and had four children. Thomas and Laura remained quite close through correspondence and occasional visits — until the Civil War began in 1861. The war caused a permanent rift between the two living Jackson siblings.
Stories you might like
Thomas would become perhaps the Confederacy’s most acclaimed military leader. Laura, on the other hand, was an ardent Unionist. One can only speculate at the reasons, although it’s worth noting that Laura lived many of her formative years in Parkersburg, which would become a Union bastion and leader in the West Virginia statehood movement.
As far as we know, Laura and Thomas never again communicated; however, Laura did keep in touch with his second wife, Anna, who named the child she and Stonewall had in 1862 after Laura.
One commonly shared story suggests Laura displayed “mixed feelings” when hearing of her brother’s death at Chancellorsville in 1863 and supposedly said she “would rather know that he was dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army.”
The house in Beverly
Beverly was a busy town during the Civil War. The county seat of Randolph County at the time, it was a key commercial and governmental stop along the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike (Route 219 follows the same path through that area today). Due to the turnpike’s military importance, Beverly had a nearly permanent Union encampment and, too often, was a make-shift medical center.
Around the time of the nearby Battle of Rich Mountain in July 1861, Union commander George McClellan stopped at the Arnolds’ house in Beverly at least twice. McClellan had graduated from West Point in 1846 with Laura’s brother, who would earn the nickname “Stonewall” days later at the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas.
Over the next 14 months, McClellan and his former classmate would face off in major conflicts, such as the Seven Days Battle and Antietam.
The Arnolds hosted many Union officers and wounded during the war, even though Jonathan — and most other residents of Beverly — supported the South. The wounded became a constant presence in many Beverly homes, including Laura’s. However, as her son later observed while looking on the bright side of what must have been an unsettling childhood, it spared them the aggravation of non-sick soldiers — who quickly developed a negative reputation for loitering about town — while also bringing hard-to-get foods and goods to Beverly, courtesy of the U.S. military.
Thomas Arnold, Laura’s son, wrote of his family’s home and Beverly during the war: “We generally had in the house some sick Federal officers, as did a number of other families in town ... the invalid’s [sic] meals being supplied by the family. Aside from a natural feeling of humanity to aid the sick ... it saved a family from being annoyed with soldiers. Then again, soldiers were entitled to draw several rations in proportion to their rank ... in flour, meats, etc., from the U.S. Commissary, at wholesale cost. Families could, in that way, obtain supplies that were sometimes difficult to get.”
‘Hell could not govern a Jackson’
Laura felt so strongly about the Union cause that the issue broke up her marriage to Jonathan. In 1863, Beverly attorney Mortimer Johnson wrote, “Mrs. J — sister of Gen. Jackson — went off with the Yankees. Arnold stayed at home, says he is a good Southern man, that his wife is crazy, but Hell, he says, could not govern a Jackson.”
During the war, she continually helped nurse sick and wounded Union soldiers. Later, one of those soldiers wrote of her, “With her own tender hands she soothed the aching temples of many a dying soldier boy, far away from the loved ones at home.”
In a rather remarkable action for the 1800s, Laura filed for divorce from Jonathan. The case dragged on until it was made official in 1870. Jonathan absurdly accused his wife of having repeated affairs with the wounded soldiers she was caring for. After a very public case, often described as “scandalous,” a judge decided in Laura’s favor and ordered Jonathan to pay her $400 a year in alimony. It was rare for a woman to win a divorce case in those days, particularly in such a definitive manner.
As a result of her service during the war, Laura became an honored legend to veterans who frequent Union Army reunions in West Virginia. In 1897, the Society of the Army of West Virginia named her an honorary member. At a 5th West Virginia Cavalry reunion, she was named “Mother of the Regiment.”
Laura lived many of her later years in a sanitarium in Columbus, Ohio, before moving in with the widow and family of her late son, Stark, in Buckhannon in 1910. She died the following year at age 85 and was laid to rest in Buckhannon’s Heavner Cemetery. She outlived three of her four children. The only one to survive her was Thomas Jackson Arnold, her brother’s namesake.
You can visit both women’s graves: Westlake Cemetery at 59 Cemetery St. in Ansted and Heavner Cemetery off Hall Road in Buckhannon.
In addition, historic markers outside the original Arnold House in Beverly tell the stories of Laura and Jonathan.