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Laura Jackson Arnold, the younger sister of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, was a nurse during the Civil War. She was born in Clarksburg on March 27, 1826, the youngest child of lawyer Jonathan Jackson and Julia Beckwith Neale Jackson.

Orphaned at a young age, Laura and her brother were sent to live with relatives at Jackson’s Mill in Lewis County. In 1835, she was sent to live with her uncle Alfred Neale and his wife, at a home located on an island in the Ohio River near Parkersburg.

In 1844, Laura married Jonathan Arnold. The couple settled in Beverly, Randolph County. Laura gave birth to four children: Thomas Jackson (1845-1933), Anna Grace (1848-1878), Stark William (1851-1898), and Laura Zell (1853–1854). According to the 1860 census, the family owned four slaves.

In the years preceding the Civil War, Laura maintained a close relationship with her brother Stonewall, corresponding frequently. Stonewall visited Laura and Jonathan in Beverly, even going so far as to buy carpet for the stairs in the home. In 1859, Laura visited her brother’s family in Lexington, Virginia, when she traveled there to retrieve her oldest son, whom Laura had sent to Lexington for tutoring in 1858 at Stonewall’s request.

The start of the Civil War seems to have brought an end to Laura and Stonewall’s correspondence; no letters between the two survive from this time. However, Laura remained in written contact with Stonewall’s wife, Anna, and in 1862 Stonewall and Anna named their daughter Julia Laura.

It is possible that Laura and Stonewall grew estranged because of the war, as she was a staunch Unionist, while he served as one of the Confederacy’s top generals. For the majority of the war, following the Battle of Rich Mountain, Beverly was occupied by federal forces. During this time, Laura opened her home to care for sick and injured Union troops, as well as some Confederate troops. Union General George B. McClellan, a classmate of Stonewall’s at West Point, was a notable visitor to the home. After her brother’s death in 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Laura reportedly was saddened, yet said she “would rather know that he was dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army.” In 1864, Laura wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln strongly expressing her support of the Union.

Laura’s marriage also was strained by the war. Unlike his wife, Jonathan Arnold opposed the Union cause. Laura eventually filed for divorce, resulting in a lengthy case in which Jonathan claimed his wife was unfaithful during the war by having affairs with soldiers that stayed at their home. Laura’s lawyer countered by explaining that for many years Laura suffered from a medical condition in which intercourse was painful, implying that her husband’s allegations were unlikely to be true. In August 1870, the judge ruled in Laura’s favor, awarding her $400 per year.

In her later years, Laura lived at a sanitarium in Columbus, Ohio. Many veterans honored her in the decades following the Civil War. In 1897, she was named an honorary member of the Society of the Army of West Virginia. At a 1905 reunion of the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, she was proclaimed the “Mother of the Regiment.” In 1910, Laura returned to her home state. She spent her final days living in Buckhannon, Upshur County. She died on September 24, 1911, and is buried in Buckhannon’s Heavner Cemetery.

In 2018, a state historical marker was unveiled outside Laura and Jonathan’s home in Beverly, commemorating Laura’s contributions during the Civil War.

This Article was written by Jeffrey Webb

Last Revised on July 01, 2022


Sources

Spurgeon, Larry. Laura Arnold: Stonewall Jackson’s Unionist Sister.. Jackson Brigade Corporation, 2020.

Taylor, Christopher. “Historic marker unveiled in Beverly.”. The Inter-Mountain, July 25, 2018.

Cite This Article

Webb, Jeffrey "Laura Jackson Arnold." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 01 July 2022. Web. 02 December 2022.

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