Historic marker unveiled in Beverly
By Christopher Taylor
BEVERLY — Community members and reenactors turned out for the unveiling of a new state historical marker honoring Laura Jackson Arnold, sister of general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. While many are familiar with the life and exploits of the famous Confederate general, few know the story of his Unionist sister who lived in Beverly before and during the Civil War.
Orphaned at an early age, Thomas and Laura Jackson were sent to live with their uncle Cummins Jackson, owner of a Lewis County gristmill known today as Jackson’s Mill. Although Laura was later sent to live with other relatives, the two siblings remained close.
Thomas attended West Point and went on to become an instructor at Virginia Military Institute, while Laura married Jonathan Arnold, a wealthy landowner and attorney in Beverly. In 1845, the couple purchased a brick house which still stands today on the corner of Main and Bridge streets. Thomas Jackson made frequent visits to his sister’s home.
“I often think of Stonewall Jackson when I go up the stairs,” said Joan Pitts, current owner of the house. “In one of his letters he talks of buying carpet for the stairs and you can still see where a stair runner was tacked to the treads.” Pitts has lived in the home since 2005.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Confederate general Thomas Jackson earned the nickname “Stonewall” after the First Battle of Bull Run. His victories on the battlefield and his larger-than-life personality were soon well known throughout the south. Meanwhile, back in Beverly, his sister was making a name for herself, both in principle and action.
After the Battle of Rich Mountain, and again during later raids on the town, Laura Jackson Arnold cared for the wounded of both armies. Old accounts described her tending to the sick and wounded “with a roll of bandages in one hand and a pot of coffee in the other.”
Although she took care of the troops of both armies–and despite the political leanings of her neighbors, her husband and her brother Laura was a Unionist.
Laura’s support for the Union took a toll representative of the wartime divisions faced by many families. She was estranged from her beloved brother Thomas, and she did not speak to him again before his death in 1863. Although she mourned his death, she believed the Union cause would be strengthened by his loss. Her own household was also bitterly divided.
The daily pressure of housing Federal officers and wounded troops combined with the strain of divided wartime sentiments proved to be too much. Jonathan and Laura Arnold separated, and later divorced in 1870.
After the war, Laura moved to Buckhannon and lived with her son and daughter-in-law. She remained unwavering in her wartime support for the Union.
In the 1890s she was recognized by several veterans’ organizations and attended a 1905 reunion of the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, which had once occupied Beverly. Many of the old soldiers remembered her care, and she was declared “Mother of the Regiment.” Laura Jackson Arnold died in Buckhannon in 1911.
The new marker is part of the Sesquicentennial Highway Project to create 160 new historical markers on the Civil War in West Virginia.
Funding was provided by the United States Department of Transportation, the West Virginia Division of Highways, and the West Virginia State Legislature.
Since 2013, more than 120 of the markers have been placed. Each county will receive at least two new markers.
Present for the unveiling were members of the West Virginia Reenactors Association, Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation, and Historic Beverly Preservation.
“I feel surrounded by history,” said Pitts. “It’s really special living here.”