Many a woman answered the call in the Civil War years, and devoted herself to taking care of wounded soldiers back from the front. In what would become the newly-minted Union state of West Virginia, one woman in particular, Laura Arnold, was well remembered by convalescing Union troops, one of whom wrote that "her fragile form was almost ubiquitous in the hospitals, and with her own tender hands she soothed the aching temples of many a dying soldier boy, far away from the loved ones at home."
Colonel Moore of the 28th Ohio Infantry called Mrs. Arnold "the most loyal woman in West Virginia." Years later, in 1897, the assembled Society of the Army of West Virginia made her an honorary member for her "patriotism and past efforts on behalf of Union arms."
After the turn of the century, in 1905, she was on hand for a reunion of the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, which had occupied Beverly, (West) Virginia following the 1861 Battle of Rich Mountain. The old veterans named her "Mother of the Regiment" for her efforts as nurse to their injured.
When Laura learned in 1863 that her brother, "Stonewall" Jackson, had died, a Pennsylvania Cavalry officer recorded her reaction in a letter home. When she "heard of her brother's death," he wrote to his father, "she seemed much depressed, but said she would rather know that he was dead than to have him a leader in the rebel army."
Laura and Thomas Jonathan Jackson remained close, even with the advent of war. Each named a child after the other. In an earlier blog entry, I highlighted some of the voluminous correspondence between these two siblings, some of which can be read online from the Virginia Military Institute archives. The VMI site also has a photo of Laura, here.
THEY BATHE HORSES, DON'T THEY?
Where is the statue or memorial to Mrs. Arnold? I hope faithful readers can point me to it. Her brother was particularly skilled at killing United States soldiers, while she did her best to save a few. Statues and memorials to Stonewall abound. His arm warrants its own grave, and his trusted mount is is still getting makeovers (albeit, only every 140 years or so).
Most of what I know about Laura Jackson Arnold I gleaned from the VMI site, and Albert Castel's essay, "Arnold vs. Arnold: The Strange and Hitherto Untold Story of the Divorce of Stonewall Jackson's Sister" (appearing in Winning and Losing in the Civil War, Essays and Stories, University of South Carolina Press, 1996). It's a fascinating and somewhat sad story that might have come across as sordid or sensational in the hands of a less talented historian. But that's another story, for another night.
Is there a lesson to be learned in this short entry? I can't think of one, unless it's that history loves a warrior more than it does the person who dresses the wounds the warrior inflicts— even if the two are related.