Women of the Civil War: Mary Anna Jackson
If the wife of a Civil War general had had her way, her famous husband would not bear the name “Stonewall,” earned at the Battle of Manassas, Va., in 1861, because she felt it was not dignified. Mary “Anna” Morrison married widower Thomas J. Jackson in 1857, his first wife and newborn child having died in childbirth.
The daughter of a prominent slave-owning family in North Carolina, Morrison arrived on the scene in 1831. Her grandfather was a Revolutionary War general, and her father a Presbyterian minister and the first president of Davidson College.
Morrison met Jackson in 1853, when he was a professor at Virginia Military Institute. She described him as “more soldierly-looking than anything else, his erect bearing and military dress being quite striking…” (https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/jackson-mary).
As described in “Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend” by James I. Robertson Jr., she attended Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C., and “was small in stature, modest but cheerful, and cordial but considerate.” An acquaintance of Jackson and Anna portrayed her as “Fair in person, and beautiful in character — amiable and loving by nature — intelligent, cultivated, refined and pious.”
Sarah E. Gardner’s article “‘Stonewall’ and Mary Anna Jackson and the Civil War,” in Bleser’s and Gordon’s “Military Commanders and Their Wives,” states that when hostilities between North and South occurred in 1861, Anna experienced the distress of separation as Jackson went off to war. She later recalled, “Our home grew more lonely and painful to me from day to day.”
Recognized internationally for his battlefield prowess, Lt. Gen. Jackson was reserved and unassuming, and also valued privacy and avoided the limelight. As a Civil War commander, Jackson’s uniform bore little reflection of his rank, and he soon dispatched a gold-braided cap Anna sent him, because he was loath to wear it.
Anna craved information about Jackson’s battlefield operations. The devout commander rarely mentioned military matters in his letters, yet acknowledged “by the blessing of Almighty God their arms have been crowned with victory.”
Anna’s longing to visit her husband during the war led to a harrowing trip from Lexington, Va., to Richmond in the latter part of 1861 as one of the few women on a train filled with Rebel soldiers. She was adamant about traveling part of the way unescorted — a social faux pas — and a scheduling mix-up caused her to spend an anxious night on the empty train at Fairfax Station when other accommodations were unavailable.
Finally arriving in Manassas to meet her husband, she encountered more than she bargained for. Jackson escorted her over the battlefield, where carcasses of dead horses and bones of fallen soldiers were still strewn about from the Civil War’s opening confrontation a few months earlier.
Anna spent more time with her husband in 1862, after his assignment to Winchester, Va. They considered the home of the Rev. and Mrs. James R. Graham — where she stayed and he visited, including for a two-month stretch at one point — as their own home.
Anna gave birth to a daughter named Julia in November, and Jackson was joyful when he visited his wife and baby in December. Though loving, this visit was also ominous, because it was the last time Anna would see her husband before he was mortally wounded in May 1863.
Anna rushed to Guinea Station when word arrived that Jackson had fallen at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and recorded her feelings upon reaching her dying husband: “His fearful wounds, his mutilated arm … the desperate pneumonia, which was flushing his cheeks, oppressing his breathing, and benumbing his senses, wrung my soul with such grief and anguish as it had never before experienced.”
The brokenhearted wife returned to her childhood home in North Carolina with 5-month-old Julia, and she would live there for the remaining 52 years of her life. After President Jefferson Davis’ wife passed away in 1906, the Southern people conveyed the title “Widow of the Confederacy” from Varina Davis to Anna Jackson.
Anna spent these remaining years ensuring Jackson’s dedication to the Confederacy was enshrined for future generations. She penned a biographical essay, “Life and Letters of General Thomas J. Jackson,” which demonstrated Anna’s faith in her husband and love of his steadfastness — even though the cause for which he had fought was doomed.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign,” available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Cardsmart in Milford. His latest book, “Lee is Trapped, and Must Be Taken: Eleven Fateful Days after Gettysburg, July 4-14, 1863,” is due out in August 2019, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point