Ten Commandments to remain at WVU property
WESTON — You won’t spy any Confederate flags on the way to Stonewall Jackson’s boyhood home in the rolling hills of Lewis County.
That didn’t mean, though, that there weren’t other symbols of regionalism to be witnessed through the windshield on a sunny drive down to Jackson’s Mill last Wednesday.
A handful of houses along U.S. 19 were adorned with flags, each sporting the signature “flying WV” logo of a certain university to the north.
North vs. South, as in the clashing factions of the Civil War, is what this story is really about.
A North, and a South, that could never really get over the psychological wounds of said war, neither one.
“Stonewall,” is Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, the Robert E. Lee confidante who earned his nickname by standing tall through a hail of Union bullets during the Battle of Bull Run.
Jackson was lauded as a brilliant commander who was on the losing end of history, in the wrenching conflict that pitted brother against brother.
Or, in his case, sister vs. brother.
More on that.
In the tumultuous summer of 2020, meanwhile, if such history isn’t repeating itself — it’s still doing a whole lot of rhyming.
That’s because statues, plaques and other monuments of the soldiers and lawmakers who trended Confederate gray have been spray-painted, pocked with hammers and just plain ripped from their pedestals and walls during these socially divisive days.
All this, while schools and other buildings, also named for many of the above, are now awaiting the chisel over their entryways to forever erase such alignment with such history.
But before all that, there was a little boy, and a little girl, both shadowed by tragedy, and made close because it, only to have that familial bond ripped like a campaign poster — due to a monumental difference of opinion and ideology that was the Civil War.
They couldn’t get over it, either.
Grist for the mill
The once-and-future general was born in Clarksburg, in neighboring Harrison County, in 1824, in what was then western Virginia.
Typhoid fever raged through the family, just two years later.
His father, Jonathan, an attorney, died of the disease, as did his sister, Elizabeth, who was 6.
That left his mother, Julia Beckworth Neale Jackson, a young widow with three children, including Thomas, Warren and Laura, a newborn who was delivered the day after her father’s death.
While Julia remarried, it wasn’t much better.
Blake Woodson didn’t particularly like his stepchildren.
And money, like his affection, was scarce.
Julia herself would be dead five years later.
The Jackson offspring were shuttled off to relatives, and Thomas and Laura ended up at Jackson’s Mill, a working grist mill and sawmill near Weston, Lewis County, on land settled by Thomas’ grandfather, Edward, in 1800.
By then, the 1,500-acre expanse was owned and operated by Cummins Jackson, the bachelor uncle of Laura and the general.
War is hell
With the help of slaves, Thomas Jackson learned to read and write, while forging the stubborn work ethic that got him through West Point.
He became a battlefield tactician, commanding troops in the Mexican War, where he wrote often to his sister. Warren by then was dead of tuberculosis.
After that war ended in 1848, he resigned his commission to teach philosophy, artillery techniques and other courses at the Virginia Military Institute.
Laura married and lived in a house in Beverly, Randolph County, and that dwelling, at her direction, would become a key piece of infrastructure in the war that made her big brother muster back in, wearing a uniform of Confederate gray.
That was in 1861 after Virginia succeeded and the war between North and South was full-on.
A brother and sister had nothing more to say to one another.
He was a Confederate officer and she was a staunch Union sympathizer so devout to the cause that she turned her house into a hospital for the wounded fallen in Blue uniforms.
They never saw each again.
He died in 1863 in a friendly fire incident, one month before their patch of western Virginia became West Virginia — the 35th state in the Union.
At 85, Laura succumbed in 1911, at the home of her daughter-in-law, in Buckhannon, Upshur County.
While she was sad for her brother’s untimely death, she never once publicly celebrated his military service, according to accounts.
Through all that, though, Jackson’s Mill — is still Jackson’s Mill.
These days, the homestead and its grist mill is operated by the Extension Service of that university to the north as WVU Jackson’s Mill.
Or it was, before COVID-19 shut it all down.
“Yeah, it’s a little odd that we don’t have people here right now,” Tom Stockdale said through his face mask last week.
“This place is usually full of kids.”
And adults, too.
When there isn’t a pandemic on, young people pour in for a host of gatherings, including Mountaineer Boys’ State, which introduces the due process of government to top-performing high-schoolers.
The Stonewall Jackson Jubilee is a well-attended arts and crafts fair, with food, Appalachian music and Civil War re-enactments.
And there’s 4-H, also, a youth enrichment program that explores everything from agricultural awareness to community advocacy.
Cummins Jackson left the expanse in 1847 to go West during the California gold rush, only to die, without a will, two years later.
After 20 years of heirship, Cummins’ sister Catherine purchased the property, which continued to change owners over the years until it was donated to the state in 1924 and designated as the permanent meeting place for 4-H youth.
Over the years, the now 500 acres of the expanse has a lodge for conferences, cabins and gardens.
Stockdale, an extension specialist at the university, was part of a skeleton crew during routine maintenance at the Mill.
“We’ve got the time to do it now,” he said.
Events through the fall, and beyond, have all been canceled.
“Generations of kids have come through,” he said, nodding in the direction of an expanse of green.
“And the WVU football team used to practice over there.”
‘We didn’t think a thing about it’
The Mill found itself in the news again last week, courtesy of another letter.
Patrick Martin, who grew up in the nearby unincorporated town of Jane Lew and represents Lewis County in the state House of Delegates, worried that a monument depicting the Ten Commandments was going to be removed from the Mill.
Several constituents told him so, he said, and a local contractor reported the same. So, he wrote a letter to WVU President Gordon Gee, imploring him to reconsider, if that was the case.
While he has yet to hear directly back from the president, the Extension Service has issued a statement saying there are no plans — nor were there ever plans — to do unto the monument.
“I’m really glad for that,” said Martin, who is now running for state Senate.
Jackson’s Mill predates the state of West Virginia by 63 years.
Even so, could a name change be considered, since it is associated with Stonewall Jackson, who is now again under fire, 157 years after his death?
“I wouldn’t be able to support that,” Martin said.
And it is kind of funny, said Lester Robinson, a maintenance worker at Jackson’s Mill who has been teamed with Stockdale for the COVID-19 tune-up.
Robinson is a Lewis County native who spent a lot of time on the grounds there when he was growing up.
The Confederacy was never considered then.
“We didn’t think a thing about it,” he said.
“We were kids, and it was the Mill.”