Julia (Jackson) Woodson was thirty-three years old and had suffered for yours from a pulmonary ailment that turned out to be tuberculosis. Since her husband’s death five years earlier, she and her three children—Warren, Thomas, and Laura—had struggled financially. When she remarried in 1830, her husband—fifteen years her senior—proved to be a Harsh and verbally abusive parent,” according to Jackson biographer James Robertson, Jr.
Life had taken such a downward turn that Warren, 10, was sent to live with his grandfather while Thomas and Laura went to live with their father’s brothers at Jacksons Mill near Weston, Virginia.
On October 7, Julia gave birth to another son, William Wirt—and that seemed to take the last of everything from her. She summoned her children to say her goodbyes.
According to Robertson, young Thomas was especially close to his mother. Her last year alive, then, must have been crushing, even compared to their poor meager existence prior to that. First a hostile stepfather interposed himself between Thomas and his mother, then came the separation following the relocation to Jackson’s Mill, then came the final heartbreak of death.
In late November 1862, when Jackson received news that his wife Mary Anna had given birth to a daughter, he decided to name their child Julia. “My mother was mindful of me when I was a helpless, fatherless child,” Jackson wrote to Mary Anna, “and I wish to commemorate her now.”
Julia would one day have a daughter of her own, whom she would name Julia Jackson Christian (and a son, whom she’d name Thomas Jackson Christian). The name of Thomas’s mother would live on, then, for generations more. (For more on Jackson’s ancestors and descendants, check out this page at Ancestry.com, courtesy of VMI.)
As a final footnote to the story: Jackson himself eventually passed away on Sunday, May 10, 1863. That date—May 10—often falls around, and sometimes on, Mother’s Day. Were the holiday celebrated back in 1863 (it didn’t begin until 1908), I have little doubt where Jackson’s thoughts would have been as he prepared to cross over the river.