Jane Corbin: “The Darling of the Whole Staff”

Moss Neck (ECW archive photo)

According to her mother, Jane Corbin’s name became “historic” because of a gift from General “Stonewall” Jackson. The little girl’s name appears in many biographies of Jackson, usually to illustrate his tenderness toward children. But who was she and do any photographs or images exist of this little five or six year old who won the hearts of “Stonewall” and his officers during the winter of 1862-1863?

Jane Corbin was the only daughter of Richard Corbin and Roberta Cary Corbin, and during the war, she lived with her mother at Moss Neck Plantation, about ten miles below (southeast) of Fredericksburg. Richard Corbin enlisted as private in the 9th Virginia Cavalry and was absent much of the time.[i] After the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, General Thomas J. Jackson arrived at Moss Neck, and the civilians soon learned that his entire corps would be camping on the land in the vicinity while the general wanted to make his headquarters on the plantation’s lawn. Though invited to stay in the house, Jackson steadfastly refused, but he did give in and create his headquarters in the “office” building which stood in the yard.

The echoes of battle cannon fire which might have frightened young Jane were quickly replaced by the strains of band music near the house and from the surrounding camps. Officers frequently visited the family at Moss Neck, and Jane Corbin probably saw most of the famous figures in the Army of Northern Virginia from the windows, through the staircase railings, or perhaps sitting quietly in the parlor. At her age, she probably would not have been present for many of the formal visits or occasions if her mother followed the typical child-rearing advice of the era.

However, according to Roberta Corbin, Jane “was at time about five years of age, winning in her ways, and the pet and darling of the whole [Second Corps] staff. Indeed, she was beloved by all our army friends.”

General Jackson particularly enjoyed the company of well-behaved children, and had been known to playfully rough-house with the Graham’s children in Winchester during the previous winter to the astonishment of his staff. He liked to make children laugh and sometimes crawled on hands and knees pretending to a horse and giving three-year-old Alfred Graham rides.[ii] By December 1862, Jackson knew that he was a father and longed to see his baby daughter, Julia.

Jackson quickly befriended Jane Corbin and would often invite “her to come to the office [headquarters] and see him in the mornings. She would play there for hours at a time. She would sit on the floor, cut paper dolls, and entertain the General with her childish prattle.”

Roberta Corbin later remembered:

One favorite amusement of his as well as hers was her folding a piece a piece of paper and cutting a long string of dolls all joined together in ranks which she called her “Stonewall Brigade.” I can imagine a smile and a merry twinkle in his eyes as he scanned these miniature soldiers, funny little bow-legged fellows they were.

Then there was the famous incident of the kepi’s gold braid. Mrs. Jackson had sent a special kepi to her husband which included a band of shiny gold. The general didn’t care for the flashy braid, but Jane constantly commented on it.

“One day he took the end of his pen knife, and ripping, the band from the cap, he pinned it round the child’s hair like a coronet. He said: “Janie, it suits a little girl like you better than it does an old soldier like me.” She came running in, her eyes sparkling, to show it to mother and to tell what he said. Afterwards she wore it in the same ornamental way when she was dressed for the evening. Regally she wore her crown: the gold of the band blended with the gold in her hair. Dear little girl, we did not dream that for this gift of General Jackson her name would become historic.”

Several other officers wrote about Jane Corbin, usually either in astonishment about Jackson’s playfulness or about the little girl’s sweet character. Henry Douglas wrote in his diary around Christmas 1862: “One of the pleasantest hours I’ve spent in some time was talking to & playing with the little daughter of Mr. Corbin (age 5), who is very bright & talkative. A fresh, unsophisticated & innocent chat of an hour with that sweet child afforded me more pleasure than I could have imagined it would have done. Little Jane Wellford Corbin—unconscious of her country’s & her parents’ struggles, happy in her innocence & ignorance.”[iii]

Jane Corbin would never remember the Civil War in any other way than her happy days at Moss Neck and Jackson’s headquarters. As Jackson and his staff moved headquarters from Moss Neck to Hamilton’s Crossing—closer to Fredericksburg—the little girl and the other children in the household fell ill with scarlet fever, a dreaded childhood disease. On March 16, 1863, Jackson said good-bye to Roberta Corbin and the others at Moss Neck; when he heard about the children’s illness, he insisted that Dr. Hunter McGuire—medical director of the Second Corps—should stay behind and help care for the children.[iv]

The following day, Tuesday, March 17, Jane Corbin died of complications of scarlet fever.[v] Her little life was cut short and she was laid to rest in the nearby family cemetery. Her death affected Jackson and most of the other officers who had stayed at Moss Neck for the winter. However, unlike many other young children of her generation who slipped into the mists of the past and were nearly forgotten except for a name in a family Bible, Jane Corbin was remembered because of her friendship with “Stonewall” Jackson. Her name became historic—and that is a remarkable and sweet accomplishment for a five-year-old during the Civil War period.

And it’s not only written accounts about her short life that remain. Roberta Corbin had a sketch of her daughter and allowed it to be published in the Confederate Veteran Magazine in 1912.

Sources:

All quotes from Roberta Cary Corbin are found in Confederate Veteran Magazine, Vol. 20 (1912). Article: “Stonewall Jackson in Winter Quarters” pages 24-26.

[i] Find A Grave, Pvt. Richard Corbin. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/76570047/richard-corbin

[ii] James I. Robertson. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. (New York: Macmillan, 1997). 323-324.

[iii] W.G. Bean. Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.) 103

[iv] James I. Robertson. Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend. (New York: Macmillan, 1997).  689

[v] W.G. Bean. Stonewall’s Man: Sandie Pendleton. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.) 108-109

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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4 Responses to Jane Corbin: “The Darling of the Whole Staff”

  1. Michael O says:

    Thank You for the story

  2. BGCT2VA says:

    Deeply moving story. It is not so hard to understand Jackson’s heartbreak upon hearing of little Jane’s passing.

  3. John Pryor says:

    Soldiers are especially prone to sentiment. They don’t want to show it to their men, but small children take them away from the horrors of war, and Jackson had a particularly sentimental side. His love and passion for his wife was often noted.

  4. Judy Scarlata says:

    This may sound corny but I love the way this little girl is portrayed in the movie “ Gods and Generals.” I got the real flavor of how very adored she was by all the staff and her language was so very childlike but so very truthful…. “ from the mouths of babes.” Thank you for this great elucidation about Jane Corbin, it is well- appreciated!

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