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Documents dash city’s claim to ‘Stonewall’ Jackson birth

May 22, 2013
By Jody Murphy ( , Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG -Whatever claim Parkersburg has as the birthplace of famed Confederate Civil War Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson has been put to rest.

According to local historians, Willard Jackson, a banker and Stonewall Jackson relative, funded a red granite plaque that was placed on the city's floodwall, recognizing Parkersburg as the general's birthplace.

Jackson even managed to secure the endorsement of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

However, a copy of Jackson's 1846 oath of allegiance submitted to the U.S. War Department, seems to provide concrete proof of his birthplace.

The first line of the document reads, "I, Thomas J. Jackson, born in Clarksburg, Va."

The document from the Roy Bird Cook Collection at West Virginia University was signed and submitted to the U.S. War Department in August 1846. Trevor Plante, acting chief of reference of the D.C. Building for the National Archive, verified the copy of the oath of allegiance.

While most historians agree on Clarksburg as Jackson's birthplace, some descendants of Jackson's mother, Julia Neale Jackson, claimed the famed general was born in Parkersburg.

Willard Jackson, a banker, and distant relative of the general, managed to get a granite plaque anchored to the city's floodwall at Point Park in 1963 proclaiming the site as Jackson's birthplace.

The marker also has the endorsement of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The same group - albeit a different chapter - erected a similar marker in Clarksburg in 1911.

Newspaper articles from the 1960s cite the work of previous historians, including Cook, and Ken Hechler who searched for, but never found a contemporary record of Jackson's birthplace.

Cook died in 1961. Christy Venham with the West Virginia and Regional History Collection at the West Virginia University Libraries said the document from the war department has been among the Cook papers for more than 40 years.

"Cook's wife worked for archives and history. She was a historian in her own right," she said.

"Cook was a well-known historian. ... I would trust his stuff. He didn't put stuff in his collection that wasn't authenticated," Venham said.

Parkersburg's claim has been greeted with a fair amount of skepticism not just from well-known "Stonewall" Jackson biographers and historians, but also local experts. Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society said he and others had always been skeptical of the claim.

Jackson's oath of allegiance confirms Enoch's skepticism.

Plante said the oath was filed with the War Department on Aug. 12, 1846. Officials sent it back to Jackson a few days later, indicating the paperwork required Jackson's place of birth. The department got the document again - written in ink - Aug. 24.

Plante said the dates and correspondence between the department and Jackson are listed on the back of the document.

"I don't know if this put an end to it, but it certainly should," Enoch said. "There are probably some that will still dispute it."

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