HARRISONBURG — To James Ewell Brown Stuart, Flora Cooke was “the one.”
She had Virginia roots and was pretty. She could ride a horse and shoot a gun straight. So they married, settled down and had children.
And that’s where the love story loses all sense of normalcy.
J.E.B Stuart was a Confederate general from Virginia, while Cooke was the daughter of Union Gen. Philip St. George Cooke. The couple met while Stuart was in Kansas serving under Cooke’s command in the 1850s.
When Virginia seceded in 1861, however, Stuart became chief of the Confederate’s Army of Northern Virginia, while the elder Cooke chose to remain in the Union.
That, as you can imagine, didn’t sit well with Stuart and his bride.
Stuart and Flora Cooke renamed their young son — from Philip St. George Cooke Stuart to James Ewell Brown Stuart Jr. In June 1862, Stuart and the elder Cooke would cross paths as part of Stuart’s successful ride, despite being undermanned, around Union troops near Richmond.
That launched Stuart’s career and destroyed Cooke’s, Winchester historian and author John Fox said.
“If we were talking about modern day,” he said, “Dr. Phil would have had to devote an entire hour-long program to the family [dynamic].”
Fox, who recently released his third book, titled “Stuart’s Finest Hour: The Ride Around McClellan, June 1862,” spoke about Stuart to 60 people at Pano’s Restaurant on Saturday for an annual Lee-Jackson-Maury celebration.
The commemoration notes the January birthdays of Confederate Generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury.
The Turner Ashby chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the D.H. Lee Martz Camp No. 10 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organized the event, which included Civil War-era music from the Shenandoah Valley Minstrels.
A 19th-century ball, normally held in January, is planned for March 15 this year.
Fox, 54, grew up in Richmond and attributes his love — his “disease,” he jokes — for history to his father, who frequently took his son to tour battlefields as far back as the early 1960s, when Fox was barely a toddler.
Fox started work on his latest book in late 2010. It highlights Stuart’s ride in 1862 and how that made him the “1860s equivalent of a rock star,” the author said.
Stuart offered information to Lee that helped the Confederates plan an attack to drive the Union from Richmond.
Richmonders later celebrated Stuart with a statue on Monument Avenue in 1906, Fox said. And the name’s recognized in the Shenandoah Valley, too — in 1907, Stuart Hall in Staunton was named to honor Flora Stuart, who was headmistress of the institution that had been called the Virginia Female Institute. The school is now a co-ed private school for grades K-12.
“Stuart’s Finest Hour … ” was released in September. Fox finished it while globetrotting as a pilot for American Airlines. (He was scheduled to head to Paris on Sunday, for example.)
Fox also approaches his work striving for the most accurate, detailed accounts of history, which can be time-consuming. That’s only possible by finding documentation from those involved in the Civil War, he said, making trips to various libraries and a personal favorite, the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa., common.
“There’s so much stuff,” Fox said, “if you really want to know about history, you’ve got to go to the original source.”
Now that’s a love story with a little less drama.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org