ROCKFORD — Attendees of the Rockford Memorial Day service had the special treat of hearing from Anna Morrison Jackson, the wife of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, at the Rockford Methodist Church Saturday afternoon.
Nora Brooks portrayed Jackson during the service, detailing her life from the early years through her death. Anna married Thomas Jackson after his first wife died during child birth. She also spoke about Thomas Jackson’s early life and his desire to be a soldier from a young age.
Brooks is a history teacher at Sun Valley High School in Union County, where she teaches honors and advanced placement history courses. It is her background as a teacher as well as her own experience with a reenactor in the 1970s that has led her to want to portray women from history, particularly the Civil War era.
“It has always been a part of my teaching. I’m fascinated by the people of history,” said Brooks. “It’s just grown and grown.”
In addition to portraying Anna Morrison Jackson, she also portrays Mildred Lee, the youngest daughter of Robert E. Lee, and Julia Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant.
“All three are so significantly different. One is a daughter who is so devoted to her papa who was this larger than life personality. Anna is the widow to the South’s greatest hero and had to deal with the responsibility of that notoriety and that legacy. Julia is still new to me so I’m not sure what her role is yet,” said Brooks.
She enjoys doing re-enactments because of the connections she can draw from what these women and their husbands and fathers had to deal with. She tries to impart these lessons on her students as well.
“These men are more than warriors. Their lives embody a devotion to duty and to God that we can learn lessons from today. It was about something larger than themselves,” said Brooks. “Jackson gave his life during the war, but Lee had to live through Reconstruction. He stepped up to be an example of how to put the animosity aside in order to rebuild. How many times in your life can you draw from that example?”
This is the second time Brooks has participated in the Rockford Memorial Day service. In 2009, she portrayed Mildred Lee.
“I think this is great because they honor the veterans from all the wars. This community is so rich in history, it’s an honor to be a part of it,” said Brooks.
While this was Brooks’ second visit to the service, Saturday’s event was the 24th Memorial Day service held in the community.
“It’s so important that we continue to remember. We can’t ever forget what our service people have done for us,” said Hannah Holyfield, a leader with the Rockford Preservation Society. “Twenty-four years ago, Evelyn Holyfield and the community wanted to do this. The Rockford Preservation Society is trying desperately to find as many Rockford descendants as we can and keep them connected to their heritage. We continue this because it’s important to us just like the Candlelight Christmas is important to us.”
In addition to hearing Brooks’ performance, attendees at the event traveled to the Rockford Community Cemetery to place flags on the graves of the veterans buried there. Holyfield and Michael Hicks, a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy, read the names of the veterans who have lived in the Rockford community. Each of the 62 names, who fought in wars from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War, was followed by the ringing of a bell. Representatives of the 28th and 38th N.C. Civil War reenactors were at the event as well and performed a gun salute to the veterans. Greg Cheek, one of the reenactors, also read from a letter written by Richard Logan, a soldier from Yadkin County during the Civil War, to his wife eight days after the Battle of Antietam.
Hicks, whose father Joe Hicks still lives in Rockford, just returned from Bahrain and extended his vacation so he could be in the community for Memorial Day. Once he returns to duty he will be reported to Norfolk, Va., where he hopes to remain until he retires next year. He has been in the Navy for 23 years and, since 2008, has been deployed or away from home for 23 months.
“I’ve never seen a community come together as much as this small community has. I’m pretty proud to come back here,” he said.