The middle of the 19th century can seem like a long time ago, and yet, the Civil War isn’t as far removed from life in the 21st century as we might want to believe. One of the more curious manifestations of this came up this week with the news that Helen Viola Jackson, the last known surviving widow of a Civil War soldier, died on December 16, 2020 at the age of 101.
CBS News has the details of Jackson’s life and her 1936 marriage to James Bolin, who fought for the Union in Missouri. When they married, she was 17 and he was 93.
During the Civil War, Bolin fought as part of the 14th Missouri Cavalry. Late in life, he lived near Jackson’s family and was in poor health; Jackson’s father sent her to Bolin’s house to assist him with chores.
According to the article, Bolin credited Jackson’s presence with improving his health, and he offered to marry her so that she could collect his pension. “Throughout their three years of marriage there was no intimacy and she never lived with him,” the article notes. “She never told her parents, her siblings or anyone else about the wedding.”
Bolin died in 1939. Jackson never collected his pension or remarried.
She did bring up her marriage several years ago in conversation with her pastor, Nicholas Inman. Inman looked into Jackson’s history, eventually making contact with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Jackson herself received a star on the Missouri Walk of Fame in 2018, and shared her experience with students in the final years of her life. All told, her legacy represents a fascinating (and unexpected) connection to the past; one which has, sadly, come to an end.
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