A look at the life and prolific writings of Stonewall Jackson's sister-in-law Margaret Junkin Preston (1820-1897) who was once deemed by the Washington Post to be one of the really famous American authors of the day. A prolific author of poetry and fiction, she came to popular acceptance despite masculine disapproval of female writers, especially in the South. In this comprehensive literary biography Klein maps the progress by which this Pennsylvania native became a celebrated poet of the Confederacy and eventually an established author of national prominence. Margaret's father, Presbyterian minister Rev. Dr. George Junkin, served by turn as president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania; Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; and Washington College in Lexington, Virginia - a career path that exposed Margaret and her sister, Elear, to a superior education. While in Virginia, Elear married Major Thomas J. Jackson - later Confederate general Stonewall Jackson - in 1853 and died tragically soon after, following childbirth. In 1857 Margaret married Major John T. L. Preston, a Latin professor at the Virginia Military Institute and widower with seven children. Though her writings had appeared in national magazines, Preston gave up her writing career in exchange for household duties of marriage. But with the onset of war, Preston again took to wielding her pen, this time through a series of Confederate nationalist verses. The death of Stonewall Jackson and the invasion of her home by Federal troops solidified for Preston the high personal cost of war and compounded her belief in the Confederate cause as just. Her most table piece from this period is a long narrative poem, Beechenbrook: A Rhyme of the War , published in 1865. After the war Preston saw in her writings an opportunity to validate the lost cause ethos of the former Confederacy and to propose expanded roles for women in reshaping Southern society. It is during this period, Klein tes, that Preston's works advanced in sophistication and captured a wide readership.
Stacey Jean Klein holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.