All is not as it may first appear… the poetess and her work

Posted on May 1, 2011 by


Some may remember the poem that I shared here, last weekend… “A National Hymn for the New Year.”

While one commenter suggested that the poet was a “Blue Belly all the way”, or, at the least, if “Southern… one who was a pacifist”, the other, interestingly, found a parallel with Robert E. Lee. To be sure, the poet was more along the lines of the former than the latter.

The poem was written at the dawn of the new year, 1861, by a woman who lived in Luray, Virginia, and was later published, that same year, in a greater volume of her works in Flowers of Hope and Memory. The poet was Cornelia Jane Mathews Jordan.

Image of Cornelia J.M. Jordan, from Flowers of Hope and Memory

Born in Lynchburg, on January 11, 1830, Cornelia was a daughter of Edwin (former mayor of Lynchburg, Virginia) and Emily Goggin Mathews. When only four, Cornelia’s mother died, after which, she and her two younger sisters, Mary Ann and Emily, were sent to the home of their grandmother in Bedford County. In 1842, Cornelia was placed in the school of the Sisters of Visitation, in Georgetown, D.C. A biographical sketch claims that during these years, she “led her mates in all literary exercises. Her poetical productions were numerous and excellent.”

In 1851, she married Francis “Frank” Hubert Jordan, a widow and lawyer from Luray, Virginia. In the first ten years of the marriage, the couple apparently resided, on and off, between Luray (at “Cliff Cottage”) and Lynchburg, along with Frank Jordan’s two children from his first marriage, Francis, Jr. and Mary Blanche.

"Cliff Cottage", which, in more recent years, has been used as a county office building, and no longer reflects the elegance once attributed to the house in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

During these years, Cornelia wrote a great deal of the poetry that eventually appeared in Flowers. Though the Unionist-tinged patriotic piece appeared in the book, the bulk of the poetry in the volume reveals her various connections, with family and friends, and varies in mood between warm memories of her days at “Cliff Cottage”, in Luray, to reflections on death of friends and family (see => this poem, which I used as part of a post in October, and is an excellent example of Jordan’s “death poetry”). She also included poetry about her step-children, whom she apparently held in fondness as her own. It was also within these years when Cornelia lost her first-born child, Edwin Mathews Jordan, who died only two days after birth. Less than a year after the book was published, Cornelia gave birth to a second child, Francis Nelson Jordan, who died just a little after 4 months.

At the opening of the Civil War, Cornelia is believed to have returned to her family home in Bedford County, while her husband went to war, serving mostly as adjutant general on the staff of his older brother, General Thomas Jordan. Active in local relief organizations, Cornelia spent a great deal of time writing more poetry, but this time, themed in support of the Confederate cause. A volume of these poems, entitled Corinth, and other Poems, was published after the surrender. The poem “Corinth”, incidentally, was inspired during a visit with her husband, in 1863, then at Corinth, Mississippi. Not long after the surrender in Virginia, copies of the little volume were seized by order of Union Gen. Alfred H. Terry, who, having found the content of the poem to be both “objectionable and incendiary”, ordered the copies burned in the courthouse yard in Lynchburg.  Therefore, Jordan had shifted considerably from her Unionist poem of 1861.

In postwar years, she became estranged from her husband, and lived, with the couples only daughter (Maria Theresa Ambler Jordan), in the Lynchburg area, while Frank Jordan remained in Luray. In 1867, Jordan published “Richmond: Her Glory and Graves,” in a volume with some shorter lyrics. She also contributed regularly to magazines and newspapers, and, at one point, was referred to as the “poet laureate” of Lynchburg. Her best-known war poems were once identified as “The Battle of Manassas,” “The Death of Jackson” and “An Appeal for Jefferson Davis.”*

Cornelia died in 1898, and was buried, near her parents, in Presbyterian Cemetery, in Lynchburg. Not long after her death, her daughter published most (if not all) of Cornelia’s Confederate poems in Echoes from the Cannon.

Despite the impressions she may have left in “A National Hymn for the New Year”, she was anything but a “Blue Belly all the way”, and she most certainly was not a Southern pacifist.

*See also, “Virginia’s Dead