Flora Cooke Stuart (1836–1923)


Flora Cooke Stuart was the wife of Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart and the daughter of Union general Philip St. George Cooke. She met Stuart, a dashing subordinate of her father, while living in the Kansas Territory in the 1850s, and after marrying, the two settled in Virginia. Secession, however, split their family, with Cooke, a respected cavalryman, remaining in the United States Army and Stuart eventually becoming chief of cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia. “He will regret it but once & that will be continually,” Stuart said of his father-in-law’s decision; he even renamed his and Flora’s months’-old son, Philip St. George Cooke Stuart, after himself, James Ewell Brown Stuart Jr. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), Flora Stuart spent as much time as possible in camp with her husband, and chafed at the generous attention he received from admiring women in Virginia and across the South. When Stuart died after being wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern (1864), she donned mourning garb and wore it for the remaining fifty-nine years of her life. During that time, she served as headmistress of a women’s school in Staunton that was subsequently named for her. She later moved to Norfolk, where she died in 1923.

Early Years

Flora Cooke was born on January 3, 1836, at Jefferson Barracks, outside Saint Louis, Missouri. Her father, Philip St. George Cooke, was a native Virginian, while her mother, Rachel Hertzog Cooke, hailed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two married in 1830, and Flora was the second of their four children. Cooke grew up at various army forts where her father was stationed and then attended boarding school in Detroit, Michigan. She played the piano and the guitar and enjoyed horseback riding and shooting. Following her graduation in 1855, Cooke planned first to visit her parents at Fort Riley in the Kansas Territory, where her father was commander, and then to travel to Philadelphia to make her social debut. During a troop review at Fort Riley, however, her equestrian skills so impressed a young lieutenant, J. E. B. Stuart, that a courtship followed. Shortly before departing for Fort Leavenworth on the Kansas frontier, Stuart asked Cooke to marry him. She apparently consented, for a letter from Stuart to his cousin on September 20, 1855, announced the engagement. Wearing her graduation dress, Cooke married Stuart on November 14, 1855, at Fort Riley. They spent their honeymoon in Wytheville, Virginia, visiting Stuart’s family. Their first child, Flora, was born in September 1857. A son, Philip St. George Cooke Stuart, was born in 1860. The couple continued to live in Kansas for several more years before returning to Virginia where J. E. B. Stuart served as volunteer aide to Robert E. Lee who, in October 1859, had been dispatched to quell John Brown‘s raid on Harpers Ferry.

Civil War

After learning of Virginia’s secession, J. E. B. Stuart arranged to enter Confederate military service and moved his family to Virginia. Philip St. George Cooke, meanwhile, chose not to resign his U.S. Army commission, provoking Stuart to write his wife that it would do “irreparable injury to our only son” to have him named after Cooke. After some deliberation, the couple renamed the boy James E. B. Stuart Jr.

After J. E. B. Stuart left for Richmond to enlist in the Confederate army, Flora Stuart and her children settled in Wytheville. She often arranged to stay at or near her husband’s camp, where they could enjoy meals, music, and conversation together. Such pleasantries could be interrupted at a moment’s notice, of course, and their frequent separations strained their relationship. Stuart wrote letters to his “darling wife,” but he also corresponded with other women as his fame grew. These were insubstantial flirtations, but Flora Stuart disliked the photographs and other gifts these admirers sent, and wrote of feeling laughed at for her “husband’s fondness for society and the ladies.” Generally speaking, however, J. E. B. Stuart was a thoughtful and romantic husband, carrying his wife’s photograph near his heart, although he told her he did “not need it my love, to keep you ever vividly before me.”

On November 3, 1862, their daughter Flora died of typhoid fever. In the following weeks, Stuart wrote that his wife was “not herself since the loss of her little companion,” and another observer wrote, “Words could not describe the agony she had endured.” The birth of a daughter, Virginia Pelham, the following October both eased and intensified the loss. “She is said to be like Little Flora,” Flora Stuart wrote. “I hope she is.”

Flora Stuart emerged from her mourning clothes late in April 1864, but then on May 12, she received a telegram informing her that her husband had been “seriously wounded” at the Battle of Yellow Tavern. Having seen her husband just two days earlier, Flora Stuart immediately traveled to Richmond but was too late. Stuart died on May 12 and was buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Later Years

Flora Stuart honored her husband’s request to raise their children in the South, and for a short time after the war, she lived in Saltville with J. E. B. Stuart’s brother William Alexander Stuart and his family. (The log cabin where they resided still stands.) She also opened a school in Saltville. In 1878 she moved to Staunton where she taught at a Methodist school. In 1880 she became principal of Staunton’s Virginia Female Institute, an Episcopal school for girls chartered in 1844. Before his death in 1870, Robert E. Lee had served on its board of visitors. Flora Stuart—who in these years preferred to be called Mrs. General Stuart—oversaw an increase in enrollment from twenty-five to ninety-nine students. She retired in 1899 and her cousin, Maria Pendleton Duval, became headmistress. Stuart’s daughter, Virginia, helped found the school’s honor and library service society, and Stuart’s granddaughter, Virginia Stuart Waller Davis, graduated from the school in 1917 and served as a trustee. In 1907, the Virginia Female Institute was renamed Stuart Hall in Flora Stuart’s honor. (As of 2009, Stuart Hall is an independent coeducational Episcopal school, educating students from pre-kindergarten age through twelfth grade.)

In 1898, following the death of Virginia, Flora Stuart moved to Norfolk to help raise her three grandchildren. There, according to an entry in the Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915), she surrounded herself with “many reminders of her honored husband, among them a flag, carefully framed, made by her own hands and carried at the head of his troops.” She died on May 10, 1923, and was buried beside J. E. B. Stuart and their daughter Flora in Hollywood Cemetery.

January 3, 1836
Flora Cooke is born at Jefferson Barracks, Saint Louis, Missouri, to Philip St. George and Rachel Hertzog Cooke.
November 14, 1855
J. E. B. Stuart marries Flora Cooke, the daughter of Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, at Fort Riley, Kansas.
September 1857
Flora Stuart, daughter of J. E. B. and Flora Stuart, is born. She is nicknamed La Petite.
June 26, 1860
Philip St. George Cooke Stuart, the second child of J. E. B. and Flora Stuart, is born. He is named for Flora Stuart's father, Philip St. George Cooke.
April 1861
Flora Stuart moves to Virginia with her husband and children, following Stuart's resignation of his U.S. Army commission and intentions to serve the Confederacy.
December 1861
J. E. B. Stuart and his wife Flora change the name of their son from Philip St. George Cooke Stuart to James Ewell Brown Stuart Jr. Stuart is angry that his father-in-law, Philip St. George Cooke, did not resign his U.S. Army commission following Virginia's secession from the Union.
November 3, 1862
Flora Stuart, daughter of J. E. B. and Flora Stuart, dies of typhoid fever. She is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
October 9, 1863
Virginia Pelham Stuart, the third child born to J. E. B. and Flora Stuart, is born.
May 12, 1864, 7:30 p.m.
After being wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern a day earlier, J. E. B. Stuart dies in Richmond at the home of his brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Brewer. His wife, Flora Stuart, misses being at his bedside by three hours.
Flora Stuart, the widow of J. E. B. Stuart, serves as headmistress of the Virginia Female Institute in Staunton, one of the state's oldest Episcopal schools and the oldest college preparatory school for girls in Virginia.
Flora Stuart is elected honorary president of the Virginia Division and General Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The Virginia Female Institute in Staunton, one of the state's oldest Episcopal schools and the oldest college preparatory school for girls in Virginia, is renamed Stuart Hall in honor of Flora Stuart. She served as the school's headmistress for nineteen years.
February 1914
Flora Stuart is the guest of honor at the gubernatorial inauguration of her nephew, Henry Carter Stuart.
May 10, 1923
Four days after a fall, Flora Stuart dies at her daughter's house in Norfolk.
May 12, 1923
On the fifty-ninth anniversary of the death of her husband, J. E. B. Stuart, Flora Stuart is buried beside him in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
  • Davis, Burke. Jeb Stuart: The Last Cavalier. New York: Rinehart, 1957.
  • Mitchell, Adele H., ed. The Letters of Major General James E. B. Stuart. Alexandria, Va.: Stuart-Mosby Historical Society, 1990.
  • Wert, Jeffry D. Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of J. E. B. Stuart. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008.
APA Citation:
Wright, Aerika. Flora Cooke Stuart (1836–1923). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/stuart-flora-cooke-1836-1923.
MLA Citation:
Wright, Aerika. "Flora Cooke Stuart (1836–1923)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 17 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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