Saturday, August 30, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Jonathan, The Littlest Rebel
Jonathan is honoured at the base of monument
CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE
If you have ever doubted the reason for the existence of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, its importance, and your role in it, this will remove all doubt.
In the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Jonathan Maxey found a replacement for the father he never had. Dan Chapman - Staff Sunday, May 6, 2001
The Confederate soldier was buried in the Alabama countryside alongside 16 other unknown Rebels who would have appreciated the shade of the magnolias and cedars this steamy afternoon in the summer of 1998. Rivulets of sweat rolled down the faces of the Civil War re- enactors in their woolen butternut-yellow and smoky-gray uniforms. They wore kepis atop their heads and white cotton gloves on their hands.
Some shouldered oiled and polished rifles. Others carried the Rebel-flag-draped casket to its grave. An ll-year-old Georgia boy, with owlish glasses, silver-toed cowboy boots and a Civil War cap, stood at the crowd's edge. He smelled the fresh pine of the handmade casket. He admired the red and white funeral roses the women had brought from their gardens.
He wondered again about the unknown soldier in the casket. The fellow most likely died in the Battle of Ringgold Gap, in November 1863, not far from the boy's home in Lafayette, Ga. A hunter had found the remains more than a century later: just a pile of bones and buttons and a tin pie plate that had covered the soldier's face.
The boy stared, mesmerized, as the re-enactors lowered the coffin into the ground. Bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," then "Dixie." An 18-gun salute was answered by distant thunder that sounded like cannon fire. Hidden among the pines, a bugler played taps. The boy felt at peace, wrapped in a sense of belonging he had never known before.
"If I die," he told his mother, "that's how I want to be buried." Jonathan Maxey and mother Kimberly lived in an old mill house on Magnolia Street, not far from the battlefields of Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
A Confederate National flag, a Bonnie Blue flag and two Rebel flags hung from the ceiling of Jonathan's room. The shelves were filled with Civil War books and jigsaw puzzles, including "Memories of the Blue and Gray," which Jonathan took apart and put back together every month. A framed picture of Stonewall Jackson hung over his bed. Two glass display cases protected old bullets, Minie balls, a black- powder pistol in a leather holster and a pair of spectacles "he just swears date back to the Civil War," his mother said.
On Saturdays and summer mornings, Jonathan waited outside the town library for the doors to open. He stayed until closing, breaking away only for a lunchtime bicycle ride through town to visit the grown-ups at the newspaper office, the bed-and-breakfast and the funeral home. He pestered the librarians for movies, microfilm and loaner books from other Georgia libraries. He tried to check out 20 books on Civil War battles and generals at a time.
He sneaked into the Georgia History Room, a treasure-trove of Civil War knowledge and ancestry off-limits to anyone under 18. At age 11, Jonathan became an honorary member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, John B. Gordon Camp 599. His mother was initially reluctant --- "I was afraid of a KKK thing" --- so she accompanied him to his first meeting in the summer of 1998. The camp's commander convinced her that the group was neither racist nor "anti -Christ."
"Jonathan was not shy by any means as he attended his first meeting," the Rebel Yell newsletter reported. "He asked three or four pertinent questions during the proceedings and seemed to fit right in." A year later, he was a full member. He ached to be a Civil War re-enactor --- his grandmother had already sewn a gray-and-gold uniform just like Stonewall Jackson's --- but that would have to wait until he was eligible at age 16.
Meanwhile, Jonathan embraced the Sons, with their glorification of history and heritage, at their monthly meetings, where "Dixie" was sung and allegiance pledged to the Confederate flag. But the group was more than just an opportunity for a smart, lonely and sickly boy to indulge his Civil War fantasy. These men accepted him, humored him and loved him like a father, something missing in Jonathan's life.
Charles Owens was paying his respects at the LaFayette cemetery when he saw a boy hovering around the line of headstones honoring unknown Rebel soldiers. It was April 26, 1998, Confederate Memorial Day, and Owens suspected mischief. He hustled over and discovered Jonathan placing artificial flowers on each of the 15 unmarked graves. The flowers had once adorned the grave of Kimberly Maxey's brother and for years had been kept in her mother's shed. A week before the Confederate holiday, Jonathan asked if he could have them.
Owens, an ex-Marine and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, invited Jonathan to the next meeting. Impressed with the boy, and eager for new recruits, the group paid his first-year dues of $35. The men bought him a holster for his black-powder pistol and took him to Civil War re-enactments and the battlefields of Lafayette, Taylor's Ridge and Chickamauga. He reciprocated by selling raffle tickets, researching pension records of local Rebels and raising money to build a stone wall honoring Confederate soldiers.
"They treated him as an equal, instead of as a child," his mother said. "Jonathan ate that up. They'd slap him on the back, tell jokes, ask his opinion." Owens took Jonathan to the Rebel burial in Alabama. He remembered the boy's quiet enthusiasm as the re-enactors laid the unknown soldier to rest. But there were other memories. "It was hilly in the cemetery and Jonathan had trouble walking up the hills," Owens recalled. "I told him he ought to get on a running program to get in shape. He just smiled."
A boy must be 12 to join the Sons. He also must prove that an ancestor served the Confederacy. Jonathan was nine months shy of 12 when he hooked up with the group, so he had plenty of time to discover the Rebel in his attic. Jonathan never slept late on Saturdays; he was too eager to reach the Lafayette library by 9 a.m. "Most fascinations, they don't last very long," his mother said. "But this was something on his mind all the time. He was in his element talking about the Civil War."
Jonathan badgered librarians Valinda Oliver and Betty Johnson daily, demanding to know when this book or that microfilm would arrive from other libraries.
On sick days, he would call Oliver or Johnson from home just to talk. He invited them to distant battlefields and offered to pay their train fares. He asked if he could eat lunch with them in the library on Saturdays. "He wanted to learn everything he could while he was here," said Oliver, the library manager.
"It seemed like he was in a race with time. It was almost like he was looking for an anchor for his life, or for a belonging, or for the history of himself. He was looking for his history." He found it, finally, in a book called "The Maxeys of Virginia." He discovered that Thomas Franklin Maxey, his great-great-great- great-great grandfather, had served the Confederacy, Company H, 3 rd Georgia Cavalry.
"He said, 'Mama, here it is, here it is, here it is,' " Kimberly Maxey recalled. "He loved it and wanted everybody to know --- whether they wanted to or not. It was something that would last, I guess. " Jonathan discovered that Thomas Maxey, along with another Maxey soldier, was buried in nearby Summerville. Based on his research, the Veterans Administration placed honorary headstones on their graves. The Rebels were honored in September 1999 with re-enactors, bagpipes and an 18-gun salute. The folded Confederate battle flag was presented to Jonathan's grandfather, the oldest surviving Maxey, who later gave it to the boy. Framed and hung on a wall, that flag was the last thing Jonathan saw before going to bed each night.
Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson is one of the more revered figures in the pantheon of Confederate generals. He was Jonathan's hero. Jonathan "seemed to connect so with him," his mother said. "He thought if he had lived, he could've been great." Both Jackson and Jonathan were born in the hills and grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles and grandparents. Socially awkward, and with few buddies, both took to books and learning, spending hours alone. History was their favorite subject. Jackson became a teacher. Jonathan aspired to be one.
Acquaintances considered both boys a bit odd; a biographer wrote that Jackson "was unquestionably a 'town character.' " Oliver, the LaFayette librarian, said Jonathan "was a complicated child. I never could figure him out." Mike Keown didn't care that Jonathan was different from other boys in LaFayette. Keown, commander of Jonathan's Sons of Confederate Veterans camp, was struck by the boy's insatiable appetite for history, knowledge and life.
"Some call that odd," said Keown, a mechanic. "I call 'em thinking the way they're supposed to."
Stonewall Jackson and Jonathan Maxey also shared something else. Their fathers were dead or gone. An uncle introduced Kimberly Maxey to Terry Bailey. Their relationship was brief, barely a month, but long enough for Jonathan to be conceived. Kimberly and Terry went their separate ways, she as a secretary for Walker County family services, where she remains, and he in the plumbing business. Terry, who had run-ins with the law, rarely saw his boy.
One evening, ll-year-old Jonathan was watching the TV news while his mother visited next door. Something he saw compelled him to call her. "He said, 'Mama, put on Channel 9. Dad's been arrested for drugs.' He knew that his dad was involved in drugs and he kept saying that one day he'd get his. (Jonathan) was laughing hysterically. It just tickled him to death."
There were other men in Jonathan's life. His grandfather Pete, a truck driver, drove Jonathan allover North Georgia, sometimes ending at the Chickamauga battlefield. Jerry DeBord, a retired state trooper, taught Jonathan how to handle his black-powder pistol. And there were the Sons of Confederate Veterans. So his mother didn't believe that her ex-boyfriend's death in November 1999, an apparent suicide, affected Jonathan much. But during a routine eye examination soon thereafter, the doctor discovered that Jonathan's eyesight had deteriorated badly. He asked if the boy had suffered a recent trauma. Within a month, his eyesight returned to its previous condition.
"I guess his father's death upset him," Maxey said. "He didn't get to say goodbye. He hoped in the future to have a relationship with him." Valinda Oliver, the library manager, felt sorry for the boy. "I'm no psychiatrist," she allowed, "but 1 always thought Jonathan really needed a father figure he never had. The Sons of Confederate Veterans filled the need."
Jonathan died last Christmas Eve. One day seven years earlier, he awoke and vomited blood. Kimberly raced the boy to the local hospital. An ambulance carried him to Chattanooga. Jonathan spent that weekend in intensive care. Uncertain of his illness, doctors transferred him to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta. His spleen was four times the normal size and hindered the flow of blood to his liver. His blood was also protein-deficient.
Surgery was eventually performed. Hospitals became Jonathan's frequent companion. And then, the Wednesday before Christmas 2000, he fainted and was again rushed to the children's hospital in Chattanooga, this time with pulmonary hypertension. Maxey didn't tell her son that he didn't have long to live. "The Saturday before he died, he said, 'Mama, why is this happening to me?' " she recalled. "I told him, 'Jonathan, you're just something special.' He was OK with that."
He awoke early the chilly morning of Dec. 24 to find everything in order. The house was silent. His mother was still in bed. The Christmas tree, trimmed and beautiful with presents underneath, stood invitingly in the living room.
The boy bathed and, feeling suddenly ill, returned to bed. He suffered a seizure and died. On Christmas Day, Kimberly Maxey rummaged through a desk drawer looking for phone numbers of friends to notify about her son's death. She found instead a blue sheet of paper with clouds in the corners. A child's handwriting splashed across the page. It was a note from Jonathan.
Two years earlier, right after the Confederate graveside service in Alabama, Jonathan had written his will and sketched his tombstone. "He had more guts than anybody I know," said Owens of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "He was something." Maxey set about honoring Jonathan's wishes. At the funeral home, she discovered that her son had left explicit instructions on how he should be buried: casket open, glasses on, Confederate flag and kepi placed alongside his body. At the florist, she found out that Jonathan had ordered red, white and blue flowers done up like a Confederate flag. She talked with Owens in hopes of re-enacting a Rebel burial.
Jonathan was buried under a cold and Confederate-gray sky at the cemetery on the edge of town. Civil War re-enactors, in white gloves and woolen uniforms, carried the boy's flag-draped coffin to its grave. A volley of musket fire was answered with cannon shot. The blustery wind carried taps off toward the mountains. The Rebel flag was folded and presented to Kimberly.
Jonathan's tombstone is black marble. On the front: a Rebel flag, a quotation from Stonewall Jackson ("Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees"), Jonathan in Confederate uniform on a white horse. On the back: a bugler, a drummer boy, a verse of "Dixie."
"He was always a Rebel," his mother " Kimberly"said. "That was his identity. "
The above, compliments:
Jimmy L. Shirley Jr.
God bless you Jimmy, for sharing this... PoP