History Leaves of The Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“Mysteries of the Cemetery”
Growing up in the church as a young lad in the 1950’s, my friends and I spent many hours playing and exploring the cemetery located adjacent to the old historical church. Two of those friends, Tommy Austin and Stanley Barker, are still members of the church today. One of the things that fascinated us was the Kirklin box graves located in the southwest section of the cemetery. They were constructed out of a type of concrete and were the only two of this type in the cemetery. Both were covered with stone slabs, and we assumed that any mortal remains were interred within the boxes. For many years, we struggled to slide the heavy slabs just enough that we could peek inside the boxes. Our impressionable young minds were constantly conjuring up images of things we would see and experience if we ever succeeded in our quest. Eventually our bodies grew, our muscles developed, and the time of reckoning was upon us. We slide one of the slabs over, anxiously peered inside, and saw????????? well, I couldn’t believe it, after all this time and effort, we saw absolutely nothing. We were so disappointed and crestfallen, as we suddenly realized that the graves were six feet under the ground, and that the concrete boxes were simply grave markers. Today, as I look back, our activities were probably not appropriate, but I suspect the spirits of the saints had quite a chuckle over the entire affair.
On a more serious note, I have been able to solve another cemetery mystery that has eluded me until recently. When I was a small boy, my Aunt Bessie Easterly, on Decoration Day, always placed flowers on one of the Civil War concrete markers in the southwest corner of the cemetery. I asked my Dad about this, and he said it was an uncle. My next query was, “How does she know which grave to decorate, since there are not any names on the grave markers?” He replied that the initials were etched on top of the concrete marker. I never thought much about it until several years ago as I tried to deduce who this uncle might have been. I knew these soldiers most likely perished before or during Wheeler’s Raid in 1863. First, I tried to identify the initials on the marker, but weather and time had eroded all evidence. I knew it was not her immediate uncle because her Uncle James Cordell, although he was killed in 1863, met his fate in Cedar Grove, Georgia and is interred there. Her Great Grandfather died in Vicksburg, Mississippi, also in 1863, and his grave marker is in Mississippi, however none of his sons served in this war. So, the mystery remained for several years until I uncovered an article in February of this year. It was a historical vignette by Sydney V. Grimes concerning Daniel Ernest Johnson and Patience Lurinda Hatfield Johnson. The information about Patience (Pate) was as follows: “Pate was small in stature and walked quickly. She always wore a black dress, black bonnet, black apron, and black button-up shoes. Pate had a brother, Basey, who was shot at Chapel Hill Church by the Yankees”. Mystery solved. She apparently wore black the rest of her life in remembrance of her brother. The unidentified grave was not my Aunt Bessie’s uncle; it was her great uncle, and she was carrying on the tradition of her Grandmother Pate Johnson. As a footnote, I have located in different census records a “Basie” and a “Baza” Hatfield, however according to birth records, his birthday post dates the year 1863. “Pate” Johnson had one older brother Andrew Hatfield, middle initial unknown, who was born 1843. This fits the time frame, and I have been unable to find him in the census records after the Civil War. I haven’t uncovered his middle name or initial, so his middle name was either Basey, or most likely it was a nickname. Southerners are notorious for nicknames. The Basey that was born after the war could have been named in honor of his deceased older brother. I do not know the circumstances of his death. When the Union Troops removed the outside planking of the original church in 1863 to construct barracks in Bridgeport, Ala, they probably encountered resistance from the local members of the church. During the ensuing melee, Pate’s brother could have been shot. Another possibility is that he was a Confederate soldier assigned to one of General Wheeler’s units during the raid. However, Confederate records were not adequately maintained, and the only Andrew Hatfield I have found was not assigned to duty in this area at that time. The first scenario is probably more plausible explanation at this time. This is only conjecture, so I will continue to research the circumstances surrounding his death.
If anyone has an interesting or unusual story concerning Chapel Hill history and can provide sufficient or minimal documentation, let me know so I can include it in future articles.
Answer to last month’s question? During in 1863, what two famous generals and future U.S. President traveled by the original church? (1) General Joseph Wheeler, who led Confederate Calvary in the largest raid in Civil War history just east of the church. General Wheeler later served in the Spanish American War. Lt. Col Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” served under his command. (2) General Ulysses S. Grant past near the church on his way to take command of the besieged Federal Army at Chattanooga. He was transported by wagon since previously his horse had fallen on him and he was unable to ride. General Grant later became president in 1868.
Next month’s question? Dr. R.N. Price, during his lifetime, authored the definitive history of the Holston Conference. What was the connection of this venerable pillar of Methodism to the original church in 1853?