Like most people in my neighborhood, I’ve driven past this tiny cemetery countless times without giving it much thought. But when a headstone appeared one day seemingly out of the blue, I stopped for a better look. What was once just an anonymous grave now had a history, and what a history it was.
Since Memorial Day was originally created to pay homage to Civil War soldiers, I thought it only fitting to get better acquainted with my deceased neighbor.
His marker reveals quite a bit about the man: He lived to be 64, he was a 2nd lieutenant for the 45th Infantry of Tennessee, and he probably saw Civil War combat while in his thirties.
From what I could glean from the internet, the cemetery is where the old homestead used to be, he was married to Angeline, they had eight children, and he served in the County Court.
In contacting a living relative, I learned that the headstone engraver misspelled his middle name of “Watt.” Instead of the hassle, and no doubt governmental red-tape involved, they decided to leave “Wytt” as is. James was also a well-educated man, serving as a teacher and a surveyor.
Depending on when he enlisted, James would have fought with the 45th at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Murfreesboro. Since these were some of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War, I wondered…Was James ever wounded? Did he watch a brother or neighbor die? Did his rifle kill any Yankees? I don’t have any answers to these questions, but nevertheless, I can only imagine the psychological impact the war must have had on this soldier.
Yes, he was a Rebel who fought against the liberties we Americans currently hold dear. But now that I’ve put a face with a name and learned a bit about him, I have respect for him as a man and as an American. In many ways, James was a lot like us, full of dreams and ideals that he wasn’t afraid to fight for. And like us, I’m sure he carried his share of burdens, fears and worries.
And so it is that I pay homage to the soldier buried near my home, a warrior who only months ago was in an unmarked grave. Funny what you’ll discover when you slow down in life “for a better look.” Glad I did.
You’re not forgotten, James Watt Hailey.