This article was published on Confederate Memorial Day, 1989, in the Clayton Daily Journal, Jonesboro, Ga. The article included a photograph of Helen Lester Methvin, EHM's daughter, placing flowers on a Confederate soldier's grave in the Jonesboro Confederate Cemetery. The graves there are not identified, so T.J. Methvin's grave cannot be found. At the time Helen was working in Atlanta as an architect.
CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL DAY: Remembering Thomas Jefferson Methvin
By Eugene H. Methvin
Reprinted with permission by the Author
Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, is becoming a dimly remembered occasion, but we always fly the Stars 'n Bars at my home along Georgetown Pike out in Fairfax County, Va., just twelve miles from the yankee White House. We are well outside the fortifications of Washington, and John Singleton Mosby, "the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy," used to bushwack the bluecoats out our way. I'm sure he often stopped for a deep draught from the well at our house.
We also fly the flag on September 1, for that is the
day, after the Battle of Jonesboro, when General John B. Hood evacuated Atlanta and the
Confederacy's last hope evaporated. We fly the flag in honor of Pvt. Thomas
Jefferson Methvin, of the 57th Georgia Regiment, who was shot dead that morning by the
yankees at Jonesboro, and who lies in the Confederate cemetery there. Unlike most
families and descendants of Confederate casualties, who learned little about the fate of
their loved ones lost in battle, we have a most moving account of Tommy Methvin's death,
for he was shot down at his brother's side.
That brother, "Uncle Johnny," lived to the ripe old age of 94, dying in 1941, well into my own lifetime though I never knew him. In 1930, at the age of 84, he wrote a lengthy and fascinating autobiography, a typescript of which came to me remotely via unknown Oklahoma cousins, along with some charming entries from the Rev. Methvin's daily journal.
Johnny was barely 18, and his brother Tommy probably younger, at the time they entered the Confederate Army. The autobiography offers a concise and gripping account of these young Georgians at war. Their two older brothers enlisted in the first company organized in their community, Jeffersonville, down between Dublin and Macon. At the time -- the company must have been organized in 1860 before the war began -- Johnny was only 13 and Tommy perhaps 12. The eldest brother, Lt. William K. Methvin--my great grandfather--was captured at Baker's Creek just before the siege of Vicksburg in 1863 and spent the rest of the war in the yankee prison on Johnson's Island, Ohio.
The two younger brothers entered the regular army early in 1864 at Savannah, in Co. D, 57th Georgia Regiment, which was guarding the coast near the Savannah River's mouth. Soon after, they were sent to guard the federal prisoners at Andersonville. "Much has been said about the treatment of prisoners at that place, and much that was untrue," the Rev. Methvin wrote. "Prison life is always hard, especially in war prisons. But federal prisoners were not treated with any intentional cruelty, and they suffered no more than southern men in northern prisons."
The boys' regiment soon joined Gen. Johnston at the front near Dalton, opposing Sherman. "From the time we detrained and took our place in the line of battle in Mercer's brigade, we were in daily conflict somewhere along the line, either in picket skirmishes or regular battle."
Even as an old man in Oklahoma the Rev. Methvin was a crack shot, and often demonstrated his marksmanship for his sons and grandsons. But he wrote that he was glad he was not certain he ever killed a man--"I hope I did not."
Sherman with his superior forces pressed the Confederates back into Atlanta, of course. The Rev. Methvin's story goes on:
"Our forces were worn out and somewhat dispirited by the removal of Johnston from the command, and Hood put in his place.
"We had already fought two bloody battles near Atlanta in which we had lost several thousand men, July 22nd, 1864. Sherman sent a strong force to Jonesboro, twenty miles below Atlanta, with the purpose of capturing the line of railroad and cutting off our supplies and our line of communications.
"Hardee's corps was sent by forced march to stay his purpose. We reached there after an all night march, and early in the morning of August 30th, 1864, the fighting began. It was intensely hot, and one amusing scene afforded some merriment even in the heat of battle. We charged upon the federal forces and they retreated across Flint River, and in their hurry to get away, many of them plunged into the river and waded or swam through. One big fat Irishman, or German, who had on a pair of heavy boots, had struggled through the deep water, but his clothes and boots were so water-soaked and heavy that he could run no further, so he dropped in his tracks, threw up his hands and cried out in broken English his surrender. I think he was the biggest heap of helpless humanity I have ever seen. We sent him to Andersonville to dry out and wait the crossing of another river.
"After numerous conflicts without any gain on either side, the day passed by, the fighting ceased and all was quiet, save now and then a shot on the picket line broke the silence.
"When day dawned again the fighting was renewed fiercer than before. We met assault after assault from the federals, but held our lines, and the day closed with us still in battle line.
"Early next morning in the heavy gloaming, my regiment was called out to the advanced picket line. It was a fearful strain upon our courage, for we knew what it meant, but all was quiet. My brother Thomas as his office required was adjusting the line and placing videttes, when suddenly the shriek of battle broke loose and the federals who were concealed in ambush close by were upon us.
"Here a wild and bloody scene, hard to describe, took place. My brother was shot down by my side. Most of the regiment was either killed or wounded or captured, but we fought through and held the line till night.
"Not far from the scene of conflict we buried my brother in a coffinless grave, under the friendly branches of a wide spreading oak. His remains were afterwards removed to the soldier's cemetery at Jonesboro.
"This was the first day of September , 1864, and we retired in the darkness of the night, for Sherman had broken our lines near Atlanta, and was already entering the city. The campaign was over, and Atlanta had fallen, and gloom settled over the south, but still there was no thought of giving up the fight."
Hood pulled the Confederate Army off into Tennessee and Alabama, thinking he would cut Sherman's lines--and Sherman made his terrible "March to the Sea." John Methvin marched and fought and marched and fought until, a bare bag of skin and bones, he was sent from Corinth, Miss., to Montgomery where a board of physicians judged him unfit and furloughed him for ninety days. "I heard one of them say, 'He will never get back, he is too far gone'," the 84-year-old autobiographer recalled, "Those doctors are doubtless long since dead, and if they took enough notice of me to remember the incident, they wonder why they did not find me when they got there. For I did not die, and here I am after 66 years, still active and enjoying God's sunshine this side of the tomb."
Late in that desolate spring of 1865, Pvt. Methvin trudged home to Jeffersonville, a walking skeleton. His father, not having heard from him since September, believed him dead and, in his despair, was weeping and going out the back door in search of privacy as his boy walked in the front gate. "His sorrow was turned into joy as we embraced each other once more. It was a time of rejoicing, but tinged with a sense of bereavement as we remembered Tommy's tragic death at Jonesboro, and William's imprisonment."
Home life quickly mended the young soldier. By the end of his furlough he was heavier than he ever was before or after. As he bade his family goodbye, he told them, "You may not see me again for it may take four more years to fight this war to a finish, and that means the sacrifice of many more men, and so I tell you goodbye with that in view."
Pvt. Methvin had no idea the war was ending even as he marched off, he thought, to war. "Simple as I was I had no idea that we were so near final defeat and the end of the war. And even when Lee surrendered, followed soon after by Johnston, I thought the war would go on across the Mississippi."
Because he was not with his command when it surrendered, he was not under any restrictions of a parole, so he hoped to get home without it so he "would be free to join any other movement for our cause." But Wilson's cavalry captured him at Macon. "After several days I was paroled, and in defeat, went home."
The young veteran, all of 18, went back to school, took a three-year law course, got admitted to the bar, but found so few clients in that harsh time he turned to school-teaching.
John Jasper Methvin became a founder of the Nacoochee School in North Georgia and an early president of Brenau College at Gainesville. In 1872 he took up the Methodist ministry and in 1885 went as a missionary to the Indians in the Oklahoma territory, where he lived the rest of his life with occasional visits to his Georgia relatives.
He never forgot his Georgia roots, or that tragic day in battle at Jonesboro. When he was 86, in his daily journal he made this entry:
"Sept. 1, 1933--Sixty-nine years ago this morning at about sun up was engaged in a most bloody battle near Jonesboro, Georgia. My brother, T. J. Methvin, fell, shot through the head; his blood spattered on me as he fell. Oh! The cruelty and wickedness of war! We buried his body close to where he fell in a coffinless grave, wrapped in his martial cloak about him. The cloak consisted of a 'tent fly' which we had been using for sleeping upon when the weather was fair, but as a covering when raining. All that bloody death scene comes fresh this morning and breaks my heart as I think of the death of that noble brother."
The aged Uncle Johnny's lament for his long-lost brother made me weep when I first read it, and that's when I resolved to fly the banner under which he fell, in memoriam for that brave and fearful young Georgia boy, killed doing his duty in front of the line at Jonesboro. ###
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