Cemetery visit brings insight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

A light from our household is gone. A voice we loved is stilled. A place is vacant in our hearts that can never be filled.

There was an angel band in heaven that was not quite complete, so God took our darling Howard to fill the vacant seat.

Those words, on the tombstone of a Howard Miller, are sobering reminders of what really is important in life. His tombstone is one of dozens at the Shelby Springs Confederate Cemetery.

Coincidentally, Howard wasn’t a soldier. In fact, he wasn’t born until 23 years after the Civil War ended.

There’s probably somebody reading this column who knows his story. They know why he died in 1909 – just 10 days before Christmas. He was only 21.

I don’t know why Howard is buried there. I do know he had a brother, Flennoy, which he knew for just a few years.

Flennoy was born in 1886. He was two years older than Howard.

I’d bet they were typical boys. If they went to school, they likely daydreamed while the teacher was talking. Who knows – they might have even put a slimy frog in the teacher’s desk.

They might have heard of big cities like New York and Beijing and wondered what it was like on the other side of the world.

They might have performed chores on the family farm, working with their parents, John and Tulsie, from dawn until dusk. Flennoy probably teased his younger brother, like many older brothers do.

I do know Flennoy died on Dec. 18, 1895 – less than two weeks before his 9th birthday.

His epitaph gives us a glimpse into their parents’ grief:

You are not dead to us, but as a bright star unseen, we hold that you are ever new to us. Though death intrudes between, our darling one has gone before to greet us on the blissful shore.

Howard was only seven when his older brother died.

Sadly, Howard and Flennoy aren’t the only ones in the cemetery to die young. It is the final home for hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in a Confederate hospital, started by Father Leray and the Sisters of Mercy.

&uot;Until the end of the war, they ministered physically and spiritually to the brave Confederate sick and wounded,&uot; a monument at the cemetery states about the medical heroes.

They were &uot;refugees from a besieged Vicksburg&uot; who came east.

While nearly 300 soldiers were buried at the cemetery, their homes were from across the Southeast – Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and other states.

Most of the graves are for unknown soldiers. Their families likely never knew where, when or how they died.

I’m not a Civil War or cemetery buff. But my recent late morning trip to the cemetery made me think.

It made me think about life – the precious gift God gives us every day. It’s a cliche, but nobody is promised tomorrow.

It made me think about family and friends. It’s easy to get so caught up in life’s challenges and forget about those who love you the most.

It made me think about freedom. I walked into a school the other day and noticed a sign in an office that reads &uot;In God We Trust.&uot; You couldn’t do that in most schools across the world.

It would be a little flippant for me to say I am a changed man after my recent trip. But thankfully, it gave me a little perspective on what matters most.

Patrick Johnston is a staff writer at the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at mailto:patrick.johnston@shelbycountyreporter.com