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John Washington McCollum - Freedom Isn't Free

While searching through the ancestors to find inductees for the Family Wall of Honor, I discovered quite a story filled with love, dedication, and sadness.  This story is worth passing on, so I shall attempt to regale you with this most interesting piece of family history.


This story began in the early 1800’s when the Cowboys still rode the trails in search of stray cows, places to camp, or a supply of fresh water.   I don’t believe all of them were considered “cowboys” at the time, unless they attended to, or owned cattle. They neither had, nor needed a permit to carry a gun; they had the “need” to carry a gun, so they did.  The ordinary farmer, blacksmith, physician, or store owner in that era would have resembled cowboys to us, because they rode horses, and they also carried weapons for protection.    If they were traveling as a family, they used a wagon, pulled by a horse or two.  The children in that era walked to school. 


Medical knowledge was very primitive, and hard to find, as people generally lived many miles apart from the nearest towns; the ancestors of that time relied on “home remedies” unless it was an extreme emergency.  In those days, people learned how to use red clay and vinegar to set a sprained ankle.  They knew how to splint a broken bone, and they knew how to birth babies. 


Life was simple, but extremely complicated.  If they were not fortunate enough to have a well for water, they had to carry water in buckets from the river or creek.  Day to day living was a complex struggle, and involved the entire family.  The labor started again at sunrise.  Most families were very large, and were taught a hard work ethic, and how to get by day to day in the brutal living conditions.  The family in this story was no different.


John Washington McCollum was a 2nd great grandson of the immigrant John Neil “Old John” McCollum, born in 1657.  This immigrant McCollum was the first of this family to walk the ground of the USA.  (Before it was the USA)


 John Washington McCollum was born in 1805 into a large family in South Carolina headed up by Daniel McCollum.  This group of youngsters learned how to work hard, play hard, and probably pray hard.  They learned that the family is a unit, and they can only succeed as a unit. 


This work ethics and loyalty carried on with each child as they grew into adulthood, and began their individual families.  John Washington McCollum chose a beautiful young girl named Hannah Cantrell for his lovely bride.  She was also born in South Carolina, and grew up with a strong character, and a zest for life.  This young couple married, and made the journey to Georgia to begin their life together. Their plans included a very large family, and a peaceful country life.  Large? Yes.  Peaceful? Well, the country part is right.


They welcomed their first child in 1823.  While the nation was buzzing about James Monroe, the 5th president,  , this couple and nearby friends and family were bustling with pride over the new daughter with captivating smiles.  They called her Rachel.  As time went by, this family soon added three boys to the unit.  James, William, and John were the next children into this family.  Little Rachel grew into quite a nurturing person with all the little boys to care for.  Soon she hoped to also have a sister.


Rutha was born in 1834.  This family was ecstatic!  Mom and sweet Hannah now had a sweet little girl they could coddle over, and dad could start teaching the boys all the things they needed to know.  The boys soon learned how to farm, how to hunt, they also learned how to fight.  (They especially learned when NOT to fight)  These boys learned quickly that work comes before pleasure.  When their chores were done, they could entertain themselves with play guns, stick horses, cops and robbers, and cowboys and Indians.  Their dad John Washington McCollum was extremely proficient in teaching them the skills needed to be an honored and respected adult.  He knew that the best possible thing you can teach your children is how to live without you.  This was possibly the hardest lesson for dad!


Two more boys soon joined this fast growing Georgia family.  Moses and Samuel took their place in the entourage of creative McCollum family members.  Seven children! This was certainly a big family, but they were not finished.  Little Evaline joined them in 1842, bringing the number to eight.   Of these eight children, the oldest of the boys had reached the age of eighteen, and was already looking and thinking of the girls.


Soon the boys were putting away the toy guns, and cleaning the real guns.  The stick horses were replaced with real, oat-eating, eager to run spirited horses.  The games they played were set aside, because it was time for the reality of life.  In search of a life they were brought up to believe in, all five boys were married soon, and started a family by 1849.  Each family was independent and doing well, but talk of an impending war rattled the rafters in every crude built home, creating a fear in the hearts of everyone.  Those who did not want to admit the fear, were generally the ones who talked about it more.


As the talk of the war continued, the young men all mutually agreed that they should serve with honor, to defend the South.  The talk served as fuel in a fire; soon all the young men were getting ready to sign their names.  The McCollum boys wanted to be first in line.


By 1859, the three older boys had nine children collectively, and they had already decided to go to war when it started.  Neither of the boys knew exactly what kind of macabre tragedies they would see, or how devastating the war would turn out to be.  The “fighting” they had done was generally over an insult, and soon settled with a couple of black eyes.  This was an entirely different, and deadly, situation.  John Washington McCollum, nearing his fifty year mark, listened to all the planning of triumph and victory stories with a reserved and silent nature.  He had heard horror stories of war, and how this might possibly turn out.  The thought of some of his boys going into battle, caused him to go empty inside; he thought this was one thing he could not go through.  Much to his chagrin, as time went on, it actually got worse.


All five boys had made the decision; they would go to war, and fight for what they believe in.  The testosterone was stronger than a father’s hope.  They all saddled up with provisions and promises, and started out on the prayer-filled journey to battlefields with hopes and prayers of coming back home.  Their dad, John Washington, was distraught.  The pain and fear of losing his sons was too great to ignore.  He felt he had but one option!


He saddled his horse, took provisions, and off he went in search of an answer to this most distressing turn of events he had ever encountered.  There was only one answer he could think of.  HE WOULD JOIN THE BATTLE TOO!!


In what was possibly the shortest military term in history, John Washington McCollum did enlist in the CSA, but was discharged immediately with the reasons given as “old” and “infirm”.  His hope for a chance to be with his boys was shot down in just a few minutes by someone who thought he was too old.  So with shattered dreams, and a very heavy heart, he went home to try and live his life without knowing about his sons and their fate.  This lot he had drawn seemed to be worse than anything he could imagine.  How could he carry on the day to day activities?  How could he sleep, or eat?  His thoughts were that he would not live through this war.  He had taught his sons to live without him, but he didn’t learn how to be without his sons.


John Washington McCollum managed to survive knowing his sons were in the war, but he was never the same person.  His first son, James, returned home after the war. John Wesley also returned.  They all waited in anticipation for the others to arrive.  Eventually, Samuel made it home.  It took a long time to discover what happened to his other two sons, but they finally learned.  Moses died of a disease in November of 1862.  William was shot in the abdomen at the Chickamauga battlefield, and died in September of 1863.  Neither body was returned to the family.  They do not know where either son is buried, so a memorial is all they have for these two sons.  This father of five sons would be the first to tell you, and the most qualified to tell you, “Freedom is not free.”


John Washington McCollum died in 1883, his devoted wife Hannah followed the next year; they are resting in eternal sleep in Landmark Baptist Church Cemetery in Cherokee County Georgia.  Rest in Peace John, you have given much. 



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