Aged document helps tell fitting Memorial Day tale

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2005

The document was non-descript, nothing fancy at all, and certainly not a pleasant thing to gaze upon for Harriett Coddell (or Cordell or Candel, depending on the records) that sad day in 1864.

The local woman was still grieving over the recent loss of her husband, John, who was killed earlier in the year while fighting in the Civil War in Marietta, Ga.

Harriett was left with the unenviable task of filling out that dreaded document - a widow's clam form.

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The crisp, cursive writing still visible so many years later explained many details of a life - when John, a Lawrence County resident, had joined the Union Army's Co. E, 14th Kentucky Infantry, when he was married and more. But it is a question and answer at the bottom of the page that speaks volumes.

"Loyalty?" the blank on the document asked. "Shown," was Harriett's response.

"Shown." The five tiny letters carried such large meaning.

John Coddell gave his life for his country, passing away on the 4th of July of all days. So for Harriett there was no other answer. John had shown his loyalty in a way that can never be disputed or taken back.

For local genealogy buff and Ironton business owner Pat Fannin, those five letters, that one word, jumped off the page that he had uncovered while researching his own family history.

For Fannin, that simple question and answer embodies all that Memorial Day is about and what we, as Americans, should never forget. See, there are millions of John Coddells in our history that have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms.

But John Coddell's story does not exactly end with his death. In fact, Fannin found that another fascinating story begins there.

On April 2, 1888, The Ironton Register printed the 74th segment in a series of war stories titled "Narrow Escapes." John Johnson of South Point told his story that began where Coddell's ended.

The two men were neighbors and stuck together as two Lawrence Countians fighting in Georgia are apt to do. As Coddell fell dead, Johnson caught just a glimpse of the shooter. Braving the thicket and musket fire, Johnson crept forward and retrieved Coddell's body.

"That thrilling experience so inflamed and nerved me that I swore that I'd shoot the Reb that killed John Coddle," Johnson said.

So began the slow, painstakingly dangerous crawl that Johnson made around behind enemy lines. After what he said seemed like an eternity, he saw his chance.

Johnson took his shot, dropping the Reb, "who had killed his last Yank," Johnson recounted when telling the story of avenging his friend.

Loyalty? Shown.

Michael Caldwell is the managing editor at The Ironton Tribune. To reach Mike, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at