“Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” Isaiah 57:1
There are things in our lives that we simply do not understand. There are times in our lives that we question. There are moments in our lives which are surreal and unexplainable. This is a story of one of those times.
I first met our ‘Little General’ on a battlefield. She was in the encampment and dresses so lovely. She was running around playing with her brothers. She was from a large family and she was the youngest. Her big brown eyes seemed to dance with the excitement and energy of youth. Once you encountered our ‘Little General’, you were under her spell and under your command.
I remember the first encounter I had with our Maggie Sue. She was in the Possum Holler tent and running around looking at all the goodies. She was wearing a bonnet. I had my old hat with me and I spoke to her. She smiled and of course my old heart melted. I told her how lovely she looked and what a pretty bonnet she had. I showed her my hat and asked her would she be willing to trade. She looked at me with that wild-eyed innocence and said, “No, your hat is ugly”!
The last time I saw our ‘Little General’ was at the Battle of Saltville 2019. I attended school days and had my camera to take some pictures. As I walked up to my area on the porch, I saw Maggie Sue and her four-year-old brother Tiberius (TY), running down the hill. She was wearing the ‘worlds’ smallest hoop skirt’ and he was in his period attire. For a moment I envisioned Laura Ingalls running down the hill in the series, Little House on the Prairie. I hugged them and asked Maggie if she would go back up the hill and run down it again so I could take some pictures. She looked at me and said, “No, I did it once!” and ran off with her brother towards the encampment.
I told Travis and April Stevens about my encounter and we all laughed. She took my camera and captured some picture of Maggie’s mother portraying a teacher and her brothers demonstrating life during the War Between the States and some of the equipment of the period. One picture I treasure is that of the Little General eating an apple.
As I waited for students, I noted one of the activities involved a children’s battle. Of course Maggie was right in the middle of it and usually bare footed! The grass looked taller than she did but she was out there with tenacity of spirit. She so loved such events.
At one of the stations, I witnessed children from local schools being taught period games. Games were being taught by some of Maggie’s older siblings and of course she was in the middle. It reminded me of the days long ago when children played during the time of war. There were wooden toys during that time such as building blocks, jacks, marbles, wooden guns, loops, and toy soldiers. One popular game was a small wooden cup with a ball attached to a string. The objective was to catch the ball in the cup. They had whistles, drums and played checkers (commonly called ‘draughts’ during that period. And of course they had dolls. Some were corn husks and others rag dolls. They also had dolls with porcelain heads. Maggie had a varied assorted of dolls. I recall her carrying two dolls: one was black that she named Ja’mamie and the other was white named Polly. She loved them both equally.
One of those special moments was with Uncle Gregory. He is from New York and represents the voice of the Southern Black Man. He is an artist and passionate about history and heritage. He is also loved by the reenacting community.
Gregory told me that while talking to Maggie and her brothers, he asked them to call him ‘Uncle Gregory’. The boys agreed but Maggie said no. They went off but in a couple minutes she came back and said she was sorry. Then she hugged him and called him ‘Uncle Gregory’ Such was her heart.
Anthony Hawkins related that Maggie had come to where he was selling books. Previously he had given one of her siblings a book and she wanted to know where her book was. Anthony looked at her and asked her how much money she had. Maggie ran off and in a couple minutes came back with fifty-one cents. Anthony told her she could pick out any book she wanted. She did so with a smile. The mystery was where did she get the money! I know…
I offered presentations regarding General Lee to approximately six hundred children and afterwards I ran into our Maggie again. I said, “How is my little Bojangles this evening?” She looked at me and said with attitude, “I not jangles; I Maggie!” I roared with laughter!
I returned to the Battle of Saltville reenactment on Sunday in order to conduct the church services. I decided to visit a few units encamped. One of the artillery members of Jim Bay’s unit related that Maggie had visited them that morning. She brought them cold scrambled eggs and wouldn’t leave until they were eaten! She took care of her troops!
As I prepared for the service, Maggie’s brothers came up and volunteered to place the chairs on the porch. Maggie and Ty were there with me and as I offered tickets for a book give away, Maggie and Ty ‘assisted’ me. Maggie wanted a ‘special’ ticket and I gave her one. I noted she gave it to her brother.
Such an amazing heart.
After church, the children went out playing and visiting different camps. I prepared to narrate the Battle of Saltville. As I was talking to those watching, I noted our Little General walking barefoot on the pavement carrying one of her dolls but had dropped another. Steve, her father was behind her. I asked her about her other dolly. She looked down then back. Her father told her where it was and she ran to get it. She returned and sat with a couple she had met last year. They also had fallen under the spell of our little cherub.
The recreation of the Battle of Saltville was intense. I noted our little warrior watching and cheering for her brothers in gray. The battle scenario entailed U.S. General Burbridge’s invasion of the saltworks with approximately five thousand men. Confederate General Gillem had approximately twenty-five hundred men stationed in the vicinity. Confederate General Jackson deployed a delaying action, which gave General B. Duke time to come and support the Confederate line. The day was a victory for Virginia.
After the battle, I left the field without getting my usual goodbye hug. Little did I know that in only a couple days, a tragedy would occur within the reenacting family. It came via a call.
I received a call from Travis Stevens. He began the conversation by asking me did I remember little Maggie. His words stunned my soul. I knew something was wrong by the sound of his voice.
“Little Maggie was accidently killed,” He said through muffled emotion.
I was stunned and in total shock. I think I cried out, “God no! Tell me it isn’t so!” but I’m not sure if those were the exact words. I do remember saying I wish it was me instead of a child of three years.
I hung up the phone and wept bitter tears. I found myself in disbelief. I was shocked, in denial, and angry. My emotions stormed and thundered with unanswerable questions. I waited until I was sure the all the family had been notified and then began calling and texting about our “Little General”.
News spread like wildfire. Everyone was in shock and grief fell upon us like a mist. We felt so helpless. Then we decided to help. Andy Bodenheimer set up a Go Fund. Individuals began donating and asking what they could do. Prayers for the family spread across the land. Funeral arrangements were made.
I was asked to come and speak on behalf of our reenacting and living history family. I thought there are no words to express myself. Besides I was asking why and just simply could not understand how our “Little Buttons” could be taken so suddenly and without warning.
I tried to prepare. I prayed. I asked why over and over again. I worried. I lost sleep. Nothing came.
On Wednesday, August 27, 2019, I received a message that I had a room reserved at Camp Sumatanga in Gallant, Alabama. Ron Carpenter had reserved rooms for those traveling to the funeral. The beautiful retreat is located only a few miles from the family’s home. I packed the car, started driving, prayed, but nothing came.
On Thursday, August 28, I began driving. I did not turn on the radio or work in my mind’s eye on a book. Rather I tried to figure out what to say. Nothing came.
It took me a little over five hours to get to the Georgia line and my frustration, anxiety and emotional state had escalated to a level of frenzy. Still no words. As I crossed over into Alabama, I recollect speaking to God and saying I need words and His help in order to give some comfort to this hurting family. I drove on a few miles contemplating what to do when I noted a white sign with red letters on it. It was the first and only sign I saw. There were only two words written on the sing. The white background stood for the virtuous purity of Christ and the red represented His blood that he sacrificed for all of us. The two words were ‘TRUST JESUS’.
Tears fell unabated down my face. And instantly I realized it was not my time, not our time to know why. Instantly I knew that I must not dwell upon the loss but rather dwell upon the love. My fervent prayers had been answered. And I am sure the prayers of others for me had been answered. I knew that God would give me the words and courage to say them.
I made it to the camp and was amazed at the beauty of the land, the area and how friendly the staff was. I met Travis and April and after eating, we went to little Maggie’s home. We were greeted with hugs and I immediately felt welcomed. Several people were there helping with chores such as doing dishes, laundry, and mowing. Tanya, our Little General’s mother, hugged me and I could tell she was genuinely glad I could be with them.
After meeting everyone, I went outside and talked to several of Maggie’s siblings and met other family members. I noted that Steve was working under the shade of two sycamore trees with a couple of people. I went out to see if I could be of help.
They were busy digging the grave and when Steve saw me, he hugged me and thanked me for coming. I asked if I could help and he said that I already had. I was once again speechless. Someone pointed towards the hill and said that there was a large white cross up there and the gravesite was lined in its direction. The strength of faith through the sorrow of loss surrounded me. This wondrous family didn’t practice religion, they practiced a personal relationship with God.
We left and prepared for the visitation at the Ivalee Baptist Church. We all waited until the family had their time with the little cherub. At six we went inside. I noted a lovely little pink casket that contained the earthly remains of Maggie Sue. Ron Carpenter had spent hours on end making the perfect treasure chest for our princess. His wife had lined it with a lovey pink fabric. Andrew, one of Maggie’s older brothers, had painted the most beautiful picture on the inside of the lid. Three crosses were on a hill, with a beautiful scene of a glorious sky and a little unicorn was painted close to where her head rested. She was dress as a princess tiara on her head. She looked as if she was sleeping.
I paid my respects to the family and saw some of my friends. Gregory Newson was sitting there and behind him Monte Baker. I invited them to join me and we sat together. Later Jeanne Wonders Kritner and Janet Baber joined us. As we sat there a steady stream of people paid their respects to the family. Let there be no mistake. Hundreds came to pay their respects during that two-hour timeframe.
As we sat there in the church, we all talked about what we could do to help. We knew that pink was Maggie’s favorite color and that people wore pink in remembrance of her. We talked about some of the things she loved and the subject was raised about a unicorn. Oh how that girl loved them.
God works in mysterious ways. I mentioned about the rider-less horse. Jeanne said for some reason she had bought several yards of pink cloth. Janet mentioned she could have her horse attired as a unicorn. I went and sought permission. It seemed to please the family. Janet said she would be at the funeral with a unicorn. Her horse looks just like Traveller and Little Maggie had ‘ridden’ it on occasions.
They decided to place the cloth on the horse, make a unicorn on the bridle and place a pair of Maggie’s little pink boots reversed in the stirrups. It symbolized that our “Little General” was now watching over her family and ‘troops’. The unicorn would be another tribute to our baby girl.
We went back to Camp Sumatanga and of course Maggie tales were the topic. We also discussed what we could do to help the family. It was a time of camaraderie and fellowship.
On August 29, 2019, we prepared ourselves for the celebration of Maggie Sue Haessly’s life. I paid my respects after the family and through tears we offered a salute to our little general
I went back outside and asked some of the honor guard to assist with opening the doors of the church for the people. We took turns assisting those attending the celebration. At 11 o’clock, the services began. I honestly was not prepared for the love that I felt within the standing room only crowd. Reverend Jones officiated and was moved to tears as he honored Maggie and tried to comfort the family. His message of love and hope filled the church. After his words came a power point of Maggie and family. We laughed as some of her images and we cried as some of her moments of innocence. It was almost overwhelming.
At the end of the slide show, the pallbearers came forward. They were Daniel, Gabriel, Jakob, and Andrew. All were brothers to Maggie Sue. As they exited the building, an Honor Guard with swords drawn offered a salute. A large procession followed the Hurst and arrived at the family plot located on their farm.
The preacher offered words of wisdom from the Bible and tried to comfort those who were present Suddenly the unicorn appeared led by Janet Baber. She went up and down the line as the preacher and speakers talked.
Maggie Sue’s little pink coffin looked so lovely under the shade of the sycamores.
MacKenzie Henderson sang a beautiful song that Maggie loved. Captain Andy Bodenheimer introduced me. I went to my knees and asked God to give me words; for I had no other place to go but to the Lord. I stood up and began talking about love and the special impact this little lady had on thousands upon thousands of lives across the country.
I shared the story of the winter of 1862 while Lee’s army was encamped at Moss Neck. I told of a five-year-old child who became endeared to General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. I shared they had such a special bond and the great general would have tea with little Janie Corbin and be her ‘horse’ and ride around the Corbin home with her giggling while on his back.
I told of how General Jackson cried and could not be contained when he heard that news that his little friend had passed. Sandy Pendleton remarked that he had never seen the general cry for any of his troops and someone replied that the general was not only crying for the child but he was crying for all. I said I now know the feelings that General Jackson suffered. No, WE know what he experienced.
I referred to her three years of life upon this earth and the significance in my mind. I spoke of Christ’s three years of ministry, the Holy Trinity, and the three crosses on a hill. I spoke of the impact this little cherub had on so many. My closing words that were laid upon my heart were, “For three years an angel brushed our cheeks and we were unaware until now. From this moment on, I will try to be a better person, and attempt to fulfill my destiny as this little cherub has done. I ask you to do the same.”
I yielded the program to the Andy, Commander of the Honor Guard. My eyes shed tears of gratitude for the honor and privilege of knowing Maggie Sue and her family. As I waited for the commands to be given, I felt I was in the presence of an angel.
Andy took command of the 8th Confederate Cavalry Honor Guard and on the command, they fired the first round followed by an artillery blast. Steve, the father of our Little General was given the honor of firing the cannon volleys. The cannon had been filled with pink chalk as a tribute to Maggie. The unicorn reared a little at the volley.
Three volleys were fired by the Honor Guard. After the first shot, each trooper stuck their sword in the ground and placed the hat on top of it. That signified that one of them had fallen. Jim Bay’s artillery shots followed each volley. A pink hue exited the cannon (Pink chalk was placed barrel) in honor Maggie Sue. Kenzie Bonds played a sobering rendition of Taps.
After taps a benediction was spoken and the final interment began. Though asked to leave, everyone stayed by the grave site as they lowered the pink casket into the vault. As was the custom of olden times, I offered my top button from my vest to the mother. It was a considered an honor and a way of paying respects to the family and departed. Each of the reenactors cut a button off their uniform and gave it to their ‘Little General’. In that manner a part of them will be with her. Someone placed an arrowhead on the lid and finally the family placed a battle flag on top of the coffin. Slowly the vault was sealed.
There were tears of sorrow mingled with tears of joy. There was a reaffirmation that though her body rests in the land that she loved, she is holding hands with the one she said she loved: Jesus. After the rest comes the resurrection and then the reunion. Oh what a day of rejoicing that will be!
As I reflect upon my search for Christ, I now realize that He is with me in all things. He keeps sending me angels and I do believe that little three-year-old baby girl was one of the most influential in my life. Thousands upon thousands have been touched by Maggie’s story. For the love of Maggie and all children who leave us too early, let us vow to be kinder, gentler, more loving and treasure each other taking life for granted. For the love of Maggie let us love one another and follow her tiny footsteps to heaven’s gates.
The following are just a sampling of the outpouring from people who knew Maggie or heard of her. She touched so many and made a difference in this world. I offer them as a tribute to what the touch of innocence can do.
This letter is from Mrs. Janice Busic who portrays Mrs. Robert E. Lee. Her letter exemplifies the love generated by Maggie’s presence. Though she walks the wind, our Little General still touches the hearts of men and women. She has restored the faith in humanity in so many.
MC (My Captain),
I have read and re-read this. I simply cannot check for errors right now until the tears no longer flow. I will attempt again tomorrow.
I didn’t know Maggie, but I loved her upon sight. That gives me comfort because I believe my soul recognized that I was in the presence of a Godly spirit. She was the embodiment of all children, and her innocence combined with liveliness seemed to house something from the spirit of every baby who has gone before her. Maggie had earthly parents and family who loved her, but Maggie was a child of the universe. God sent her to fulfill a mission and she did it so well and so quickly that she didn’t need to stay earth bound. Maggie has spread her little wings and they have expanded and grown. None of us will ever be the same because of Maggie. Her mission was accomplished, she did her duty, and now she has returned home.
Thank you Lord Jesus for allowing me to see, to hear, and to experience the presence of one of your beautiful little heavenly angels. ROA (Rose of Arlington)
The Following letter is from my American Indian brother, Gray Wolf. His words captures the essence of our faith and love
Brother Running Buffalo (My American Indian Name),
I have read the story of Maggie Sue, stopping many times to wipe away the tears. Not knowing her was my loss. I am sure I also would have Loved her. From the stories She seemed wonderful, and with a pure Heart. Also a Sharp witness for a three-year-old. I, in my years have seen little angels such as this bring families together, after years of ill feelings. I have been Praying for the Family to find comfort in our Lord. As well praying for all my Brothers/Sisters. After reading about Maggie Sue, I feel so unworthy of the Grace, And Mercy God has given to me. I fail so many times, and have to ask for forgiveness every day. I can say I will look forward to meeting Maggie in Heaven one day.
Love You My Brother.