James Thomas Davidson, or JT as he often styled his signature, signed up for the Confederate infantry in the spring of 1862. His unit saw a great deal of fighting, with decimating losses throughout Mississippi, including at the siege of Vicksburg. After a brief time being held captive, his unit revisited the hell of war at scenes of infamous carnage — like Lookout Mountain and the siege of Atlanta — before his military career, his unit, and the Confederacy all came to an end. He was enlisted for three years, and every single day he lived in open defiance of Article Three, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, which defines treason as "levying war" against the United States.
Great-great-granddaddy was a traitor.
Despite his service to a national enemy, JT and a sea of Southerners like him got to pick up their lives after the war because they received a "full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States" from the desk of President Andrew Johnson.
I'm not sure how JT felt about it, but I have to say I like how things turned out. My great-grandfather, a son of JT's second marriage, wasn't born until a quarter-century after the Civil War ended. Without that “full pardon and amnesty,” I might never have been here. Thanks to his repatriation, none of JT's descendants had to worry about being citizens of the United States. On top of that, the Constitution guarantees the descendants of traitors cannot be held liable for an ancestor's actions. Not only will I never be forced to pay for JT's Confederate service, there are organizations I can join only because of it.
I think that which haunts me the most about getting to know James Thomas is how inescapably close he feels to my own life. JT died in 1902, and my great-great-grandmother Alice died in 1927; their lives — and the memory of them — are fading from this world. But his grave is a short drive from my hometown. My own father knew JT's son. The Mississippi fields and cliffs where my great-great-grandfather drew blood are all around me when I visit my girlfriend, a Methodist minister in Jackson, Mississippi.
Today, Mississippi remains a place of tears for many — people who long for half the grace shown to the Davidsons. On August 7, U.S. immigration authorities descended on towns near Jackson to conduct one of their largest raids ever, their departmental SUVs racing between the same towns through which JT marched and fought. Many children of those targeted were at their first day of school, leaving educators, administrators, and even bus drivers scrambling to discern what to do with children who no longer had someone to welcome them home.
My girlfriend, her ministerial colleagues, and various other Mississippi community leaders have been working feverishly to do all they can for those affected. I'm writing this in the same room in Jackson where she's on a conference call about their next steps. I can't look away from these children and their parents any more than I can avoid seeing JT marching to Vicksburg.
The past, present, and future of the South are all right here.