Old Live Oak Cemetery rich with Lincoln history

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

The pathways of Old Live Oak Cemetery lead its many visitors beneath a canopy of ancient moss-draped trees and beside the family plots, separated by low brick walls, handmade long, long ago.

Marble and granite monuments identify some of those who rest beneath the grassy covering, greening now that mid-spring is upon us.

There are others, however, more distinctive, more meaningful that unfailingly attract the attention of those who walk past, then pause to gaze upward at the beautiful marble woman, who has stood there for well over a century.

There are those who have been known to wipe a furtive tear while reading the inscription at her feet.

Dawson has lain beside his wife since 1895, his place marked by a Confederate cross in reminder of his service, first as a member of the Magnolia Cadets; by the end of the Civil War, he held the rank of colonel.

When the Battle of Selma re-enactors enter old Live Oak on Sunday morning for the solemn service in honor of the Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate, they will pass the grave site of the Dawsons.

However, it is doubtful if all the uniformed men will be aware that Col. Dawson through his marriage to Elodie Brech Todd was one of the seven Confederate brothers-in-law of President Abraham Lincoln.

They were the four brothers of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, and the husbands of her three sisters, all of whom lived in Selma during the Civil War.

George Todd became a surgeon in the Confederate service.

Samuel Todd was a member of Company I, Crescent Regiment of Infantry, which consisted of Louisiana troops. He was killed on the second day of Shiloh, April 1862.

David Todd was wounded at Vicksburg. He never recovered and lived the rest of his life as an invalid.

Lt. Alexander H. Todd was killed in a skirmish at Baton Rouge in August 1863.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s other two sisters were Martha Todd and Emilie Todd. Martha married Clem B. White of Selma, who was a Confederate captain. The White-Force Cottage adjacent to Sturdivant Hall was their home. And a descendant of the family, Miss Mary Force, was a longtime principal of Dallas Academy in Selma.

In 1857 Emilie Todd married Ben Hardin Helm, son of a former governor of Kentucky and a West Point graduate, who went into the practice of law. Sometime after his marriage Helm had a law case which took him to Springfield, Ill., where he met his sister-in-law’s husband, Abraham Lincoln, who was 23 years his senior.

Four years later, 1861, he invited Helm to Washington and offered him a commission in the U.S. Army as paymaster with the rank of major. That same afternoon Helm saw Col. Robert E. Lee of the Second U.S. Cavalry. He showed Lee his commission papers and learned that Lee had submitted his resignation.

After returning to Kentucky, Helm declined the commission, entered the Confederate army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. On the second day of the bloody battle of Chickamauga, he was killed storming the Federal breastworks with his men.

At that time, Emilie Todd Helm was living in Selma near her two sisters. General Braxton Bragg, U.S.A., notified her of her husband’s death and summoned her to Atlanta for the funeral. Gen. Bragg applied for a pass for her to go through Federal lines to her old home in Kentucky.

Her pass reached her from Lincoln.