This local soldier had one of the most unique funerals in our county

By Karen Zach

An interesting, but far too short of a life was that of John Clark Maxwell’s.  His desire was to serve his country and that he did in back-to-back enlistments.

Born on a farm near Crawfordsville, he joined a large family with two full brothers, George and Ira (who died as a teen), three half brothers (Frank, Harry and Fred) and three sisters (Ellen, Mary and Clara Bell).  His father was a farmer but also did work for the county in various capacities, including assessing and one job of “road construction viewer.”  John was the son of John Clark Maxwell (whose mother was a Clark) and Catherine Pierce, his father passing at age 55 and his mother remaining a widow for 30 years before her death.  Oddly, John married Alva Glover (born 2 July 1879 in Fincastle) who also became his widow that length of time. Just as I was finishing up this article, I did find that Alva remarried Harley Reynolds in 1917, John and Alva’s only child, daughter Catherine taking his name but Harley passed away in 1930, so Alva was actually a double widow.  Catherine at the age of 33 married Wesley Alan Coutts who was a college professor in Carlisle, PA and she worked in the fashion industry. They had no children as far as I know, so John’s Maxwell line stopped there. 

John grew-up in the Crawfordsville area and developed a passion to join the service, thus he signed-up in Company M, 158th, then reupped, becoming a Sgt.  He is listed in the 1900 census as a Sgt., age 24 in Balamban, Cebu Island, Philippines Military Base.  We are lucky to have a wonderful letter written by John when he was on Cebu Island dated July 21, 1900, writing to Capt. John Drury in Crawfordsville.  He noted that the group had found-out that soldiering in the Philippines was the hardest task ever undertaken – “we have hike after hike and plenty of guard duty, with an occasional light skirmish … hikes of four to ten days duration.  Our Colonel is now military governor of the island headquarters in the principal town, Cebu.  Capt. Mally of the other company here was made commanding officer, and he is a rank coward.  He gets cold feet when we are out on a hike or when any shooting is done.  He is so afraid that he has only been out once since the Col. left and he showed his heels to the enemy.”  John went on doing more complaining about the officer, saying he’d get the natives drunk, then dance and such with the women but if a soldier even talked to one of the gals, they’d be locked up.  He talked about his brother George now being first Sgt in his company but that he was worried about him as they had had two cases of small pox and a death at Demenjug where George was stationed. The things he promised to send to Capt. Drury he noted would be hard to send home safely so he’d just wait and bring them to him.  Assume he did.  Yet, he wasn’t going to worry about getting home like some did but he would also “be as glad as anyone when we start home.”  It was quite a lengthy letter and can be read in its entirety at:  MAXWELL, John C – Montgomery InGenWeb Project as well as a couple of other letters I found written during the war while researching John and have typed up for the site.  It is a neat insight into his character as in one letter he noted that his group killed a general and the other men ripped off his clothes for souvenirs – and he commented, “I had no desire!” 

Upon completion of his military service, he came back home and as many returning soldiers, including my own father, he began working at the post office, at first as a mail carrier, but due to his health, switched to clerking which he worked at until a few weeks before his death. 

John’s funeral must have been one of the most unique we’ve had in our county.  As you know, his poor health acquired during his war years followed him the rest of his life, but he was one tough cookie and remained working, caring for his wife and daughter, Catherine Amanda and his aging mother lived with them, as well.  For weeks before John passed, he suffered in great pain and frustration, always trying to catch his breath but he suffered without a complaint, always smiling and giving his friends and relatives cheerful words of encouragement. John was just eight years old when his own father passed and Catherine even younger when her father died.  Six of John’s nephews served as pallbearers and four nieces carried flowers. His brother George returned home from the war and was at his funeral as was Frank and Fred and his well-known singing evangelist brother (Harry) who did the music at the funeral.  All but the taps that is and that was the real uniqueness and charm of the affair.  Taps was played by Charles C. McClure the same man who played the call to arms for the first charge that he and John’s company was involved in during the Spanish-American War at Sud Lon.  Same man, same trumpet this time saying good by to his comrade, John Clark Maxwell as he was laid to rest in the Masonic Cemetery (Oak Hill Grant Avenue).  Rest In Peace, dear soldier!

Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. You can reach her at Karen@