Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

A Last Connection to<br>The Civil War Dies

Warveterans

Civil War veterans at National Memorial and Peace Jubilee held in Vicksburg, MS, in October, 1917.


By Michael Stillman


One of the last, tenuous threads to America’s great Civil War was broken, or at least appeared to be broken, this past Memorial Day with the passing of Alberta Martin. At the time, she was believed to be the last surviving Civil War widow, an honor she had held since January 2003. That was when 93-year-old Gertrude Janeway, the last living Union widow, passed away. Mrs. Martin, naturally, was a Confederate widow, and had become a symbol or link to the past for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and even, to a lesser extent, to the Sons of Union Veterans.

Now it appears she wasn’t quite the last. At least one more Civil War widow, Maudie Acklin, previously unknown, has been found. We will return to her in the conclusion to this article, but for now this is Alberta Martin’s moment, and the sense of finality with regard to the Civil War we felt when she passed away.

Now if you have any images of Alberta Martin anxiously awaiting the return of her soldier husband from war, you can quickly forget them. As I said, Mrs. Martin was already a very tenuous thread. A little math will tell you that even had she been a child bride awaiting her husband’s return during the war, she would have been at least 150 when she died. No, Mrs. Martin was born in 1906, 41 years after the last shot was fired. Her memories of the Civil War were no greater than yours or mine. The war had been over for 62 years when 21-year-old Alberta and 82-year-old Private William Jasper Martin were wed in 1927.

At the time, William Martin was a lonely Confederate veteran with a pension, Alberta a widow with a young child and father to take care of. Her first husband had tragically died in an auto accident the year before. Martin has to be the only Civil War veteran to marry a woman whose first husband died in an automobile accident. This may not have been the greatest love story ever, but it was a convenient relationship for both. And that old rascal William became a father again at the age of 83. They lived together for three-and-a-half years before William died, and two months later, Alberta married William’s grandson Charles Martin, to whom she would remain married until he died over 50 years later. It brings back memories of the forgettable Lonzo and Oscar song, “I’m My Own Grandpa.” Alberta became sort of her own grandmother. Meanwhile, Charlie raised his uncle. I’m tempted to say something about the one-time rural South, but it’s time to let old stereotypes go. Goodbye, L’il Abner.

Returning to the story at hand, the Civil War was not a focus of Alberta’s life. Apparently, William did not talk much of it. He did mention how hard conditions had been in Virginia, water–filled trenches and desperately hungry soldiers digging up potatoes to survive. These were not the type of memories most people want to relive. The Civil War would only become a significant part of Alberta Martin’s life in her later years, being taken to Civil War re-enactments and often given a Confederate flag to hold. Some may have wished her to be a symbol of some current issues as well as those from long ago.

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