Thursday, August 26, 2010

Walter Washington Williams: The last surviving Confederate Veteran

I still remember the news, just a few weeks before my 15th birthday.  I was working on a Saturday at Toby's Food Store in Cleveland, Tennessee when I heard of the death of the last surviving Confederate veteran.  Some folks consider the War Between the States to be ancient history.  In fact, the lives of those who were a part of that terrible conflict overlapped the lives of many who are still living today.  That wasn't so long ago.  Some who fought for Southern Indepencence, and some who fought to prevent it, were my contemporaries.  Below is a story of the last Veteran of the War Between the States as found on the website of the Chamber of Commerce in Franklin, Texas, his last home town.  


Walter Washington Williams Monument
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
Walter Washington Williams, who came to Texas in 1870, and later settled on a twenty-acre farm at Eaton on the Shiloh road southeast of Franklin, was reported to be the last surviving soldier of the Civil War. According to the records of the family, Williams was born in 1842, and died on December 19, 1959.

He was a Mississippian by birth. In 1949, Frank X. Tolbert, Sr., a feature writer for the Dallas Morning News, set out to visit the last three survivors of the War Between the States and drove to Robertson County to interview Williams. Tolbert found the old gentleman on his front porch where he was asked for his formula for living over a century, which was as follows:

"I never et much. I get up for breakfast, turn around for dinner, and go to bed for supper. When I was riding up the Chisholm Trail the range cooks sort of held it against me because I was a light-eating man. I've always drunk lots of coffee, chewed plenty of tobacco, and haven't tried to avoid any of this good Texas weather."

In the last ten years of Williams' life he became an interesting personality. Radio and newspaper reporters interviewed him and public relations men made good copy of his opinions. He was taken on airplane rides, dined in fashionable places, and given special honors by various groups.

He was addressed by honorary titles. Some called him "Trooper Williams," others referred to him as "Honorable Colonel," and still others addressed him as "Five Star General Walter Washington Williams." When he died in 1959, at the age of 117, the government observed official days of mourning. Funeral services were conducted at Mount Pleasant and he was buried there, taking with him the answers to questions that had been asked about him.

Whether "General Williams" was actually the last veteran of the Civil War to die, and whether he was 117 years of age or "only 104," even whether he actually served as a forage master under General Hood, or served at all, now seems relatively unimportant. Indeed, one is inclined to agree with the research director for Texas historical markers who wrote"

I recall that the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission reviewed the census data in 1963, and came up with the conclusion that the claim had received worldwide notice and could not be undone so far as fame and notoriety were concerned. Even if the cemetery gate inscription were to read,"Site of the grave of the noted Gen. Walter Williams, reputed to have been the last of the survivors of the enlisted men of the Civil War," there would be historical value in the marking for future generations will seek the grave, authentic or not be the last survivors claim.

Walter Williams was indeed an interesting man. He had been married to his second wife over sixty-five years and at least twelve children survived him. He once stated that his father had lived to the age of 119 years, and his ambition was to reach 120.

  Walter Washington Williams
 who was recognized by the government of the United States as the last surviving Confederae Veteran died 1959 at the age of 117 years.

Photos by J. Stephen Conn

5 comments:

  1. Greetings,

    I find the story of Walter Williams to be very interesting, as one of "commemoration" and attempting to connect with a past that has disappeared from living memory.

    Mr. Conn, I'd like to use your photo, if possible, as an example of Walter Williams being a Confederate heritage symbol. Please e-mail me at ryoung122@yahoo.com

    Thanks

    Thanks

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  2. Walter Williams was my third great uncle. It's so exciting to read this kind of information!

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    1. Do you remember when Walter Williams died? I was a teenager and I recall his funeral procession passed through Houston, but this website says he was buried in Mount Pleasant. I remember in Dec. 1959 standing on the street, Allen Parkway I believe, near the American General Insurance Bldg., and holding a Confederate flag and waving it as his funeral procession passed by. Were you alive then and do you remember this? April 26 2014, the Varina Howell Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of The Confederacy will be having a service at 10:30 am for the Confederate soldiers buried at Washington Cemetery, by Glenwood Cemetery, on Washington Avenue, if you are interested in attending you would be most welcome.

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  3. I was privileged to shake the man's hand while a cub scout in Houston not long before his death. It is a memory I still cherish.

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  4. general walter Washington Williams was my greatgrandfather,is daughter Elizabeth laura Williams was my grandmother,i used to go visited him all the time and was there when johnny Horton sing to him and used to have some of his effects but was stolen

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