• 41°

War widow remembered as Dixie’s Matriarch

On Oct. 13, 1990, Daisy Wilson Cave died in a nursing home in Sumter, S.C.

At that time, she was thought to have been the “Last Known Confederate Widow.” She is thought to have been between 97 and 105 years old.

Daisy was the widow of Henry Benjamin Cave, a member of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War. Henry was born in 1844 and enlisted in 1862.

Henry Cave was 75 and she was in her 20’s when they married. Her Southern husband passed away in 1930. He had two wives before Daisy. Daisy Wilson Cave had said her husband spoke little of his service in the Civil War. “He always said it was just too bad. He’d been through it one time and that was all there was to it.”

Not quite 14 years later, another “Last Living Widow of the Civil War” was honored as “a celebrated final link to the old Confederacy in the American Civil War.”

She was born Alberta Stewart to a family of sharecroppers on Dec. 4, 1906, in Danley’s Crossroads, a very small settlement 70 miles south of Montgomery, Ala.

When Alberta was 11, her mother died and her father moved to Tallassee, Ala. Here at age 18, she met Howard Farrow. They had a son, Harold Farrow. Her husband died in an automobile accident in 1926. Howard and Alberta never got a marriage license.

Alberta, her father, and her little boy moved to Opp, Alabama, to live with their relatives. “Up the Road,” lived William Jasper Martin, a widower. He received a $50-a-month Confederate veteran’s pension and was the thinking of remarriage.

“The old man” walked by her house many times on his way to play dominoes with friends. William Jasper Martin was almost 82; Alberta was 21. Their courting revolved around a few brief conversations.

On Dec. 10, 1927, Alberta and “W. J.” Martin were married at the courthouse in Andalusia, Ala. In 1928, people asked why such a young woman would marry such an old man.

Alberta, whose humor was widely known until the day she died, replied many times over: “It’s better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave.” At other times, she was more candid. “I had this little boy and I needed some help to raise him. He had $50 a month.”

Ten months after marriage, the two had a son, William, “Willie,” Martin who survived his mother. William Jasper Martin died on July 8, 1931. Two months later, Alberta Stewart Martin married her late husband’s grandson, Charlie Martin, who died in 1983.

Alberta said her husband “W. J.” was hesitant to talk about the war except for many references to Petersburg, Va.

He served in Company “K” of the 4th Alabama Infantry and received a Confederate pension in 1921. She was given Confederate widow’s benefits in 1996. In the nine months of trench warfare at Petersburg, “W. J.” told his wife about water filling the Southern trenches and how hungry the Southern soldiers there were. Little did Alberta know that the $50 pension would bring her such great fame.

Throughout the South, Alberta Stewart Martin was affectionately called “Miz Alberta.” Civil War re-enactors and history buffs transported her to “Sons of Confederate Veterans’” events from Gettysburg to St. Louis.

Gertrude Janeway, the “Last Widow of a Union Veteran,” died in January 2003 in Tennessee. This left Alberta even a greater celebrity. In 1997, Alberta and Daisy Anderson, whose husband was a slave who ran away and joined the Union army, were recognized at an important ceremony in Gettysburg, Pa.

Daisy Anderson died in 1998. Mrs. Janeway was not invited to Gettysburg in 1997 because no one except family knew where she was. It seemed Alberta Stewart Martin was the last link to the Civil War past.

At “Sons of Confederate Veterans’” events, people stood in line to meet her, wanting to touch her and hold her hand. People would hold her hand and cry.

Civil War groups, upon discovering her past, made arrangements in advance and paid for her funeral ceremonies and interment when the end came.

The ceremony was to follow an 1860’s-style script. Alberta Stewart Martin died on May 31, 2004. Her body lay in repose at the First White House of the Confederacy in Montgomery for three days.

A Confederate battle flag, the “Southern Cross,” covered her casket as Gov. Bob Riley placed a wreath next to her casket. At 97, she was still the “Belle of 21st Century Confederate History Buffs”—the last chance to witness Confederate history in real life.

In August of 2008, another “Last Known Confederate Widow” passed away at age 93. Maudie White Hopkins, at age 19, had married William M. Cantrell who was 86. He said he would leave his land and home to her if she would marry him.

However, Alberta Martin is still “Dixie’s Matriarch!”

Bob Leith is a history professor at Ohio University Southern.