Walter Williams (centenarian)

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Walter Washington Williams
Born 1842
Itawamba County, Mississippi
Died December 19, 1959 (aged 117)
Houston, Texas

Walter Washington Williams (1842–1959), American Confederate soldier born in 1842[1] and claimed by some to have been the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War.[2][3]

Born in Itawamba County, Mississippi, he claimed to have served under General John Bell Hood. He said he had been a foragemaster in Hood's Brigade and Quantrill's Raiders.[4] Since John Salling and all the other "last claimants" were dead, Williams was celebrated as the "last Confederate veteran." When he died in 1959 in Houston, Texas, at the reported age of 117, Ulysses S. Grant III, chairman of the Civil War Centennial, said the death was an occasion for national mourning.[5]

However, in September 1959, Lowell K. Bridwell revealed that he could not find "one single scrap" of substantiating evidence to back up Williams's age or claims of military service, or anyone else's for that matter. Moreover, the 1860 census listed Walter as age 5 in June 1860, suggesting that he was born in November 1854.[6][7][8]

When he died December 19, 1959, according to his New York Times obituary, "a newspaper story said a check had failed to find evidence to support the claim. Back in the times when Williams was born, there was very limited documentation to support birth dates, death dates, etc."[5] Based on Bridwell, he would have been eight years old at the time he said he had joined the Confederate Army, eleven months before the war ended in 1865.[9] It also was reported that the National Archives listed no Walter G. Williams as having served in the Confederate Army from either his home state of Mississippi or from Texas, where his family later settled.[10] Archives at Jackson, Mississippi, however, were said to list a Walter Washington Williams as a private.[11] Mr. Williams said that he had used several different middle initials.[12]

Other officials contended that the Archives of the Federal Government are incomplete on the Confederacy and that ages in census records sometimes are inaccurate.[13] A 1991 article by William Marvel gave further details suggesting Williams was born between October 1854 and April 1855.[14]

Irrespective of the controversy, his grave is marked at the Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery near New Baden, Robertson County, Texas.[15] An interpretive sign was provided by the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission in 1963.[16]

The "Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy" monument by Donald De Lue at the Gettysburg battlefield site bears an inscription about Williams on the reverse of the base. The inscription reads, "Walter Washington Williams -- who was recognized by the government of the United States as the last surviving Confederate veteran died 1959 at the age of 117 years."[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Transcript, Interview with Walter W. Williams, George Smathers Library, University of Florida, April 18, 1959
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America, by William Pencak, Volume 1, 2009, page 310
  3. ^ Civil War, A to Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict, by Clifford L. Linedecker, 2005, page 326
  4. ^ Associated Press (December 23, 1959). "Last Tribute Paid To Walter Williams". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b Associated Press (December 20, 1959). "Reputed Last Civil War Veteran Dies in Texas After Long Illness: Walter Williams Put His Age at 117 – Tributes Note the End of an Era". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ United Press International (September 3, 1959). Texan's Civil War Role in Doubt As Records Indicate Age Is 104. The New York Times
  7. ^ Newspaper article, Controversial Civil War Figure Wins Support, Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1959
  8. ^ Newspaper article, Civil War's Last Veteran Dies As Williams Furls Flag At 117, Baltimore Sun, December 20, 1959
  9. ^ Newspaper article, The Last Survivor?, Toledo Blade, September 9, 1959
  10. ^ Newspaper article, Walter Williams: Last Civil War veteran Or Hazy Memory?, Daytona Beach Morning Journal, September 4, 1959
  11. ^ Texan's Civil War Role in Doubt As Records Indicate Age Is 104, New York Times, September 3, 1959
  12. ^ Newspaper article, Civil War Veteran's Claim Disputed, by Associated Press, published in Spokane Daily Chronicle, September 2, 1959
  13. ^ Associated Press (September 5, 1959). Texas Leaders Rally In Backing Williams As Ex-Confederate. The New York Times
  14. ^ Marvel, William (1991). The great impostors. Blue and Gray, Vol VIII, Issue 3.
  15. ^ Walter Williams page, by George Hill, Civil War Albums.com web site, accessed March 4, 2011
  16. ^ Franklin Chamber of Commerce biography, Walter Williams, accessed March 4, 2011
  17. ^ Soldiers& Sailors of the Confederacy Monument GettysburgSculptures.com website, accessed July 22, 2013