Walter Williams (centenarian)
|Walter Washington Williams|
Itawamba County, Mississippi
|Died||December 19, 1959
Walter Washington Williams (1854? – 1959) was an American man who said that he fought as a Confederate soldier and was claimed by some to be the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War. The claim is controversial, however. Although he said that he was born in 1842, census records indicated that he was still a child when the war ended in 1865.
Last surviving veteran claims
Born in Itawamba County, Mississippi, Williams claimed to have served under General John Bell Hood. He said he had been a foragemaster in Hood's Brigade and Quantrill's guerrillas. 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.
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 Williams as age 5 in June 1860, suggesting that he was born in November 1854.
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." 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. 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. Archives at Jackson, Mississippi, however, were said to list a Walter Washington Williams as a private. Mr. Williams said that he had used several different middle initials.
Other officials contended that the Archives of the Federal Government are incomplete on the Confederacy and that ages in census records sometimes are inaccurate. A 1991 article by William Marvel gave further details suggesting Williams was born between October 1854 and April 1855.
Irrespective of the controversy, his grave is marked at the Mount Pleasant Church Cemetery near New Baden, Robertson County, Texas. An interpretive sign was provided by the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission in 1963.
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."
- Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America, by William Pencak, Volume 1, 2009, page 310
- Civil War, A to Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict, by Clifford L. Linedecker, 2005, page 326
- Transcript, Interview with Walter W. Williams, George Smathers Library, University of Florida, April 18, 1959
- Associated Press (December 23, 1959). "Last Tribute Paid To Walter Williams". The New York Times.
- 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.
- United Press International (September 3, 1959). Texan's Civil War Role in Doubt As Records Indicate Age Is 104. The New York Times
- Newspaper article, Controversial Civil War Figure Wins Support, Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1959
- Newspaper article, Civil War's Last Veteran Dies As Williams Furls Flag At 117, Baltimore Sun, December 20, 1959
- Newspaper article, The Last Survivor?, Toledo Blade, September 9, 1959
- Newspaper article, Walter Williams: Last Civil War veteran Or Hazy Memory?, Daytona Beach Morning Journal, September 4, 1959
- Texan's Civil War Role in Doubt As Records Indicate Age Is 104, New York Times, September 3, 1959
- Newspaper article, Civil War Veteran's Claim Disputed, by Associated Press, published in Spokane Daily Chronicle, September 2, 1959
- Associated Press (September 5, 1959). Texas Leaders Rally In Backing Williams As Ex-Confederate. The New York Times
- Marvel, William (1991). The great impostors. Blue and Gray, Vol VIII, Issue 3.
- Walter Williams page, by George Hill, Civil War Albums.com web site, accessed March 4, 2011
- Franklin Chamber of Commerce biography, Walter Williams, accessed March 4, 2011
- Soldiers& Sailors of the Confederacy Monument GettysburgSculptures.com website, accessed July 22, 2013