- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Alberta Martin, the last known living widow of a Civil War veteran, died yesterday at an Alabama nursing home of complications from a heart attack she suffered May 7. Mrs. Martin was 97.

History buffs say her passing signals the end of an era.

Mrs. Martin, who lived in Enterprise, Ala., married Confederate veteran Pvt. William Jasper Martin when she was 21 and he was 82. Pvt. Martin fought for the Confederate Army in Virginia during the Civil War.

“She’s a national treasure,” said Dr. Kenneth Chancey, Mrs. Martin’s friend and caretaker. “She’s a link to history, tied to a time of history in our country that was so tragic.”

Mrs. Martin was often called the “last link to Dixie.”

“She’s a dear, sweet lady who has become a real symbol,” said Ron Casteel, chief of staff for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, based in Jefferson City, Mo. “Indeed, she [was] the very last, and that gives her special status. Anyone who represents history and heritage would be forced to have an appreciation for someone like Mrs. Martin.”

Dr. Chancey, a dentist in Enterprise, said Mrs. Martin was “particularly precious to the South,” because of Southerners’ interest in ancestry. However, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War embraced Mrs. Martin as their widow as well.

Ralph Miller, a past commander of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Union Veterans, said “it’s amazing” that Mrs. Martin is considered the last link, because she was so young when she married Pvt. Martin.

“But she still should be honored in memory that she was the last widow, regardless of the situation or what side she was on,” Mr. Miller said.

The last known living Union veteran widow, Gertrude Janeway, died in January 2003 in Tennessee at 93. She had married veteran John Janeway, 81, when she was 18 years old.

Mrs. Martin was battling pneumonia and kidney failure, and she had lost her ability to speak in the last weeks of her life, Dr. Chancey said. “She’s a fighter, a very strong woman,” he said.

Described as “pleasant,” Mrs. Martin found a place in the hearts of many. Her story has been told across the South for decades.

She was born Alberta Stewart to sharecroppers on Dec. 4, 1906, in Danley’s Crossroads, a tiny settlement built around a sawmill 70 miles south of Montgomery.

Her mother died when she was 11, and her widowed father eventually moved to Tallassee in central Alabama. At 18, she met a cabdriver named Howard Farrow, and they had a son, Harold, before Mr. Farrow died in a car accident in 1926.

She, her father and her son soon moved to Opp to stay with relatives. Just up the road lived Pvt. Martin, a widower born in Macon County, Ga., in 1845. He enjoyed a $50-a-month Confederate veteran’s pension and was looking to get remarried.

She met Pvt. Martin as he strolled past her home one day. They had a few conversations over the fence rail and then he asked her father for permission to marry her.

They were married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse in Andalusia on Dec. 10, 1927, and 10 months later had a son, William, who now lives in the family home in Elba, 75 miles south of Montgomery.

Pvt. Martin told his wife stories about his Civil War days — stories that she recounted to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

She told SCV members her husband would “dig frantically” to find a potato in the field on days when he and other troops were starving. Pvt. Martin told his wife how the other troops would throw firewood and blankets on the floor of the trench to stay out of the mud.

According to the Web site devoted to Mrs. Martin, her husband confided that Union men had tried to get him to enlist with them, but he refused.

Mrs. Martin became a symbol of Confederate veterans, traveling across the country to re-enactment ceremonies, grave dedications and a Confederate flag rally in Columbia, S.C., often with a Confederate flag in her lap.

The Martins were married for 3 years, until Pvt. Martin passed away July 8, 1931. Two months later, Mrs. Martin married Charlie Martin, her late husband’s grandson from a previous marriage. He died in 1983 and is buried at New Ebenezer Baptist Church, six miles west of Elba.

Under arrangements made years in advance and paid for by Civil War groups, Mrs. Martin is to be interred at the church in an 1860s-style ceremony.

Dr. Chancey has been inspired by Mrs. Martin’s stories of her husband’s time on the battlefield.

“Her life inspires me about how young this country is,” he said. “It gives me encouragement that the problems in this country can be turned around, because we are still growing up.”

In her final years, she became the focus of a dust-up over the depiction of her and her late Confederate husband in the 1998 book “Confederates in the Attic.” Among other things, the book by Tony Horwitz described Pvt. Martin as a deserter.

A group that defends Southern heritage and the Confederate flag disagreed, contending there were at least two William Martins who served in Company K of the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment and that Mr. Horwitz got the wrong one. Mr. Horwitz said his research was carefully checked and the book was accurate.

The state government considered Pvt. Martin’s record clean enough to award him a Confederate pension in 1921 and to give Mrs. Martin Confederate widow’s benefits in 1996. Dr. Chancey had helped her apply and put together the necessary documentation.

Mrs. Martin’s older son, Harold Farrow of North Little Rock, Ark., died about a year ago. Her younger son, Willie Martin, lives in Elba.

Both the Confederate groups and Union groups plan to participate at Mrs. Martin’s funeral.

“This will be the loss of a real link to the past …,” said Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

All memorials for Mrs. Martin should be directed to: The Mrs. Alberta Martin Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 340, Courtland, VA 23837.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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