BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - The Civil War ended 150 years ago in 1865, but there are still several people alive today whose fathers fought in the Confederate Army.
There was one “real son” of a Confederate veteran living in the Birmingham area as recently as two years ago. Tyus K. Denney, 91, who died March 6, 2013, was the son of Thomas Jefferson Denney, a Confederate soldier. The elder Denney was about 77 when his son was born in 1921.
“I was 13 years old when he died,” Denney told AL.com in 2011 in an interview at his home in Tarrant, where he kept 10 beehives in the backyard to harvest honey. “He never did talk about the Civil War. He never said nothing about it.”
His father, Thomas Jefferson Denney, is heavily documented as having fought in the Civil War, as part of Company H in the 31st Alabama Infantry regiment. He was captured by Union forces on June 15, 1864 near Marietta, Ga., and held prisoner at Rock Island Barracks, Illinois, where he signed an oath of allegiance to the United States upon his release on June 18, 1865.
Tyus Denney may have been the last living “real son” of a Confederate veteran in Alabama, according to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization made up mostly of descendants several generations further removed from their Confederate ancestors.
Tyus Denney’s sister, Vivian Smith, 89, of Cullman, was believed to be the last living “real daughter” of a Confederate veteran in Alabama. She died Jan. 7, 2012.
People today marvel and wonder why women of childbearing age were marrying elderly men in the Depression era, said Jim Shackelford, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“It was hard times,” he said. “A lot of these women needed support and these Confederate veterans got a pension, maybe $13 to $20 a month. That was a lot of money in the Depression.”
Alabama and other former Confederate states paid out Confederate pensions as late as the 1950s, Shackelford said. Tom Strain of Athens, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said a national database kept by the group listed 48 men in 2011 who were “real sons” of Confederate veterans. In 2001, there were more than 500, he said. By 2012, the list had dwindled down to 18 men and 16 women whose fathers were documented to have been Confederate soldiers.
The last few on the list have been dying so quickly it’s hard to know exactly how many are left.
Last month, Georgia’s last son of a Confederate soldier died. H.V. Booth, 96, of Elberton, Ga., died June 7. His father, Isham Johnson Booth, was a guard at Camp Sumter, also known as the Andersonville, Ga., Confederate prison camp where nearly 13,000 Union soldiers held as prisoners of war died of disease, starvation and heat.
A woman living in Georgia whose father fought in the Civil War was interviewed last year by National Geographic magazine. At the time, Iris Lee Gay Jordan was one of only 11 surviving daughters of Southern soldiers documented by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She was nine when her father, Lewis F. Gay, died in 1931.
“Mostly, he told stories on Sundays,” she said. “I could sit on the porch and listen to his stories all day.”
She recalled people visiting from around the county to hear his stories.
“On Sundays my mother would be in the kitchen cooking a big meal, and there would be people from all over,” she said. “He was the oldest man in the county, and everybody knew he had been in the War Between the States. They would come and sit on the front porch and ask questions, and he would answer them.”
Her father talked about being held by the Union as a prisoner of war. “My father said that the men in the North were just like he was,” Iris said. “He told us, ‘We were all far away from home, and we all would much rather have been home with our families.’ There was no bitterness on his part at all.”
In 2011, National Public Radio interviewed Mattie Clyburn Rice, then 88, who is the daughter of a black Confederate soldier, Weary Clyburn, who applied for a Confederate pension in 1926.
There are sons and daughters of Union soldiers still living too.
National Geographic’s story last year included an interview with the son of a Union soldier who met President Abraham Lincoln. Fred Upham, 93, is the son of William Upham, who was a private in the Union Army’s Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was severely wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861 and later was personally appointed by President Lincoln to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He shook hands with Lincoln in the White House.
Alabama’s last real son may have been Denney. “To my understanding, he was the last one, at least that we know of, in Alabama,” said Lane Roper, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “There are very few left in the country.”
When Tyus Denney lived in Tarrant, few of his neighbors knew about his connection to the Civil War. Many people knew him for his beehives. He sold jars of honey to people in the neighborhood.
His father, Thomas Jefferson Denney, was born in 1844, according to the 1900 U.S. Census, so he was about 18 when he enlisted with the Confederate Army in 1862. He was in his seventies when he married his last wife, Dora, a widow.
“She was in her forties when I was born,” Denney said. Thomas and Dora had three children together before the Civil War veteran died at age 91 in 1934. Tyus’ older brother Wiley died in 1998.
Tyus Denney was born May 8, 1921. He was a veteran of World War II, trained as a machine gunner at the end of the war, but he never saw combat. Denney worked for 39 years at the Dolcito Quarry in Tarrant as a heavy equipment operator.
He kept a picture of himself, around age 10, and his sister, about 8, with his parents. His father, the aging Confederate soldier, wore dark-rimmed glasses, a dark suit jacket and had a bushy white mustache and long wispy beard.
Tyus Denney had three daughters, including Rolline Sisson, 71, of Tarrant. She never thought it was odd that her grandfather fought in the Civil War.
“I’ve just lived with it all my life and didn’t think that much of it,” Sisson said. “A lot of people are amazed. It is amazing.”
In 1986, the Sons of Confederate Veterans made Tyus Denney a lifetime member, not required to pay dues. He sometimes went to Civil War reenactments. He was a genial character and a cherished novelty, a relic with an intimate connection to a long-ago war that tore apart this country.
“I just watch,” he would say of the re-enactments. “I don’t know nothing about the war.”
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.