Four children of Civil War soldiers still live in Virginia
As the offspring of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States, Virginia’s few ‘real’ sons and daughters of the long-ago conflict are a fascinating living link to history
Sunday, April 28, 2013
BY BILL LOHMANN
They are rare living links to history, these children of Civil War soldiers.
As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war, it is amazing to consider that offspring of those who fought are still among us. It doesn’t seem possible that the math could add up. But it does.
There are no fewer than four children of Civil War veterans living in Virginia; they are classified as “real” sons and daughters, by the heritage groups that keep track. Two “real” Confederate daughters remain — sisters, in fact, who live in Danville and Rocky Mount — while a “real” Confederate son resides in Roanoke. The only “real” Union child, a daughter, lives in Varina in Henrico County.
All were born of marriages between aging veterans and teen brides. None of the four has any or much memory of his or her father because they all were young children when their fathers died. Nonetheless, they all represent fascinating connections to a long-ago conflict.
“My great-great-granddaddy was in the Civil War, and that’s a big deal to me,” said Martha Hubbard, a past president of the Jubal Early Chapter 553 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which claims one of the “real” daughters, Isabelle Hammock Hodges, as its own. “To meet this lady and to know her dad was a soldier, it’s a cool thing.”
According to the Confederate and Union heritage groups, there are 16 “real” Confederate daughters and eight sons living across the country and 30 Union children who survive. At least, those are the children they know of, said Gail Lowman Crosby, president of the UDC’s Real Daughter Club and a former president of the UDC’s Florida Division.
“I use the word ‘known’ because, from time to time, we find another,” Crosby said. “The oldest turned 106 in January, and the ‘baby’ will be a mere 83 in August.”
Cynthia Crane Jones, whose father, Calvin Robertson Crane, is the “real” son in Roanoke, said it can be difficult convincing others of her close connection to the war.
“I know when I was in, like, third or fourth grade and we’d start studying the Civil War, I’d say, ‘My grandfather was in the Civil War!’” she said, recalling her teachers and classmates would correct her: “? ‘No, no, that was your great-grandfather.’ And I’d say, ‘No, it was my grandfather.’
“Mom even had to go to school one time and tell them it was my grandfather,” Jones said with a laugh.
We recently visited three of the four — one of the sisters, Mildred Hammock Adkins of Danville, fell and was feeling too poorly for a visit — and offer vignettes of each.
Hazel Mason Jeter lives in the same house in Varina that she and her husband moved into almost 70 years ago. She’s raised pigs and chickens and until two years ago always tended a massive garden that yielded prize-winning vegetables and quarts and quarts of canned food for the winter.
She did factory work for years, and also cleaned motel rooms and houses, and well into her 90s mowed her lawn. She’s been widowed for almost a decade and has survived heart surgery, a stroke, cancer and any number of other surgeries and maladies.
“I think they’ve got most everything out of me,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know that there’s anything left.”
She turned 96 in late March.
Her father was Silas D. Mason, a New Englander who enlisted in the Maine cavalry in Belfast, Maine, in February 1864. He was discharged at the end of the war in Washington, D.C. He set saws for a living, traveling on horseback with his tools from sawmill to sawmill, eventually winding up in Pulaski County in Southwest Virginia, where he married Nellie G. Banes on March 26, 1907. He was in his mid-60s; she was barely in her teens. Ten years later to the very day, their fifth child was born, a girl they named Hazel.
Hazel was the youngest of the five. The family moved to Cumberland County before her father died when Hazel was 6. She moved to the Richmond area as an adult.
She doesn’t remember much of her father other than his work — “He might be gone for three months at a time,” she said, “but he always let the store know to let us have anything we wanted until he’d come back” — and she doesn’t recall him saying anything about the war. Her mother mentioned his involvement in the war only sparingly.
Though Jeter remains proud of his service, it was simply part of her history and she never said much about it. As a result, it’s only been in recent months that the Sons of Union Veterans James D. Brady Camp 63 learned of Jeter and honored her with a certificate during a visit to her home.
Even her children weren’t always aware of their heritage. Her daughter, Mildred Watson, the fourth of Jeter’s five children, said she was in her 20s before she learned her grandfather fought in the Civil War.
“We were upstairs one day cleaning out the attic, and she was telling me about it,” recalled Watson. Her reaction: “You’ve got to be kidding me, Mama!”
A small American flag waves from the front porch of Calvin and Christine Crane’s home in Roanoke. Inside, he has an even bigger Confederate battle flag, which makes sense since Calvin Crane’s father fought in the war.
Crane, 96, was but a year old when he lost his father, James Antony Crane, so his memory is informed by what little other family members have told him.
“Mostly they would talk about how he liked to hunt,” Crane said. “I inherited his shotgun.”
Generally, though, his mother and her family said little about his father and almost nothing about his military service in the Civil War.
Calvin Crane is the youngest of the five children of James and Annie Crane, who married around the turn of the 20th century when James was in his 50s and Annie was about 18. James was a widower who served during the war with the Ringgold Battery, Company B, 13th Battalion, Virginia Light Artillery, and had 16 children by his first marriage; Annie was an orphan who was taken in by a farm family outside Danville. They eloped across the North Carolina line to marry.
The Crane family lived on a farm near White Oak Mountain outside Danville, but after James Crane’s death, the family had to move into the city so Calvin Crane’s mother could take a job working at Dan River Mills. She would leave for work before dawn, leaving her youngest son in the care of his oldest sister, and often return home after dark when she would tend her garden to put food on the table. Despite her hard work, times were difficult for the family before and during the Great Depression.
Calvin Crane eventually had to drop out of school around sixth grade, in part because he didn’t have proper clothing to wear, particularly shoes. He still suffers from foot problems that resulted from squeezing his feet into too-small shoes.
“I had a terrible time growing up,” Crane said.
Crane served in World War II, spending part of his time in North Africa. Back home, he scrambled to find work, moving to Roanoke to take a job with an uncle in the dry-cleaning business. He eventually worked in roofing, the sheet-metal business and a foundry before landing the job from which he would retire in the maintenance department of the Roanoke post office.
Nowadays, he spends time at home with his wife, Christine. They have been married 59 years, having met in the Roanoke doctor’s office where she worked and where Crane’s mother went for treatment. In fact, it was a case of poison ivy that sent Crane to the doctor. He saw Christine, asked if she’d ever married, found out she hadn’t, then went to work courting her. They had two daughters and no disagreements.
“We never did do any fighting or fussing,” Christine Crane said. “He was always easy to get along with.”
Her kitchen table was piled high with cards and letters from people all over the country whom Isabelle Hammock Hodges doesn’t know — but who know her. More seem to arrive in the mail every day, and every one makes her smile.
“I keep looking at them,” said Hodges, 88, who has endured a difficult year with her health. “I want to thank all these people … and let them know how glad I was to get this stuff.
“They pepped me up, made me keep fighting what was wrong with me. Somebody cared about me. Why would anybody care about somebody they’d never seen? I’ve gotten cards from Georgia and Texas and California and places I hadn’t even heard of.”
The mail started arriving at Hodges’ home outside Rocky Mount in Franklin County after the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy learned Hodges’ father served during the Civil War and spread her name and address to UDC chapters across the country. Hodges’ sister, Mildred Hammock Adkins, who lives in Danville, is receiving lots of mail, too.
Neither Adkins, who is 18 months older than her sister, nor Hodges remembers their father or their mother. They were the youngest of 10 children born to Nathaniel and Leslie Hammock. Nathaniel, who served in Company E of the 57th Virginia Infantry, was a 67-year-old widower when he married 16-year-old Leslie in 1908. Nathaniel died in 1925, two weeks after Isabelle’s birth; Leslie died three years later. The girls were raised by one of their father’s sons by his first marriage.
Nathaniel Hammock enlisted in 1863 and, according to a history provided by the UDC Anne Eliza Johns Chapter 164, was a blacksmith for Gen. Robert E. Lee. He served for little more than a year before falling ill and spending the rest of the war in hospitals.
Hodges said she was an adult before she realized her father was in the Civil War. What she knows of her father came mostly from people in the community.
“People would say, ‘You’re Nat Hammock’s daughter?’ and then they’d tell me what a good man he was,” Hodges said. “That made me feel good.”
Hodges worked in a Rocky Mount silk mill for more than 30 years, along with her husband, Walter Raymond Hodges. They were married for 63 years before his death a decade ago. They didn’t have any children of their own, but raised three of her youngest brother’s children after he died.
Adkins was married for 44 years and raised three children. She worked for more than two decades at a furniture company in Martinsville.
In early April, the UDC dedicated a new grave marker in memory of Hodges and Adkins’ father at Matthews Memorial Presbyterian Church cemetery in Chatham. The sisters attended the event.
“We just show her off every chance we get,” said Vernell Gwynn, president of the UDC’s Anne Eliza Johns Chapter, of Adkins, who is a member of the organization. She could have been speaking on behalf of the UDC’s Jubal Early Chapter that claims Hodges. “We’re just real excited because of how rare it is for a real daughter to be living. It’s a shame we didn’t know about them a long time ago.”
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