Alberta Martin becomes last surviving Civil War widow

By Carole Brand, Sun Staff Writer
1/29/03

Alberta Martin of Enterprise became the last surviving Civil War widow Jan. 17, when the last surviving Union widow, Gertrude Grubb Janeway, died in Blaine, Tenn., making Martin the only surviving link to the nation’s Civil War. Martin had previously been noted as the "last surviving Confederate widow" before the death of Janeway.

Dr. Ken Chancey, a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans organization, said "with almost 3.5 million men who fought on both sides of the war, it is amazing that Mrs. Martin is our last surviving treasure from that war."

News of Martin’s newest title as the "last surviving widow of the Civil War" has spread nationwide.

A reporter from the Los Angelos Times newspaper, David Lamb, came to Enterprise Monday to interview Martin with Chancey and Civil War re-enactors at her side.

Chancey said he has already been contacted by NBC, ABC and PBS news. "She is just a rare person to say that her husband fought in the Civil War. No one else in the world can say that," Chancey noted.

Martin, now 96, married Pvt. William Jasper Martin who had joined the Confederate Army in 1864. In 1927 at age 81, the former soldier asked a young Alberta, 21, to marry him after a brief courtship over a picket fence. The two wed at an Andalusia courthouse Dec. 10, 1927. The Martins were married for four and a half years and had one son, Willie.

It was said the former Confederate soldier would periodically take his son into town, showing him off by carrying the lad on his shoulders. Martin died July 8, 1932. He is buried at the Cool Springs Primitive Baptist Church cemetery near Opp.

Martin served in Company K of the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment and had told his young wife how hungry he and the rest of the men got during the war. He said on passing a field, they would dig frantically to find a potato or something left to eat from the harvest.

Chancey said Martin finally began receiving a pension in 1996 from the Alabama State Pension for the Widows of Confederate Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.

Monday, Jan. 20, the date commemorating the birth of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Chancey invited Gen. Robert E. Lee re-enactor Al Stone, to pay a visit to Martin who resides at the Enterprise Nursing Home.

Stone has been portraying Lee for nine years at re-enactments and has made live presentations and special appearances as the general.

The public was also invited Monday evening for a reception honoring Mrs. Martin.

"It’s an honor to have Gen. Robert E. Lee visit Mrs. Martin," Chancey said. "We wanted to honor her also since her husband fought under Gen. Lee’s command in northern Virginia."

Chancey said many Alabama regiments during the Civil War fought in the northern Virginia area.

Stone, a Lee look-a-like, was selected to portray Gen. Lee in the filming of "The Trail of Robert E. Lee" last March at Liberty University, and has posed for professional photographs at the surrender table used by Gen. Lee in the McLean home at Appomattox, Va., and at Lee’s original home in Richmond, Va.

Stone has also appeared as Lee at the Antietam National Battlefield and Cemetery, in Tamarac, W. Va., at a ceremony in Troy, Ohio, and was selected to portray Gen. Lee for the West Virginia Humanities Council’s "History Alive" program. He also made a presentation at The Greenbrier Hotel, one of America’s premier resorts.

Stone’s personal appearance as Lee strikes a remarkable resemblance of the Confederate general. Stone is 57 years old, 5-feet-10 inches, 170 pounds, hair mostly gray with a mostly gray mustache and beard.

In 1861, a description of Lee was similar: Age 54 years, 5-feet-11 inches, weight was slightly less than 170, hair was mostly gray with a gray mustache and beard.

Chancey, Stone and Shirley Stone, portraying Lee’s wife, also dressed in southern belle attire while presenting themselves to Martin Monday evening.

Chancey introduced Martin to "Lee" as he presented her with a dozen roses for the occasion.

"I wanted to give you these roses on behalf of all the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers to commemorate Gen. Lee’s birthday and in honor of your husband fighting under his command," Stone said.

Along with Lee, Mrs. Martin’s great-great-grandson Chris Seaton, was a special guest.

Seaton, also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, brought a replica of Gen. Lee’s personal flag he carried with him during the war.

Visitor Bill McGowan from Geneva also came to meet the last surviving Civil War widow.

"I’ve been interested in the Civil War since I was in the seventh grade," he said. "I heard about the reception and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to meet Mrs. Martin."

Chancey said he was glad he had a chance to invite Gen. Lee and the other guests to meet Martin.

"She’s such a special part of history and the only personal link we’ll ever have to part of our heritage and to a war that affected so many," Chancey said.

Martin has been to numerous Civil War reenactments and Confederate grave dedications. She has been a guest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and honored at the dedication of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.

She has been featured in every major newspaper in America, including the front page of the New York Times and in People Magazine.

Martin celebrated her 96th birthday Dec. 4, and received greetings from 14 governors all over the country, Chancey said.

"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas she also received anywhere from 600 to 800 cards," he said. "She’s one special lady and she’s that one unique connection to the Civil War we thought had been lost but we’ve got part of history living right here with us."

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