Confederate Civil War Veteran Walter Williams in 1954 At Age 111
Austin, TEX – March 28, – Sports Race Fans: 111-year-old confederate veteran Walter Williams and his wife, sprightly 84-year-old Ella Mae, were paraded past the stands today at the National Sports Car Races at Bergstrom Air Force base. He flew here from his home in East Texas but Mrs. Williams decided she would come by auto. Williams was made honorary commander for the day (AP Wirephoto) 1954
When Walter Williams died on December 19, 1959 at the reported age of 117, he was the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Now if you have doubts that Walter Williams was really 117-years-old when he died, you are not alone. Scripps-Howard reporter Lowell Bridwell had his doubts and investigated Williams’ claim.
in September of 1959, Bridwell reported he could not find a shred of evidence corroborating Williams’ service or his age. On the contrary, Bridwell found evidence that Williams was younger than he said. Bridwell discovered there were no records at the National Archives showing that Williams had served in the Confederate Army. But In Williams home state of Mississippi, their war archives listed a Walter Washington Williams as serving in the army a a private.
Walter Williams said he had used several different middle initials when he was younger.
Williams claimed that he was born in 1842. The 1860 U.S. census shows that Williams was age 5 in 1860 meaning he was born in November 1854.
If Williams had joined the army at the end of the war in 1864-1865 he would have been nine-years-old.
Even Williams himself was unsure of his age. When Williams filled out his pension application in 1938 he listed his birth date as November 14, 1846.
If that was the true year of his birth, it’s possible Williams could have served five months with General John B. Hood’s Texas Brigade and six months with Quantrill’s Raiders until the end of the war as he attested to.
After Bridwell’s article appeared, Texans were especially outraged that anyone would suggest that Williams was not what he claimed. “They’ll have an awful hard time proving he wasn’t a Confederate veteran,” said Charles Morris, Texas Veterans Affairs Commissioner.
That sentiment was echoed quite firmly by Ethel Everitt who headed the Confederate Pension Fund who said, “Those Yankees think they’ve killed all us Confederates off!”
Southerners generally thought the Federal records were incomplete and the Confederate records were accurate.
Did Williams serve in the army at the age of nine? Or were the census records wrong and Williams was really 18 or 21-years-old when he joined up with the Confederacy?
Taking the evidence at hand, many people would say that Williams’ claim was dubious, even if he was “only” 113 when he died. Others were more inclined to take the old man at his word including the man who had the final say on the matter.
President Dwight Eisenhower on December 21, 1959 ordered all the nation’s flags be flown at half mast in honor of all Civil War veterans and to mark Williams’ passing. President Eisenhower said, “No longer are they the Blue and the Gray. All rest together as Americans in honored glory. An era has ended”