Family Stories

The Last Union and Confederate Widows

Last week I posted a 1903 wedding photograph.  Mention was made about how many grooms in the 1800’s were 15 to 20 years older than their brides.  And Nicki, one of my readers, made a comment that many young women in the 1890’s and beyond married older Civil War veterans to secure their pensions for their livelihood.  And that gave me an idea – when did the last of these child brides to Civil War veterans die?  And it wasn’t as long ago as you may think.

There are two women I researched – the last Union widow and the last Confederate widow. 

The last Union widow, Lucy Gertrude Grubb was born in Grainger County, Tennessee, in 1909, the daughter of Thomas B. and Hallie J. Grubb.  Lucy Gertrude is listed as 10/12 in the 1910 census, and ten in the 1920 census.  John Wesley Janeway was born in 1845, the son of Isaac Janeway and Jane Smith.  He joined the Union army when he was 19.  John Janeway was 65 years old when Gertrude was born. 

Starting their courtship at the age of 16, her mother refused to sign for their marriage; so the couple waited until she turned 18.  Their marriage was performed June 7, 1927.

Three years later they appear in the census together, 1930 Grainger County, Tennessee.  John is 82, Lucy Gertrude is 20.  Her mother lived three doors away.

The Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Wednesday, October 14, 1998

Gertrude Janeway, one of two surviving Civil War widows, preserves the past in her Tennessee home

Gertrude Janeway looks up from her bed and extends a frail little hand to greet a visitor entering her tiny log cabin.

Her touch is a fragile link to an epic period in America’s history.  Janeway is one of two surviving widows of Civil War veterans.

She still lives in the three-room home she and her husband, John, moved in 66 years ago.  Electricity came much later, a phone only recently.

“It don’t seem like it has been too long since I was playin’ like a young’un,” she said as she celebrated her 89th birthday in July.  “No, it don’t seem like it has been that long.”

She is now just a few years older than John Janeway was when, in 1927, he married her as family and friends gathered in the middle of a dirt road.  He was 81; she was 18.

This, of course, was long after his service in the military.  He joined the Union Army as a 19-year-old farm boy from Blount County and served in the 14th Illinois Cavalry for barely a year before the war ended in 1865.

He would seldom talk about that, or about the decades he spent in California before coming home to Tennessee, just before they met.

“We sparked for three years, starting when I was 16,” she recalls of their courtship, and of her mother’s stubbornness.  “Mother wouldn’t sign no papers” to let her marry before 18.

“So my man says, ‘Well, I will wait for her until you won’t have to.’”

Bedridden from arthritis, Janeway gazes fondly at a tinted photograph of her and her husband.  It was taken in a Knoxville studio, about 20 miles southwest of Blaine, a year after them married.  The couple sits stiffly, both wearing hats.  Her feet strain to reach the floor.

“I would have looked better if I’d a had my hat off,” Janeway says.  “But I didn’t know.  That was the first picture I’d ever had in my life.  And I thought I had to do just as he’d done.”

Janeway and her husband bought the cabin in 1932, and it is where he died in 1937, at 91, from pneumonia.  It is where she cared for her mother, Hallie, until she died two years later, and for her handicapped brother, Reuben, until he passed away at 73 in 1989.

Born with a crippled right hand and leg, Janeway looked out for all of them.  She accepted the responsibility willingly while John Janeway lifted the burden.  He was the love of her life.

Over time, Janeway learned bits of his war experience.

He was doing chores, riding to a grist mill, when he met a group of Union horse soldiers who persuaded him to join up.  He sent the family horse home and enlisted under the surname January because, his widow says, “he was afraid his people would come and claim him.”

Barely two months in uniform, he was captured near Athens in August 1864, during the Georgia campaign.  He was paroled at Savannah four months later and discharged the following July.

“He says the nighest he ever got to getting’ killed was when they shot a hole through his hat brim,” she says.  But he never told her where it happened.

Janeway still gets a $70 check each month from the VA for John January – the name on his slender military tombstone in the New Corinth Baptist Church cemetery a few miles away.

“After he died, why it just seemed like a part of me went down under the ground with him,” Janeway says.

Gertrude Grubb Janeway lived for another 66 years after the death of her husband.  January 17, 2003, she died in her cabin that had been her home since her marriage to John Janeway.  She was 93 years.  She was buried near her husband’s gravestone.

The last Confederate widow was Alberta Stewart Martin.  Alberta was born in 1907, in Coffee County, Georgia.  She was the daughter of John W. and Mattie Stewart.  About 1925 she met Harold Farrow, a cab driver, who was killed shortly afterwards.  Alberta was left pregnant and possibly unmarried – in the 1930 census record her son has her maiden name for his surname.  Her son was named Howard. 

William Jasper Martin

As a young woman with a baby, Alberta met William Martin, 81.

She married him in 1927 and within ten months the couple had a son – William Martin – named for his father. 

In the 1930 census of Covington County, Alabama, William is 83; Alberta, 25; William, 1 ½; and Harold, 4. 

Alberta admitted she married William Martin for security for herself and her son.  She took care of William until he died.  It was an arrangement that suited both parties.

The Atlanta Constitution, Fulton County, Georgia

Sunday, October 18, 1998

We expect to find history in hoary mansions with grand names, beneath marble monuments and colonnades.  We expect to see its face on a coin, or in a museum.

History also lives in an ordinary little house, at the end of an ordinary street, beyond a front walk flanked by flaming tiger lilies.  The sun is setting making colors soft.  History is at home.

Alberta Martin, the last Confederate widow, is wearing her blue Sunday best, her long white hair done up high, Holiness style.  She is history that breathes, talks and walks – with the help of a cane.

“I’ll have to hang this head off the side of the bed at night to keep my hair nice,” she says, patting her new ‘do and greeting visitors.  At 91, she often is ailing.  But today she feels and looks good and is ready to talk about what everyone wants to talk about.  How she married into history.

She had been wed before and would marry again.  But one cold day in December 1927, the Alabama widow with a child became the third wife of Civil War veteran William Jasper Martin.  She was 21.  He was 81.  That union, which amazingly produced a son, lasted until Martin died five years later.  It was one of mutual need and respect.

William Jasper got a $50 monthly pension, a lot of money for the time.  Alberta, for her part, knew how to cook and take good care of him.  Love had little to do with it.

“We had talked a little over the fence in the front yard,” she says.  Courtship was quick.  Neighbors saluted the marriage with cowbells and horns, and the odd couple set up housekeeping in a plank rental house.

His picture hangs above her sofa, near that of Robert E. Lee.  Martin was a teenage soldier in the Fourth Alabama Infantry, Company K.  He was there at the siege of Petersburg, Va.  Somewhere along the line, he won two medals.

But by 1927, William Jasper was an old, cantankerous man who talked little about the war.  He shared with his young bride a few highlights – killing a bear, shooting a panther out of a pine tree.  He spoke of desperate battle conditions, of sleeping in mud and water and foraging for potatoes to keep from starving.

The last living Confederate widow tells all, is gracious and plain-spoken, but there’s just not that much to tell.  William Jasper Martin had a temper and was a good provider.  Which is more than she’ll say about her first husband, Howard Farrow, whom she married on a street corner and who soon after died in a car crash.

Alberta’s third and last husband, Charlie Martin, was the love of her life.  He was also William Jasper’s grandson.  If you think that didn’t cause a ruckus when the couple married two months after old William Jasper’s death, you don’t know much about south Alabama in 1932.

They were happy together 51 years, until Charlie’s death in 1983.  He was a disabled World War II veteran, with a pension that helped with their livelihood.  But even that marriage wasn’t perfect.

“He was bad to want to fish and head for the creek,” Alberta says in blunt fashion.  She still grieves for Charlies.

The main man in her life these days – other than her two sons, of course – is a dentist, one Kenneth Chancey.  Dr. Chancey, of nearby Enterprise, was a new member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans a few years ago when he found out about Alberta Martin.  Intrigued, Chancey did his research.  He mounted a vigorous publicity campaign that in 1996 resulted in the renewal of Mrs. Martin’s state Confederate widow’s pension.  She had lost that pension in 1932 when she married Charlie.  The bureaucracy even gave her a cost-of-living raise.  Chancey won’t say how much the small check is for fear endangering the old widow at the end of a road.

Chancey is extremely protective of Mrs. Martin, who reminds him of his grandmother.  He was with her for her first airplane ride; the two flew to Richmond in 1996 for the centennial meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  He rides with her in parades and screens her many visitors.  She invited him to homecoming at her Holiness Deliverance Tabernacle Church, and he helped her buy her first air conditioner.  He was with when she met former Alabama Gov. George Wallace during a chance encounter at the Montgomery Capitol.  Wallace, overcome with emotion, cried, and Mrs. Martin used a napkin to dry his tears.

Simply said, Chancey has made Alberta Martin’s life more comfortable and interesting.

“When we got the pension reinstated, she told me, ‘The old man [William Jasper] is still taking care of me,’” Chancey says.

It is past 7 o’clock, and past the usual bedtime of the last Confederate widow.  “There ain’t no use sitting around with nothing to do once it’s dark,” she says.

For breakfast she will have her customary peanut butter, sausage, grits with cheese and half a banana.  In the evenings she eats a light supper and watches the news and “Wheel of Fortune.”

Twilight has folded into dark, and the lights inside the small living room of Alberta Martin seem much brighter.  The Stars and Bars and “The Lord’s Supper” hang side by side, bathed in wattage.

Alberta Martin is remembering aloud her first doll, how her father sneaked from the house on Christmas Eve to fetch it, how its china head got broken later.  History is a mosaic of such pain, joy, birth and death.  History is an old woman in Elba.

Alberta Martin died May 7, 2004, nearly 140 years after the Civil War ended.

Lucy Gertrude Grubb Janeway and Alberta Stewart Martin were links to a past 158 years ago.

9 replies »

  1. Wonderful story. This explains much! Thanks for posting these great stories. It’s amazing to think they died so recently.

  2. As always, I REALLY enjoyed this post – I had heard about the Confederate widow who married her husband’s grandson but not about the Union widow.

    I had great-grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy and the Union. The Confederate great-grandfather was better educated than the Union one so wrote letters and kept a journal so our family knows more about his life; George Daniel Buswell (the middle name is important as there was another George Buswell who apparently didn’t amount to much) was his name.

    George Daniel Buswell is mentioned in Thomas Pero’s book Gettysburg: Seething Hell. My mother, Jean (Buswell) Sutton, had typed up his letters and journals and donated copies to the library in Lynchburg, Virginia. Mr. Pero contacted mother and asked permission to use her writings when he was working on his book. Of course, she readily gave her consent and they corresponded several times. What amused mother and me (I was her assistant with the correspondence!) was that he questioned if she was really the granddaughter of a Confederate veteran and not the great or great-great granddaughter. He wanted the birth and death dates of her father and grandfather as well as her birthdate! We were finally able to convince him that yes, George Daniel Buswell, WAS her grandfather, even though she never met him.

    We then wondered if there was anyone else alive who had a grandfather who fought in the Civil War. I was never able to find that out but your post has given me some information. I’m glad to say that my mother is still alive and well at the age of 97! And still helps me with some of my genealogy research!

    On a more personal note, I am curious: How do you ever convince your husband to go with you on the trips to the local cemeteries? Was he the first one interested in genealogy or was it you? My husband is mildly interested but not like I am!

    And lastly, your writings are so clear and understandable – would you mind telling me what your major was in college? I would like to write as you do.

    Thank you again for all your hard work. I really enjoy your posts and read every one of them… never know where you might find a connection to your own research so I keep reading!

    If you ever come to Indiana, I will show you where George Daniel Buswell is buried; supposedly it is the only cemetery in the USA where an equal number of Union and Confederate veterans are buried!



    • Genealogy is first and foremost in my mind all the time! Has been since I was 14. Ritchey enjoys going to cemeteries, courthouses, libraries, archives, etc., with me – he wouldn’t do it on his own. He is always excited about our finds, and the posts I write – because he loves me. It’s that simple! And if he finds someone to talk to while we are out that makes it all the more interesting!

      Actually I was a math major! Seems strange, doesn’t it, but I still love my budgets and spreadsheets – just not quite as much as genealogy! Have a wonderful day!

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