Walter W. Williams

An excerpt from 'Father Wore Gray', edited by Lela Whitton Hegarty.

Chapter 21 'Walter W. Williams' by Carrie Williams James

        Walter W. Williams was born November 14, 1842, in Itawamba County, Mississippi. He was the son of George Washington Williams and Nancy Marcus Williams. They came to Texas in 1870 and settled in a small rural community called Murphriesborough in Brazos County.
        When just a lad, Walter joined the Confederate States Army. He served as a forage master, Company C, Fifth Regiment, Hood's Brigade. He was responsible for obtaining food for his outfit.
        To his first wife, Florence Humphries Williams, were born seven children. After her death he married Ella Holiday, and they settled in Robertson County in the Shiloh community. To this union were born twelve children.
        'Uncle Walt', as he was affectionately called, lived to be 117 years old. He was the last surviving soldier of the Confederacy. He was over 100 years old when he first began to attract national attention as one of the few
 remaining Civil War veterans.
        He took his first airplane ride after he was 100 and told his daughter, Mrs. Carrie Williams James, that cars were too slow for him now. He rode a horse when he was 103 and shot his last deer at the age of 107.
        He was in the hospital for the first time in his life at the age of 105 and could not understand why he was being fussed and fretted over. "I've got no time to go to the hospital; I'm too darn busy," he said, adding that he wanted to read the big stack of mail he received during his illness.
        Many honors came to him toward the last. He was made an Admiral in the Nebraska "Navy," and a group called "The Confederate High Command" of St. Petersburg, Florida, made him a Five-Star General, a rank unknown in the Civil War. At the age of 106 he received papers from Washington, D. C. making him an Honorary Colonel in the United States Army for the distinction of being one of the oldest living Confederate War veterans.  He went to the Court House in Franklin, Texas, at the age of 107 to receive a documental seal from Governor Allan Shivers, proclaiming him an Honorary Colonel on the Governor's Staff.  He could read the commission without glasses.
        He danced when he appeared on a television program at the age of 112 and at 113 was presented a special Civil War medal by Assistant Secretary of the Army Hugh M. Milton, III.
        With a spirit that never grew old he would spit out sharp replies. "I'll be around when you are dead and gone."  He remarked time and again, "I'm just sticking around to see what will happen."
        Uncle Walt was a cheerful, bright-eyed little man. He liked to talk and chuckle. Much of his tale-spinning was about his cowboy days on the Chisholm Trail. He admitted, puckishly and unashamedly, that forage master in those death-rattle days of America's worst war meant getting food any way you could.
        He was appointed by President Eisenhower in April, 1958, as honorary member of the Civil War Centennial Commission. He got a personal letter of congratulation from the President.
        A family reunion was held each year to celebrate his birthday. Relatives and friends from far and near came to pay their respects. On his last birthday in the home of his daughter, Mrs. Willie Mae Bowles, of Houston, Texas, an American Legion band serenaded him from the lawn with "Dixie," "Casey Jones," and "Waiting for The Robert E. Lee."  The Old Colonel requested loud music, lots of people, and pork ribs for his birthday. He received several bundles of letters and cards, also many congratulatory telegrams. Among them was one from Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was also celebrating a birthday.  From his admirers came beautiful flowers. One was a beautiful arrangement of 117 red roses from the florists of Houston, Texas.  A five-tier birthday cake, topped with two Confederate flags and a picture of Colonel Williams in uniform were presented by Houston KPRC Television Station. The white icing, red, white, and blue candles and smaller Confederate flags flanked this greeting:  "Colonel Williams, Happy Birthday, 117 Years."
        This birthday ended them all, and his death was not only mourned as a personal bereavement but as the snapping of the very last link between the Old and the New. Houston and Texas were proud to claim him as their own.
        The last survivor of them all had gone to join his comrades-in-arms.  He was a rare distinction - symbolic of a bygone era. It was well earned and borne with all the relish that the infirmities of his extremely advanced age would permit. He fought these increasing handicaps as gallantly as the Confederates fought for the Lost Cause and finally succumbed for the same reason they surrendered in 1865 - lack of strength to resist an overwhelmingly stronger foe.