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GUEST COLUMN: Floyd’s last Civil War widow

August 6, 2017 GMT

In 1984 the book “Oldest Living Civil War Widow tells all” came out. Although a fictional tale, it sold some 4 million copies and stayed on the New York bestseller list for eight months.

Then it was adapted to a TV mini-series, which ran in 1994. It did pick up several Emmy Awards, for hair design, art direction, and Cicely Tyson won best supporting actress in her category.

It seems we Civil War historians can’t get enough. Everything about the conflict seems important to us. A few years ago, Alberta Martin, a real-life Civil War widow, was being whisked away from her Enterprise, Alabama, home to various Civil War gatherings and reunions.

Most of her life had been in obscurity, until her married life was discovered, or revealed. A few years before her death (May 31, 2004), she was at a Gettysburg reunion and re-enactment, where she hugged one of the last Union widows. They then placed flowers on a soldier’s grave.

Mrs. Martin seemed to enjoy her celebrity status in her final years, and I’m glad she did.

After she died, Maudie Hopkins (Arkansas) revealed the fact that she, too, as a young woman married a Confederate veteran.

She never spoke of it in later years, and married again. She never got the fanfare of Mrs. Martin.

We must speak nicely of the other side. Mrs. Gertrude Janeway (Blaine, Tennessee) was the last surviving widow of a Union veteran. She married John Janeway, an officer in the 14th Illinois Cavalry, in 1927. She was 18 and he was 81. They were married until he passed away in 1937.

Jane never remarried and drew his $70 a month pension until her death at age 93 in 2003.

I’ve mentioned the above to illustrate how unsure a genealogical science it is, trying to document history. Mrs. Martin was the daughter of a sharecropper, from Opp, Alabama. Mrs. Janeway lived and died in a log cabin, and was bedridden her last 10 years. These were not wealthy or prominent women. Nothing is exact, or so it seems.

Several years ago, I was given the name of what they said at the time was the last surviving Confederate widow in Georgia.

I have tried to document that several times, but have never been able to. I’m sure a real genealogist could finalize that quickly. Truthfully, I’m glad that we have the last link to the CSA in Floyd County identified. Our story goes like this.

William Smith Hancock was born June 25, 1848, and as a 16-year-old lad he enlisted in Haralson County in June of 1864, under Capt. Murchison’s Cavalry Company B (State Militia), surrendering in Newnan in May of 1865. Mr. Hancock married, had two sons, and four daughters. Then his wife died.

The story I got was that he came to Cave Spring to visit an old Army buddy soon after the war. He served as City Marshal around 1874, and was a member of Cave Spring Methodist Church for approximately 75 years.

He filed for a pension in 1909, due to being in bad health. His pension records indicate he was a small man, weighing about 120 pounds, and suffering from some neurological ailments. Nevertheless at 63, he marries 21-year-old Margaret Jane Poole in 1911, and they have a daughter, Mildred Louise.

As earlier mentioned, nothing prominent about these good, solid citizens, nor was it meant to be. When W.S. died Feb. 5, 1939, at 90, he was one of two remaining survivors of Floyd County’s United Confederate Veterans Camp.

Pension records can only reveal so much.

Margaret Jane Hancock filed for W.S.’s pension as a surviving widow in March 1939. Ordinary Harry Johnson interviewed several witnesses, and once satisfied, signed off on her request.

“Margie” was a member of East Rome Church of God, and was a devout member, until she was unable to attend. She died on Nov. 30, 1978, and is buried next to her husband in Cave Spring Cemetery.

Details of their daughter Mildred Louise, are sketchy. It seems she married a Mr. Pia, and spent a great part of her life in California. Her obituary doesn’t indicate she had any children. When she passed away on Dec. 10, 1989, at age 78, she was living in Rome on Noble Street. Mildred is buried next to her parents in Cave Spring.

Murchison’s Cavalry is not listed on Confederate rolls, but most of the Georgia Militia isn’t. W.S. was not questioned when he filed for pension, his witnesses stood with him and it was granted, the same with Mrs. Margie.

These are the kind of things I find interesting. The little pieces of Floyd County and surrounding areas, tidbits of history, that we reveal a piece at a time. These two are important to me.

The thing that troubles me is this. In historical circles, the daughter is known as a “real daughter.” And yet, her only marker is the little tin sign the funeral home places at the grave. I don’t know anything about her past, and don’t want to, but she needs a marker. It doesn’t have to be anything but a slab of stone. I’ve made the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) aware of this. And have had several folks wanting to donate a few dollars. We’ll see what happens now.

Plus, Mr. Hancock has no Confederate marker on his grave either, as I remember. I haven’t checked lately, but will this week.

Cave Spring is having cemetery tours (similar to Rome and Gadsden) in October, and I would love to have the last widow of the Confederacy from Floyd County have something to say about her May-December wedding.

On another note, David Stiles, former Springer, living in Abilene, Texas, brought me a Texas flag to fly over the grave of our Texas Ranger “Green Cunningham” during our tours, and on Texas Independence Day. He was there.

Mike Ragland is a Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome Police Department major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.