A Story About Surviving Confederate Widows

(This wonderful little story appeared in a Round Table Newsletter in 1981)

Abraham Lincoln was President when Josh Steele marched off to war from his Mississippi farm to defend the Confederate States of America. The Civil war ended 116 years ago with Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, but Josh Steele's second wife, Doshia, and a scattering of other elderly widows still survive, fading links to the antebellum South. Most of the women were the second wives of widowed soldiers' many provided the elderly veterans with second families.

"I was just a little girl when I first saw my husband," Mrs. Steele remembers. She is 96 and living with her 76?year?old daughter near Fulton, Mississippi. "I married him when I was 15 and he was 60/" About two dozen Confederate widows are known to survive throughout the South. Grateful states and at least one private fund have granted them pensions ranging from $100 a month to Mississippi's four widows to $355 to Alabama's lone survivor. Mrs. Steele's past connects with the 20th century in a way her Confederate husband never dreamed about ? the world of rock 'n roll music, as introduced by her great?nephew Elvis Presley. "Elvis was a good ol singing boy," recalled Mrs. Steele's daughter, Lillian Robinson. "He wasn't singing that rowdy stuff then. He was singing in church. He would still come [to visit] once he got started singing on the radio, but it got so he just couldn't come, the way people would follow after him."

Josh Steele's military records show he enlisted in "G" Company of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry in 1862. He came home in May of that year on furlough, but was arrested because an officer thought he was absent without leave. Ultimately, Steele received an honorable discharge, and when he died in the early 1900s, he left his widow eighty of his 600 acres, his gray horse, his hogs, his cows and his mule. "It was hard for a while after his death," Mrs. Steele said. "I was used to being waited on. We had to work in the fields."

Mississippi's other surviving widows are Bessie Winstead, 92, of Yazoo City; Lula May Hosey, 92 of Stringer and Katie Nelms of Corinth. All were born in the 1880s.