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Meet Maudie Hopkins - Another Confederate Widow
By Deborah Fitts
August 2004

LEXA, Ark. - Alberta Martin of Alabama was thought to be the last Confederate widow when she died in May at 97. But now yet another has surfaced.

Maudie Hopkins of Lexa, 89, is the widow of Confederate William M. Cantrell, who served briefly in a Kentucky unit before he was captured in April 1863, bringing his war career to an end. A justice of the peace married Maudie and Cantrell in 1934, when she was 19 and he was 86.

Martha Boltz, a UDC member and Civil War historian, said Maudie found the difference in age a source of embarrassment to her family, and never touted her marriage to Cantrell.

In the wake of publicity over Martin's death, however, Maudie's son-in-law, Fred Chamness, talked about his mother-in-law to attendees of a ceremony May 23 in Manassas, Va., sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The UDC promptly began researching Maudie's story.

Gertrude Janeway, the last known Union widow, died several years ago.

According to Boltz, Cantrell was born March 15, 1847, and lived in Wise, Va. At 16 he enlisted in the nearby eastern Kentucky town of Pikeville, joining French's Battalion under Maj. James French.

The newly formed unit, also known as the 7th Virginia Mounted Infantry, was mauled by Federals on April 15, 1863, in Piketon, Ky. French and Cantrell were among nearly 90 men captured. Cantrell was sent to Camp Chase, Ohio, where he was listed as a prisoner of war for the next six weeks. On May 13 he was ordered to be exchanged, and was sent to City Point, Va., for that purpose. Boltz said nothing further is recorded as to Cantrell's actions related to the war.

After the war, Cantrell married and moved to the Ozarks of Arkansas. His wife died in 1929. Living alone in his 80s, he employed young Maudie Acklin, who was doing house cleaning. Eventually, his need for someone to cook and care for him led to the decision to marry, Boltz said. Maudie, from a large family with little means, embraced the opportunity to better herself.

As Maudie related, "My daddy couldn't make a living and I didn't have shoes."

The couple married in 1934. Cantrell died Feb. 26, 1937, at 90, after being thrown from his mule. He had deeded her his house and 200 acres. Maudie was widowed three more times. She had three children by her second husband who died in 1969.

Boltz said Maudie now lives alone, with family nearby. An AP story about the newly discovered Confederate widow has brought the media to her door, although her Confederate recollections are few. In fact, Boltz said, she only recalls Cantrell telling her about how voracious the lice were. Her story received national attention with coverage from CNN and NPR to the Washington Post and newspapers across the country.

"She seems to be enjoying the attention," Boltz said. "As someone said, whereas she used to sit on the porch and watch people go by, she now sees them come to her home to talk to her." UDC President General Patsy Limpus of Glencoe, Mo., said the UDC was "delighted" by the discovery of another Confederate widow. Maudie is expected to join the David O. Dodd Chapter of the UDC in Pine Bluff, Ark.

"I have a feeling that there are other widows out there, both Confederate and Union," Limpus said, "and I hope that this experience and discovery prompts others to let their significant status be known."

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