Cover of Papa Was a Boy in Gray

Papa Was a Boy in Gray
by Virginia Division UDC member
Mary Schaller


No one knows for certain who the last surviving Confederate veteran was or even when he died. It may have been Walter Williams of Texas, who was recognized by the United States Government upon his death in 1959 as the last of the boys in gray and for whom pop singer Johnny Horton recorded his hit single "Johnny Reb." Or, as recent archival research suggests, it may have been Pleasant Crump of the 10th Alabama, who died on New Year's Eve in 1951.

Whoever he may have been, half a century after the last old soldier was laid to rest, the memory of the men who made up the Confederate army still burns bright -- in their unsurpassed record of military achievement, in the monuments that stand on the battlefields where they fought and died, and in the many heritage groups that have sprung up to ensure that their legacy endures.

But nowhere does that memory burn as brightly as it does in the hearts of the daughters they left behind them.

As improbable as it may seem, a number of Confederate veterans' daughters have lived to see the first years of the 21st century. Often the product of second or even third marriages contracted late in their fathers' lives, these links between the past and the present are known to the United Daughters of the Confederacy as "Real Daughters" and occupy a special place of honor in the organization.

Mary W. Schaller

Mary Schaller


To celebrate the centennial year of its founding in 1994, the UDC undertook to preserve the personal recollections of these remarkable women. Over the next two years, more than 130 Real Daughters sat in front of video cameras and tape recorders and told their stories. The resulting tapes, manuscripts, and photographs were turned over to project head Mary Schaller, whose job it was to transform them into a permanent record of a rapidly disappearing national treasure.

The fit could not have been more perfect. A talented novelist whose eighth volume of critically acclaimed historical fiction was published in the spring of 2001, Mary brought to the task not only her formidable writing skills but also her love of history in general and Confederate history in particular.

Herself a descendant of a Confederate soldier, Mary joined Fairfax Chapter 1410, Virginia Division UDC, on the record of her great-great grandfather William Johnson, who fought with the 6th Kentucky Regiment (a part of the famed Orphan Brigade). She saw in the project an opportunity to examine the War -- and how it had affected families throughout the South -- in an entirely new light.

As she herself puts it, "To these elderly women, the War Between the States was not an event buried in the pages of a thick American history book. Rather, that cataclysmic conflict lived and breathed in the tremor of their fathers' voices, in the fires of their fathers' eyes, and was written in the whitened scars on their fathers' bodies."

Although she appreciated the archival value of the project, Mary knew almost from the outset that the material was too good to be catalogued and then left to gather dust in the UDC library. It had to be shared with the public.

Seven years after the inception of the Centennial Real Daughters Project, Mary has done just that. In June 2001, Thomas Publications issued her first work of nonfiction, Papa Was a Boy in Gray: Memories of Confederate Veterans Related by Their Living Daughters.

From among the many women interviewed, Mary chose 20 whose fathers represented every level of Southern society (from the sons of wealthy planters and hardscrabble farmers to isolated mountain dwellers and black freemen), all three branches of the Confederate military, and 11 Southern states. Their reasons for enlisting were as varied as their backgrounds, but their stories all provide what Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz characterizes as "a personal and provocative look at America's greatest conflict."

Real Daughter Brooke Snead with author Mary Schaller

Real Daughter Brooke Snead (a member of Virginia Division's Fredericksburg Chapter) attends a book signing with author Mary Schaller and Virginia Division UDC President Sam Lougheed (also a member of Fredericksburg Chapter). Mrs. Snead's father is featured in Papa Was a Boy in Gray.

The resulting volume, which includes a chapter on Confederate widow Alberta Martin of Alabama, has been hailed as "a unique collection of primary material" by James I. ("Bud") Robertson (Stonewall Jackson's latest and most comprehensive biographer) and praised by no less an authority than National Park Service Historian Emeritus Edwin C. Bearss.

Copies of Papa Was a Boy in Gray (ISBN 1577470680 - soft cover - $14.95) can be obtained from:

Thomas Publications (
3245 Fairfield Road
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Telephone orders: (800) 840-6782

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go the Mrs. Norman V. Randolph Relief Fund, established by the UDC to care for the Real Daughters.

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