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Widow recalls marrying Civil War veteran

By Thom Patterson
Maudie Hopkins talks Wednesday about her marriage to Civil War veteran William Cantrell.
Civil War

(CNN) -- Maudie Celia Acklin was only 19 when she married 87-year-old Civil War veteran William M. Cantrell in February of 1934. Little did she know her marriage would make her famous 70 years later, as one of the few living Civil War widows.

Later remarried as Maudie Celia Hopkins, her marriage to Cantrell was born out of hard times. "I was born into a family with a lot of children. My daddy couldn't make a living and I needed shoes and a new dress," Hopkins said from her home in Lexa, Arkansas.

Cantrell "said he'd pay me $12 to clean his house and later he said, 'Why don't you marry me?' "

Hopkins, now 89, spent the next three years as Cantrell's wife, caring for him until his death in 1937.

"He never really talked about the war, and I never asked him about it," Hopkins said.

Cantrell served with French's Battalion, which was later folded into the 7th Virginia Infantry, according to Martha Boltz of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Hopkins later remarried.

"He was a decent, respectable man," she recalled. "He treated me right." After her husband's death, Hopkins inherited his Arkansas home and 200 acres of land.

It wasn't until just recently that Boltz discovered Hopkins and her Civil War connection, when Hopkins' son-in-law brought it to her attention.

"He showed me a picture of Mr. Cantrell's grave marker and said his mother-in-law was married to him," Boltz said. "I said, 'You mean to tell me she's still alive?' "

The United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of about 150 groups tracing Civil War era linage, certified Cantrell's military service and verified that Hopkins had indeed married Cantrell.

She said Hopkins should be honored as one of the few living connections to a time long since passed.

William Cantrell's grave site at Burnt School House Cemetery in Baxter County, Arkansas.

Last month, The Associated Press reported the death of another Civil War widow, Alberta Martin, 97, of Enterprise, Alabama. (Full story)

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

For now, Hopkins is enjoying her newly found fame. Seeing herself on a local television newscast has given her somewhat of a thrill.

"I guess people are interested," she said. "But it's hard to remember much, it was so long ago."

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