Kay Patterson, one of 13 black legislators in South Carolina, was urging his colleagues last January to remove the Confederate flag from the capitol building in Columbia. Responding to emotional arguments about tradition, Patterson said if they were so concerned with tradition, they should do something about Daisy Cave, the state’s only surviving Confederate Army widow. This “last living link” to the Civil War was getting a paltry state pension of $200. Shortly thereafter Mrs. Cave, 92, was voted $1,200 a year, the maximum she can receive without endangering her federal medical benefits. The news that the widow of a man who had fought in the Civil War was still alive came as a surprise to most South Carolinians.
Mrs. Cave’s husband, born in 1844, provided her with vivid tales of 19th-century life. “His name was Henry Benjamin Cave and he smoked a corncob pipe,” she recalls. “I was about 30. He was close to 75 then and his hair was like white silk, but he was a fine-looking man and strong as a mule. He had been married twice before and outlived both wives.
“I was living with some people near Kline, S.C. when he came riding up in his buggy. He told me he needed somebody to cook and keep his house. I told him, ‘Don’t you need somebody nearer your own age?’ But he said, ‘No, you’ll do just fine.’ So, he asked me to marry him, and a week later I agreed. Both my parents were dead. I didn’t have anything. I’d never had a pair of store-bought shoes. He called me ‘Baby’ and I called him ‘Mr. Cave.’ I loved him and he loved me.”
Henry Cave died 10 years later, leaving Daisy and their 9-year-old son, Benjamin, to eke out a living raising hogs. Ben Cave, now 60, lives in a trailer with his wife behind his mother’s home in Sumter, S.C. He works as a maintenance man for the county.
Archives in South Carolina confirm that Henry Cave enlisted in the Confederate Army at Hardeeville, S.C. on March 28, 1862, at age 18. He was assigned to the state’s Third Cavalry as a member of the Barnwell Dragoons. Cave, who remained a private throughout the war, had a horse shot out from under him near Richmond. “He used to tell me about the war and how bad it was,” Daisy says. “He had to eat a roasted rat and parched acorns while walking back from Virginia after the surrender. His brother had malaria and he had to carry him a good part of the way.”
Did her husband hold a grudge after the war? Mrs. Cave smiles and says, “Well, even long years later, he never wanted to have anything to do with Yankees.”