Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Albert Woolson: The Last Civil War Veteran

Albert Woolson
Albert Woolson was a former Union drummer boy and the last surviving Civil War soldier. Born in Antwerp, Minnesota on February 11 in 1847, he died at the age of 109 on August 2 in 1956 in Duluth, Minnesota. 
Although other men, such as Walter Williams, John Salling and William Lundy, died after Woolson and also claimed to be Civil War soldiers, no evidence could be found to verify their claims. Lying about serving in the Civil War in order to get a Civil War pension was a common practice, especially during hard times like the Great Depression. Many actual veterans also lied about their age when enlisting in order to gain entry into the military, making the matter even more confusing.

Woolson's father, Willard Woolson, also fought in the Civil War but died from wounds received in the battle of Shiloh. After his father died, Albert Woolson enlisted as a rifleman on October 10, 1864 but served as a drummer boy for Company C in the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. The company never saw combat and Woolson was honorably discharged in September of 1865.

After the war, Woolson returned to civilian life in Minnesota where he worked as a carpenter. He married Jane Sloper in 1868 and remained married until her death in 1901. Woolson remarried a few years later to a woman named Anna Haugen. Haugen died in 1949. The two marriages produced a total of six daughters and two sons.

In the late 1800s, Woolson joined the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans. According to the book “Minnesota in the Civil War”, Woolson was one of only six Civil War veterans to attend the group's last encampment in Indianapolis in 1949. Woolson also served as the organization's senior vice commander in chief in 1953. Since he was the last surviving Civil War veteran, the organization was dissolved after his death.

Late in his life, Woolson was interviewed by a number of news organizations. During one interview he told reporters about his experience firing a practice round of a cannon during the war: "One day the colonel handed me the end of a long rope. He said, ‘When I yell, you stand on your toes, open your mouth, and pull.’ First time the cannon went off, I was scared to death” Woolson also explained his personal feelings about the war, stating: “We were fighting our brothers. In that there was no glory.”

Woolson also said he voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1864 when he was 17 years old under a special law that allowed soldiers to vote and he described his childhood experiences meeting Lincoln and watching John Wilkes Booth perform at Ford's Theater:
"One day father and I went to the capitol building at Albany, N.Y. There was a meeting there and one man was tall, had large bony hands. It was old Uncle Abe, and he talked about human slavery....When I was nine years old, I went in with my father to Ford’s Theater. Two brothers, actors on the stage, the youngest one is the one that shot Lincoln, later on. We were that evening at the theater, the first time I was in there. About a week later, one evening, the President of the United States and his wife were sitting in the audience, and he walked up and shot him right through the back of the head. He lived about three, four hours. He said “six soberly tourney,” that means that is the fate of Judaism. Poor old Abe.” 

When Woolson died of a recurring lung condition, he was buried with full military honors at the Park Hill cemetery in Duluth. After his death, Life magazine ran a seven page article highlighting the significance of his death:
The Civil War, the greatest single experience we ever had, was both an end and a beginning. But when the final handful of dust drifted down on Albert Woolson's casket, and the last note of the bugle hung against the sky, the door swung shut. It cannot be reopened.”
Albert Woolson's funeral in 1956



"Minnesota in the Civil War: An Illustrated History"; Kenneth Carley, Richard Moe

Life Magazine; The Death of the Last Union Soldier and Of an Era; Bruce Catton; August 1956

Veteran's Memorial Hall: Albert Woolson

Albert Woolson: The Last Living Civil War veteran

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