Last Union Army Veteran Dies; Drummer at 17, He Lived to 109 Albert Woolson of Duluth Also Was Sole Survivor of Grand Army of Republic DULUTH, Minn., Aug. 2---Al- bert Woolson, the last member of the Civil War's Union Army, died today at the age of 109. Mr. Woolson, who answered President Lincoln's call to arms and marched off to war as a drummer boy when he was 17, had been hospitalized for nine weeks with a recurring lung con- gestion condition. He lapsed into a coma early Saturday and did not regain consciousness. Since then, he had been fed intrave- nously and received oxygen through a nasal tube. Members of his family were at his bedside when he died in St. Luke's Hospital. Full-scale military funeral services will be conducted at the National Guard Armory here Monday at 2 P.M. Burial will be in the family lot at Park Hill Cemetery here. Only three veterans of the Civil War, all members of the Confederate forces, survive. They are Walter W. Williams, 113, of Franklin, Tex.; John Salling, 110, of Slant, Va.; and William A. Lundy, 108, of Laurel Hill, Fla. Informed of Mr. Woolson's death, Mr. Lundy said "I regret very much the passing of Mr. Woolson." Mr. Woolson's last comrade of the Union Army, James A. Hard of Rochester, N.Y., died in 1953 at the age of 111. In Washington, President Eis- enhower said today the death of Mr. Woolson "brings sorrow to the hearts" of Americans. The President said: "The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. "His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cher- ished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States." With Mr. Woolson's death, only the Confederate veterans will get a medal being prepared for the last survivors of the Civil War unless the law is changed or broadly interpreted. Last month Congress passed a law directing the Secretary of the Treasury to prepare gold medals with suit- able inscriptions honoring the re- maining veterans of the North and South. Representative John A. Blatnik, Democrat of Minnesota, pushed for a quick award of the decora- tion to Mr. Woolson when the old soldier became critically ill. But Mr. Blatnik's office said to- day the Treasury would be un- able to get the medal finished before Oct. 1. There is no definite provision in the law for a post- humous award. Mr. Woolson married Sarah Jane Sloper in 1868. She died in 1901. Three years later he married Anna Haugen, who died in 1948. Survivors include six daughters, Mrs. John Kobus, Mrs. Arthur Johnson and Mrs. Robert Campbell, all of Duluth; Mrs. Adelaid Wellcome, Mrs. F. W. Rye and Mrs. J.C. Barrett, all of Seattle, and two sons, Dr. A.H. Woolson of Spokane, Wash., and R.C. Woolson of Dayton, Wash. The Kobus family had lived with Mr. Woolson for several years. Mrs. Kobus said late to- day that instead of floral me- morials the family preferred con- tributions to the Albert Woolson Scholarship Fund at the Duluth Branch of the University of Min- nesota. ------------ Outlasted 2,200,000 Mr. Woolson was the sole offi- cially listed survivor of the more than 2,200,000 men of the Union armed forces. He also was the last survivor of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organi- zation of Union veterans that exerted wide influence in Amer- ican politics for many years after the Civil War. Mr. Woolson's great age car- ried him into what was virtually another world of warfare as well as of politics. As a boy, he could have spoken with venerable men who had fought in the Revolu- tionary War. Veterans of the War of 1812 were numerous in his youth. When the war in which he served began in 1861, the commanding general of the Army was Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812. The War with Mexico started in 1846, the year before Mr. Woolson was born. Last year, when he was 108, several de- pendents of veterans of that con- flict still were receiving Govern- ment benefits. This year, Mr. Woolson could include himself among the more than 19,000,000 living persons who had served in the United States armed forces. Of these, as of May 2, 2,715.896 were receiving cash compensation or pension payments from the Gov- ernment. This included some but not all of the 826,657 former members of the armed forces receiving education benefits. Mr. Woolson, who had been a bugler-drummer rather than a rifleman, might have been ex- cused if, in his later years, he had only a passing interest in the progress made in the art of war between the period of his Civil War service and the middle of the twentieth century. In 1865 the most expert rifleman could kill no more than two or three persons in a minute. In 1945, when Mr. Woolson was in his noneties, an estimated total of 100,000 persons were killed by atomic bombs. Civil War Still a Live Topic In 1956, ninety-one years after Appomattox, popular interest in the war in which Mr. Woolson had fought showed few signs of diminishing. Biographical studies of Civil War figures from Lin- coln down to generals such as "Fighting Joe" Hooker were in bookstores, and a dramatic read- ing of Stephen Vincent Benet's "John Brown's Body" had been presented successfully on Broad- way within a year or two. Mr. Woolson fought in no Civil War battles, although he drummed to their graves many who had. When he was 106 he remembered it all pretty well. He recalled himself as a drum- mer boy of 17 in a rakish blue forage cap in the precise line of drummers who beat out the res- onant slow step on muffled drums or, again, thudded the quick step--most likely "The Girl I Left Behind Me." "We went along with a bury- ing detail," he said. "Going out we played proper sad music, but coming back we kinda hit it up. Once a woman came onto the road and asked what kind of music that was to bury some- body, I told her that we had taken care of the dead and that now we were cheering up the living." Mr. Woolson was born in the New York farm hamlet of Antwerp, twenty-two miles northeast of Watertown, on Feb. 11, 1847, the same day Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor, was born. James K. Polk, the dark horse Democrat, was in the White House and the issues that were to bring about the Civil War were being drawn into focus. Willard Woolson, his fath- er, was a carpenter in Water- town and apprenticed his son to this trade. The senior Woolson had, however, a second vocation. He was a musician in the band of a traveling circus. When Pres- ident Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers in 1861, the father and his fellow musicians enlisted as a body. Traced Father to Minnesota When his family did not hear from him for more than a year they traced him through Army records to a hospital in Minne- sota. The younger Woolson and his mother undertook the diffi- cult journey by Great Lakes boat and stage coach to Win- dom, where they found the fath- er suffering from a leg wound received at the battle of Shiloh. Shortly after the family was re- united his leg had to be ampu- tated and he died. Mr. Woolson and his mother re- mained in Windom and the boy went to work as a carpenter. But it was wartime. The sound of drum and bugle was in the air and it was agony for a spir- ited boy--mostly especially one in the drummer-bugler tradition-- not to be in uniform. Minnesota's manpower was stretched thin to furnish its quota for the Union forces and at the same time to hold back the Sioux Indians, who went off the reservation in 1863. Mr. Woolson recalled the day he left for the Army he had seen thirty- eight Sioux hanged in Mankota. In the South, the war was dragging out its course. It had been a war of maneuver and field entrenchment, but by 1864 the Confederates were beginning to dig in to save manpower and the Union needed heavy artil- lery. Col. William Colville or- ganized a Minnesota heavy ar- tillery regiment of 1,800 men. Mr. Woolson got his mother's consent and was accepted into Company C, First Minnesota Volunteer Heavy Artillery. His military service dated from Oct. 10, 1864. Enlisted as a rifleman, he wanted to be assigned as drum- mer and bugler, but Company C already had its quota of one field musician. "I got the job by knocking his block off," Mr. Woolson re- called many years later. Late in 1864, the regiment joined the Army of the Cumber- land in Tennessee. It was com- manded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, known to history as "The Rock of Chickamauga," but more familiarly to his men as "Pap." Recalled Firing Cannon Minnesota's ponderous cannon and their north-country canno- neers waited hopefully at Fort Oglethorpe to be called into ac- tion, but the call never came. Mr. Woolson got to fire a cannon, though. It was the out- standing recollection of his Civil War service. The bored gunners of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery pre- pared to fire one of their pieces just to hear the noise. Mr. Wool- son recalled it thus: "The colonel handed me the end of a rope and said: 'When I yell you stand on your toes, open your mouth wide, give a yell yourself and pull the rope.' I yanked the lanyard and the can- non went off and scared me half to death." The First Minnesota sat out the spring and early summer of 1865 in the shadow of Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, and in August the regiment was or- dered home. Mr. Woolson re- ceived his discharge on Sept. 7, 1865. He again practiced car- pentry. Veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies were return- ing to their homes or perhaps seeking new homes in the West. He was but one of thousands re- turning to civilian life and, in the case of Union veterans, an organization was soon formed that was to make the former wearers of the blue the most po- tent force in their country's pol- itics for the next twenty years. This organization was the Grand Army of the Republic, of which Mr. Woolson became the last member in 1953. He had been named senior vice com- mander in chief in 1950. The first G.A.R. post was formed at Decatur, Ill., in April, 1866. Mr. Woolson was still in his 'teens when the G.A.R. was founded, and it is probable that, in common with most of the younger veterans, he did not join it for many years. The G.A.R. had a tinge of the secret society popular in the day. There was an oath and a ritual, and the or- ganization was ostensibly free from politics and dedicated to good works. In a few years, how- ever, it became one of the prin- cipal instruments for keeping the Republican party in power and for obtaing pensions and Gov- ernment job preferences for Union veterans. The G.A.R., as Mr. Woolson first knew it, was dominated by such figures as Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, a swarthy Illinois poli- tician nicknamed "Black Jack." A gallant and successful general and a thundering orator with a black mane, he never failed to re- mind his hearers that while "not all Democrats were rebels, all rebels had been Democrats." Mr. Woolson was a member of the G.A.R. in 1890, when it reached its peak of membership of 408,489. Its political influence had declined in the Eighties, al- though it was a force to be reckoned with until the turn of the century. Mr. Woolson did not receive a pension until 1900. Immediately after the Civil War, pensions were limited to men who had suffered physical disability, but in time they were extended to all with recognized Civil War service with the Union forces. Unsuccessful attempts were made from time to time to ob- tain Federal payments for Con- federate veterans. In the South the states paid small pensions to their Civil War veterans. At his death, Mr. Woolson was receiving a pension of $135 a month. He was then getting no other benefits, but was entitled to hospitalization and out-patient care. In May, records showed that 5,784 widows and children of Union veterans were receiv- ing pensions or payments under special acts of Congress. Formed Drum Corps Mr. Woolson and Robert Rhodes, an old friend who had been bandmaster of the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, formed a drum and bugle corps in 1867. Mr. Woolson beat his old Civil War drum. "We played fine lively music," he said. "Nothing sad." With the passing of years, the G.A.R.'s, as they came to be called, became older men and fi- nally old men. Their fellow coun- trymen seemed to recall them only on Memorial Day, which their organization had helped to establish. The National Encamp- ments of the G.A.R., lively and often more or less rowdy affairs in the early days, became quiet get-togethers. Mr. Woolson and his comrades wore the blue uniform coat and slouch hat of the G.A.R. and marched in the Memorial Day parades as long as they could. Finally they became very old men sitting quietly in the sun. There were other veterans of later wars to tell of the deeds they had done. Mr. Woolson was one of six Union veterans attending the last National Encampment of the G.A.R. in Indianapolis in August, 1949. Here these last survivors of the organization voted to disband it. With Mr. Woolson's death the Grand Army of the Republic passed out of existence. Its records will be turned over to the Congressional Library in Wash- ington, and its flags, badges and official seal to the Smithsonian Institution. In the Nineties, Mr. Woolson moved to Duluth and it was there that he discovered he had a knack for storytelling to sup- plement his brisk bugle and drum. He would drop into a near- by school, tell a couple of fanci- ful tales, give a little lecture on thrift and pass out a few bright, new pennies. In 1952 the children of Du- luth's schools turned the tables on him. They collected 27,652 pennies and commissioned an oil portrait of Mr. Woolson that was hung in the City Council chamber. The aged veteran liked to say that he was born a Republican. He voted for President Lincoln when he was 17 under a special dispensation that gave the ballot to soldiers. He admitted he voted for the Democratic ticket once. That was for Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first bid for the Presidency. Mr. Woolson did not retire until 1930. In his later years, Mr. Wool- son liked to recite poetry and his favorite poem was "After the Battle, Mother." And it is un- likely that his school children friends for several generations let him forget that great senti- mental poem of the post-Civil War period, "The Blue and the Gray," by Frances Niles Finch. It ends: "Under the sod and dew, waiting the judgment day, Love and tears for the Blue, Tears and love for the Gray."
Maintained by Sue Greenhagen.