Last Union Civil War vet dies in Duluth, 1956

A few hours ago, the Associated Press reported that Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, died at age 110. You can find more information here.

That sparked memories of Duluth’s own “last veteran” – in our case, it was Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, who died in Duluth on August 2, 1956, at age 109.

There are a lot of stories and photos of Woolson in the News Tribune archives; some of those items are included below. Unfortunately, many of the photos are lacking specific dates and caption information, but most are from the 1950s.

Duluth resident Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)

ALBERT WOOLSON DIES

Last survivor of Union army succumbs at 109

Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 3, 1956

Albert Woolson died quietly in his sleep yesterday, and an era died with him.

As a final salute to the last man of the Civil War’s Union army, national figures will meet in Duluth Monday at his funeral.

His passing brought a flood of regrets, from the President of the United States to the nurse who tended him at St. Luke’s hospital.

Funeral services for the 109-year-old veteran will be held at 2 p.m. Monday in the Duluth National Guard armory. …

Mr. Woolson died at 9:45 a.m. after lying in a semi-coma since last Saturday. Members of his family were at the bedside when death came.

In Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower, who always sent greetings to Mr. Woolson on his birthday, said the old soldier’s death “brings sorrow to the hearts” of Americans.

In a statement, 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 cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.” …

Mr. Woolson’s funeral procession will consist of 109 Army National Guardsmen, one for each of his years of life. … Burial will be in Park Hill cemetery.

Albert Woolson (center) at a ceremony in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)

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Schoolchildren gather to greet Albert Woolson of Duluth, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson was a celebrity of sorts during his final years. A special News-Tribune history issue published in 1970 contained this retrospective of Woolson’s life:

WOOLSON BECAME FAMOUS

Nine years before Duluth was platted as a village, a boy was born in Watertown, N.Y., who later became the most famous war veteran of the future city at the Head of the Lakes.

When he died Aug. 2, 1956, Duluth and the nation lost a symbol of more than a century of Americans.

Albert Woolson, born Feb. 11, 1847, was the last of more than 2.6 million Boys in Blue who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Thousands mourned his passing, and his funeral was attended by high government and military officials. More than 1,500 attended last rites in the Duluth Armory, thousands lined the route of the four-mile procession to Park Hill Cemetery, and 2,000 bowed their heads at the sound of the bugle’s final “Taps.”

Woolson’s father was a cabinet maker, painter, builder of fine furniture and a musician. A soldier in the Union Army, he was injured in the battle of Shiloh in 1862. He was mustered out of service and sent his family money to come to Janesville, Minn.

When President Lincoln issued an appeal for troops, Albert, then 17, enlisted in October 1864 as a volunteer private in the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. He started in the drum corps. He served as head drummer boy and later became drum major.

While with the regiment, he saw a “most glorious sight.” It was Sherman’s march to the sea through the heart of the Confederacy.

The drummer boy, who also like to play the cornet, was mustered out in September 1865 and returned to Minnesota. In later years, talking about the Civil War, he said, “We were fighting our brothers. In that there was no glory.”

For 16 years in St. Peter, Minn., he was a wood turner in a furniture factory. He also played cello and guitar with a 20-member band and was general manager and treasurer of a minstrel group.

Woolson came to Duluth in 1905 from Ontonagon, Mich., where he had worked in mills and logging camps. In Duluth, he worked at various jobs. He was a stationary engineer and also did pattern work.

Albert Woolson in his 80s, circa early 1930s

He retired at 85 to “take life easy” and after the death of his second wife in 1949, he made his home with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. John Kobus, 215 E. 5th St. Of his 14 children, four daughters survive: Mrs. Kobus, Mrs. Robert H. Campbell, 628 N. 40th Ave. E., Mrs. Arthur E. Johnson, 132 E. Arrowhead Road; and Mrs. Josephine Burtt, in California.

Duluth became increasingly fond of Albert Woolson as the years went by, and he looked forward to interviews with newspaper, radio and television reporters.

On his birthday each year he was deluged with greetings from throughout the nation and foreign countries. He tried to answer all personally. On his 106th birthday he received more than 8,000 cards.

In later years, Mrs. Kobus took on the mammoth task of answering greetings and inquiries, and in about the last three years of the old soldier’s life, she was helped by Dr. J.F. Robinson through the David Wisted-Zenith City post of the American Legion.

Mrs. Kobus, who used to write at least 200 letters a month when her father was alive, says many persons have continued to send Christmas cards.

Inquiries are still received, mainly from older persons and young children interested in history. Mrs. Kobus appreciates notes from the younger, because “my father just loved children.”

Albert Woolson shoveling snow outside his home at age 106, circa 1953. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Even after his 100th birthday, Woolson took walks along Fifth Street or shoveled snow from the walk of his home. And one of his proudest moments came in 1952 when he was elected to Duluth’s Hall of Fame.

The death of Woolson also meant the end of the Grand Army of the Republic and the last existing post which, fittingly enough, was named after Col. Joshua B. Culver, one of Duluth’s prominent early citizens. Culver was among the first to enlist in the Union Army and later became active in many political and business enterprises in the city.

Woolson was among early supporters of Gen. Eisenhower in the White House. Only a few hours after learning of Woolson’s death, President Eisenhower said:

“By the death of Albert Woolson, 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 cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

Albert Woolson of Duluth with one of his ubiquitous cigars, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

One last excerpt, from the News-Tribune’s coverage of Woolson’s 109th birthday on Feb. 11, 1956:

Albert Woolson is 109 today and his eyes are set on a horizon of peace for all men.

The eyes may be dimming, but his thoughts and his voice are not.

In booming tones that belie his recent illness, the sole survivor of the Union Army of the Civil War trumpeted:

“The business about war is all nonsense.” …

Never one to let an opinion go by, Woolson likes to talk about the future.

“I see a peaceful life ahead of us, if the Lord lets us live,” said the old veteran who today starts on his 110th year. …

Woolson makes no bones about his favorite president – Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He’s an expert on Grant’s life and times.

“Now there was a great man,” Woolson declared. “No palaver about that fellow. No nonsense, either.” …

Albert Woolson at a ceremony in Duluth with granddaughter Frances Kobus, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson still loves to recite poetry. Last week he rattled off “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and “Minnehaha, Laughing Water” with no prompting.

He loves to talk of old times and remembers his service at Chattanooga, Tenn., with surprising vividness.

“Those nine-inch cannon on high ground there were nothing to fool with,” he recalled. Woolson, then a drummer boy, once was given the opportunity to pull the lanyard and has never forgotten the thrill.

From Fort Blackmore, Va., the hand of friendship was extended yesterday by John B. Salling, 109, a Confederate veteran.

In a statement to the United Press, Salling said “that old scutter is one of my best personal friends.” Scutter is defined by Webster as “one who runs, scurries.”

Salling sent birthday greetings and expressed the hope “that we can meet before we get passed to the Great Beyond.” …

(Woolson) says he remembers seeing Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in 1859 on a trip there with his father. (Woolson also said he cast a vote for Lincoln in 1864 at age 17, under special rules that allowed Union soldiers to vote even if underage).

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Funeral procession for Albert Woolson, August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)

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A rifle team fires a volley over the grave of Albert Woolson during burial services in August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Here is a short YouTube video clip of Woolson from the 1950s:

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A statue of Woolson stands outside the Depot in downtown Duluth.

Share your memories or stories by posting a comment.

19 thoughts on “Last Union Civil War vet dies in Duluth, 1956

  1. I had the Honor of Meeting Albert Woolson in the Early 50`s and even than as a Boy of 12 loved History and the Civil War. The Civil War followed Me it seemed -In Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood Mo.in1962 on Bivowac I heard a noise in the underbrush and out came a Tortous with an Inscription of a Confederate Soldier Jeb W. CSA -1862. I later became a 2nd Lt in the Military Police in the Minnesota National Guard [at White Bear Lake] Our Division Commander was Lt. Gen .Donald Grant [the Nephew of U.S. Grant] who I was with a few occasions.I am retired now but sell Books on Amazon and sold a Book to a Man in Los Angeles ,Ca [The Trilogy of Bruce Catton] He called me at Home and wondered if I had any more copies. We talked for a while about the Civil war and I asked him if He ever saw the Movie ” Gettysburg’” and after a pause He mentioned ,yes He saw it because He Produced it.I mentioned that I had shaken the Hand of Albert Woolson [The Last Civil War surviver and He Said " He wish He would have done that" I love your websight as it brings a lot of Memories and I recognize a few of the Names on the Comments.......Thank you and I would Consider it an Honor to Be Included with Albert Woolsons " Friends"........Gerald L. Haugdahl [Mequon Wisconsin]

  2. In 1956 ,I with 109 other National guardsmen marched the four miles from the National Guard Armory to Park Hill Cemetery.
    Peter LaTour

  3. My father took me to the Twin Cities when I was a young boy. We heard Albert Woolson give the Gettysberg speach to us as he heard it from Pres. Lincoln at Gettysberg, Pa. I don’t remember the year but it was late 1940′s or early 1950′s

  4. I found Albert Woolson’s name signed to an employee list of the old Nopeming Sanitorium. Marked as a Stationary Engineer.

  5. I’m a history buff about anything that is history. I’ve been searching for the last of soldiers that died in wars from the Revolution to WW1 and I happened to come across this old soldier. I would’ve loved to meet him and talk about his life and experiences. I find it amazing that he lived from the times of the horse and carriage to the modern age with cars and airplanes.

  6. I had the honor of escorting Albert Woolson to services at Saint Pauls Epiiscopal Church on Memorial Day about 1946. It was a customary that Albert Woolson be escorted each year to a different church about Memorial Day. I was a Boy Scout in Troop 4 at Saint Pauls Church at the time. Johnsons Mortuary provided the transportation. At the time I lived at 1112 East First Street, about 15 blocks from Mr. Woolson.

  7. Thank you so much for posting these articles and recordings. I have a long-time interest in the Civil War and to actually hear Albert Woolson speak is an unexpected privilege. I do hope someone writes a proper biography of the last Union veteran. One question: are any of Mr. Woolson’s descendents still living? It would be most interesting to read an interview with some of them.

  8. My Two brothers and sister were playing after church (Scared Heart), Jumping from porch to porch and making a lot of noise. It was May or early June 1956. His caregiver came out to quite us down. I heard him ask who’s there. The lady said, some children playing. He said bring them in. She asked us if we would like to meet the last union soldier? I said sure, not having a clue of what an honor had just been given to us. He was in bed and look as old as anyone i had ever seen. He spoke loud. He told us he was a drummer boy in the union army, a long time ago. He was hard to understand and had the biggest ears i had ever seen.
    He seemed nice, and like kids. The caregiver told us he was tired and we should go now. She told us he was 109 years old. Wow

  9. I can also remember Mr. Woolson visiting Monroe back in the early 50′s, and marching in parades. I certainly didn’t realize the importance until many years later. What a legacy he left behind.

  10. Pingback: Listen to a 1954 interview with the last surviving Union Civil War vet | News Tribune Attic

  11. My father, Dr. C.H. Christensen, loved telling a story about Albert Woolson. He was in St. Luke’s Hospital some time in the 1950′s, over 100 years of age. Since he was hard of hearing, he spoke loudly. My father remembers being outside Mr. Woolson’s room and overhearing him tell a visitor, “If I ever marry again, it will be just for companionship.” My Dad would laugh to tears after telling this story.

  12. Woolson used to visit some Duluth schools around Memorial Day each year. I saw him in the early 1950s at the old Lincoln Junior High in the West End. We kids didn’t appreciate the history associated with this very old man, and when he spoke, his words were largely unintelligible because by then — 103-104 years old — he was deaf. It was only later that I realized what a brush with history being in the presence of a Civil War veteran was. Here’s a bit more history: Our principal, Sigurd Ode, would present Woolson with a box of cigars in appreciation for his visit. The days of cigars being proffered on the stages of public schools are over too.

  13. I was born at 512 N. Second Ave. East, just a block or so from Mr Woolson and remember him very well. he would put on his uniform and sit on the front porch of his home and play the drums for the kids.
    I can also remember my mother and I giving him a ride home from the P iggly Wiggley store on 14th ave east and 4th because he felt a little tired. A fine man.

    • A friend and I are considering writing a book about Mr. Woolson. We are interested in talking to anyone who knew Mr. Woolson. I would appreciate hearing any recollections you have of him. Thank you!

      Shirley Nuechtelein

  14. My brother and I are in the photo of the school children and Mr Woolson. We both went to Jackson Elem. on west 3rd street. That house behind us in the picture is still there today. It’s on the upper west corner of 3rd street and 4th ave W. I am now 62 years old. Could I get a copy of that picture? I would like to give it to my grandchildren. Sincerely, Marsha K

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