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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.” …
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).
Here is a short YouTube video clip of Woolson from the 1950s:
A statue of Woolson stands outside the Depot in downtown Duluth.
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