Listen To A 1954 Interview With The Last Surviving Union Civil War Vet

The previous Attic post contained bunches of photos and stories on Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union Civil War veteran who died in Duluth in August 1956, at age 109.

Amid the yellowed, brittle news clips about Woolson in the News Tribune archives was a cryptically-labeled cassette tape. I found a cassette player, popped the tape in and discovered that it was audio of a 1954 interview with a then-107-year-old Woolson.

The audio quality is poor (since they didn’t have cassettes in 1954, I assume the one in the News Tribune files was dubbed from an old reel-to-reel audio tape). Also, at that time Woolson was quite hard-of-hearing and, understandably for his age, it can be a bit difficult to understand what he is saying. But it isn’t every day that you get to hear a Civil War veteran talk, so I’ve digitized some excerpts from the tape, and you can listen by clicking the links below; here is the first:

Woolson interview – Part 1

To give you some idea of what Woolson is saying in response to the questions (which he is given on slips of paper, because he can’t hear), he starts out by giving his place of birth, and then his age. Then he goes a bit off-track and says that, as a boy, he saw actor John Wilkes Booth perform on stage – the same John Wilkes Booth who shot Lincoln in 1865. Woolson talks about the assassination, too – mentioning how Booth yelled “Sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants) after shooting Lincoln, among other details.

According to news accounts from the time, Mr. Woolson had a great interest in history, and it seems that he wanted to share that interest with the interviewers. He has some details wrong, but the value in this recording isn’t necessarily historical accuracy – it’s the chance to hear the voice of someone who was born 164 years ago.

Here’s a second clip, in which Woolson gives his take on a meeting of Gens. Grant and Lee at the end of the war. Again, Mr. Woolson was not at that meeting – and the historical accuracy of his account is questionable – but he WAS in the Union Army at the time of the surrender, and reports of those events certainly left an impression on him. As in the first clip, it can be a bit hard to understand all that he is saying…

Woolson interview – Part 2

I’m not sure of the origins of the interview. From the audio, I know it was conducted by Bob and Carl Wombacher (spelling?) and Jim Bernard in August 1954. If anyone can provide more context for the interview, please post a comment or send an e-mail to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

6 Responses

  1. Gee Vine

    My single most claim to fame? Presenting a bouquet of roses to Albert as a first grader at nettle ton in 1950 at his home on fifth st. Between 2nd and 3rd av east. I gave a short speech with lots a of four syllable words I did not understand. His great grandson, Ricky Kobus, was a classmate. If Im remember ing correctly, the Washington jr high band played as he came out on his front lawn porch. The entire school population had gathered there.
    gr Vincent

  2. Thanks for putting this on the web. I’ve always been under the impression that when I was in the US during the fifties I saw an interview with Woolson on TV. It must have been him because it was said that he was the last person, who served then, alive.

  3. I met Albert Woolson when I was a boy. He talked about how he still smoked cigars and drank whiskey.
    I was at his house for a photo session. The paper took a group photo of Albert, from the Civil War, a vet from the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, and my father from the Korean War, with everyone in uniform.
    I had that clipping for years, but it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

  4. Zack

    I did not think I would find any video or audio recording of any sivil war veterans & felt kinda silly even searching..I am so glad I did, not to mention very excited & moved by the very sound of a mans voice who lived & remembered the America of the Victorian age, thanks so much for sharing this!

  5. L Barker

    Fascinating! What a treasure, to hear a person who actually lived at such a time & could express his experiences so that we may share them today. I’m so glad to have been able to hear his voice. 17Aug2012

  6. Daniel, Redford MI

    Thanks for sharing this. I am always fascinated with any opportunity to make any sort of connection with people from another time, and listening to the voice of a civil war veteran CERTAINLY fits the bill! To think this man was around to hear about Lincoln being assasinated, when the news was brand new! How absolutely neat! I do wish it was easier to understand all of his words, but never the less, this recording is a TREASURE. thanks again!

Comments are closed.