Albert Henry Woolson, born on February 11, 1850, in a town in Jefferson County, New York, was the last known surviving Union Army veteran from the American Civil War. Historians also recognized him as the undisputed last Union and Confederate armies survivor.

The Drummer Boy from Minnesota

His father, Willard Paul Woolson, likewise served in the Union Army as part of Company I, 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, where the elder Woolson later became a member of a regimental brass band. Many have recorded that Willard was badly wounded at the 1862 Battle of Shiloh and had to recuperate in an Army hospital in Windom, Minnesota. But, a 2019 news report debunked this, pointing out that “his (Willard) company was not at Shiloh, nor did Windom exist then,” proceeding to state that Albert’s father sustained an ugly injury in “his leg in a Gladiator steamboat accident on the Tennessee River on May 13, 1862.” After Willard’s dismissal from the Union Army, Albert and his mother, Caroline Baldwin Woolson, went to live with the elder Woolson in southern Minnesota, where the latter would spend the remainder of his life before passing in 1865 following a leg amputation procedure.

Meanwhile, Albert enlisted in the Union Army in the fall of 1864 and became a private at age 14. Given that the minimum enlistment age was eighteen, he may or may not have lied about his age. That, or he obtained parental consent to enlist. The young Woolson eventually joined Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer boy and went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to lend workforce for the construction of winter quarters. Albert would stay with the rest of Company C for garrison duty until the following fall, when he would be discharged on September 27, 1865. The drummer boy would return home to Minnesota unscathed, as he did not see combat throughout his active service.

Post-Union Army Life

Albert, who inherited his father’s musical genes, went on to pursue a career as a musician after serving in the Union Army. The veteran played the cornet and guitar in a traveling minstrel troupe consisting of a band, dancers, and an acrobat. Later, he also taught mechanical engineering and music at the Breck School nearby Wilder. Eventually, he would move and settle in Duluth with his eight children from the two marriages.

As a Union veteran, Albert was an active member of the venerable Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and wore its blue uniform with his head high. He attended statewide activities and was present in most parades. Founded in 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, GAR was a fraternal organization whose members were veterans composed of the Union Army (now US Army), Union Navy (now US Navy), and the Marines who served in the American Civil War and were honorably discharged. Notable members include United States presidents starting with Ulysses S. Grant (18th US President) to William McKinley (25th US President), of which six were Civil War veterans. The organization ultimately dissolved soon after the death of its last member, Albert, on August 2, 1956. He was 106 years old.

“The American people lost the last personal link with the Union Army,” then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower said following Albert’s passing. “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.”

As the “Last Survivor,” Albert became the model for the sculpted bronze monument dedicated to the GAR memorial in the Gettysburg National Military Park. For his resting place, the drummer boy veteran was buried with full military honors in Park Hill Cemetry in Duluth, attended by his surviving family members and over a thousand people.

Albert Woolson was one of the last three Civil War veterans to live to see the First World War, Second World War, and Cold War, alongside fellow drummer boy Frank H. Mayer (deceased 1954) and James Albert Hard (deceased 1953), who, unlike Woolson, was the last surviving Union soldier to see action in the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville. In the summer of 1861, Hard enlisted in the Union Army before reaching the minimum enlistment age too, similar to Woolson, and joined the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Irish Rifles.

The remaining 16 Civil War veterans held their final GAR gathering in an Indianapolis ballroom in 1949, accompanied by their respective Veterans Administration nurses at the dawn of the Cold War. Most of them were already too frail to walk for their annual parade by this point, so they were driven around the usual route in vehicles, an unusual machine that was very new to them at the time.