Old Soldiers — Meet the Last Surviving Veterans of the U.S. Civil War

The last veteran of the Civil War was Albert Woolson of Minnesota. He was an artilleryman with the Union army. The last surviving Confederate was a matter of fierce debate in the 1950s.

The last veteran of the Civil War was Albert Woolson of Minnesota. He was an artilleryman with the Union army. The last surviving Confederate was a matter of fierce debate in the 1950s.

The U.S government pays out $40 billion a year to war vets and their survivors. The bulk of these benefits ($22 billion) go to Vietnam War veterans, while $12 billion is earmarked for those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of the balance is distributed among veterans of Korea and the World Wars. Surviving spouses and even children of deceased vets can apply for smaller allowances.

According to a piece in this week’s LA Times, Washington is still paying $5,000 a year to children of Spanish American War vets, while amazingly two surviving offspring of U.S. Civil War veterans continue to receive $876 each from the federal government. U.S. News reports that Veterans Affairs refuses to divulge the identities of the two, but confirms that both are quite elderly and in declining health.

Presumably, the fathers of these benefit recipients would be among the Civil War’s last living veterans, someone like Albert Woolson of Antwerp, New York, for example  – the final surviving member of the Union Army who died more than 50 years ago.

Born in 1847, Woolson enlisted in the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment as a drummer at the age of 17. He signed up after his father was killed from wounds he sustained at the Battle Of Shiloh. Although neither Albert nor his battery ever saw action in the conflict, later in life, Woolson became a noted advocate for Civil War vets. In his final years he was a high-ranking official in the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans group. Woolson died in 1956 in his home state at the age of 109.

The identity and precise age of the oldest Confederate soldier remains mired in controversy. More than a dozen Southerners claimed the title between 1951 and 1959, but most were exposed as liars. A few of these contenders might have been legit, but their assertions were unverifiable due to a lack of surviving Confederate military records.

Among those who claimed the title of Last Reb included an alleged 117-year-old named Walter Williams. Upon his death in December of 1959, the Mississippi native who maintained that he fought at Vicksburg, Atlanta and Nashville, was heralded as the last surviving combat veteran of the war. However, an investigation by the New York Times following his death could not substantiate either his actual date of birth or his wartime service. In fact, while Williams claimed to have been born in 1842, census data from 1860 showed that he was likely only 6 years old when the war broke out in 1861.

A more probable candidate for the title of last Confederate is William Townsend. He died in early 1953 at the age of 107. While Townsend’s story was never proven false, parts of it remain unsubstantiated. William Jordan Bush who died on Armistice Day in 1952 at the age of 106 was more likely the last surviving Confederate.

The last verifiable veteran of the southern army was 104-year-old Pleasant Crump, who died in 1951. The Alabama native joined the rebellion in late 1864 at the age of 17. Although the war would end less than six months later, Crump saw action at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run and Petersburg. He was also present at Appomattox Courthouse where General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Ulysses S. Grant. In the years leading up to his death, Crump was named an honorary colonel in the United Confederate Veterans, an organization formed in 1889 for soldiers of the rebellion.


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A aging Confederate veteran demonstrates the famous "rebel yell" at a reunion in 1930.

An aging Confederate veteran demonstrates the famous “rebel yell” at a reunion in 1930.

7 comments for “Old Soldiers — Meet the Last Surviving Veterans of the U.S. Civil War

  1. 21 March, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    The last widow of a Civil War veteran died as recently as 2004. Alberta Martin was 21 when she married William Martin, an 81 year old Confederate veteran in 1925. Alberta had a son, also called William, 10 months later, so perhaps he is one of the two remaining receipients of Civil War.

    Not sure if the link to the BBC below is clickable; it may have to be copied and pasted into the browser.


  2. 22 March, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    There was a typo in my previous comment. William and Alberta Martin married in 1927, not 1925. Also, the link does appear to be clickable.

  3. 2 May, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    See Wikipedia’s entry “The Last Surviving Confederate Veterans.” Bush and Townsend both had their names on muster rolls, enlistment and discharge documents and other written evidence from the time which was verified by the adjutant-general. This should be proof enough. Others such as William Loudermilk, and Thomas Edwin Ross also outlived Pleasant Crumpbut due to a lack of conclusive proof rate only as probable/possible.
    Garry Victor Hill

    • admin
      2 May, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks for that, I’ll take a look.

    • Sandra Fauver
      7 November, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      I am William Townsend’s great great granddaughter and if you have any information on him, I would greatly appreciate any thing you may share with me.

      Thank you,

      • admin
        7 November, 2014 at 3:03 pm

        Very interesting. I’d suggest getting in touch with the Civil War trust. They might have some more on him.

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