The Last Veteran of the Civil War

The Last Veteran of the Civil War

The American Civil War ended almost a century
and a half ago (April 9th, 1865) with the surrender of the Confederate forces at the
Appomattox Court House in Northern Virginia. About 54 years ago, in December 1959, the
last reported surviving veteran of the Civil War, Walter Washington Williams, passed away
in Houston, Texas at the reported age of 117. President Dwight Eisenhower declared it a
national day of mourning and gave him an honorary rank. Congress recognized his passing on the
floor. Reporters, writers, and well-wishers all came to Houston to pay respects to the
man who was America’s last direct living link to the war that divided the United States
for a time. Of course, this all may have been a lie.
According to the official history, Walter Williams was born 1842 in Itawamba County,
Mississippi and served under General John Bell Hood beginning in 1864. He was a forgemaster,
meaning he was in charge of finding food and figuring out how to go about transporting
it. After the war, in 1870, he moved to Texas where he settled on a 20 acre farm in Eaton
(East Texas – about 100 miles from Austin). That’s where he remained, mostly unknown,
until the late 1940s immediately following World War II, when reporters and historians
began to seek out these last remaining survivors of the Civil War.
Williams became a local celebrity. He was invited to fancy dinners, given special awards,
and called by honorary titles like “Trooper Williams”, “Honorable Colonel”, and
even “Five Star General Walter Washington Williams.” When interviewed by the Dallas
Morning News about how he had managed to live to such an old age, Walter responded:
“I never et much. I get up for breakfast, turn around for dinner, and go to bed for
supper. When I was riding up the Chisholm Trail the range cooks sort of held it against
me because I was a light-eating man. I’ve always drunk lots of coffee, chewed plenty
of tobacco, and haven’t tried to avoid any of this good Texas weather.”
On September 4, 1959, months before Williams’ death and as his hometown of Houston geared
up for Mr. Williams’ 117th birthday party, a reporter for Scripps-Howard by the name
of Lowell Bridwell wrote a damaging exposé potentially debunking the “Walter Washington
Williams myth.” In it, he called Williams “an enfeebled old man” who was a “Confederate
veteran only in his memory-clouded mind.” Bidwell had done some digging and found not
“a single scrap” of evidence that Williams even served in the military, much less being
the very old age of 117, like he claimed. According to the 1860 census, Williams was
listed as five years old, meaning he was born in 1854 and would have been only nine years
old in 1864, seemingly too young to have fought in the Civil War. Moreover, according to Bridwell’s
reporting, the National Archives does not list a Walter W., a Walter G., or even a Walter
L. Williams from Texas or Mississippi as ever having served in the Confederate Army. Newspapers
across the country picked up on the Bridwell story and began printing their own stories
with headlines like this one from the The Daytona Beach Journal, “Walter Williams:
Last Civil War Veteran or Hazy Memory?” Defenders of Walter claimed that records from
that time had a reputation for being spotty. During the last year of the war, with the
Confederate army losing and in sad shape, they didn’t keep particularly meticulous
records of who was serving within their ranks and even the records that did exist often
had errors, such as incorrect birth dates. In addition, an archive in Jackson, Mississippi
lists a “Walter W. Williams” as a Private in Company O, 5th Mississippi Cavalry.
Despite the controversy, when Walter Williams Washington passed away in December 1959, he
was hailed across the nation as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War. He was laid to rest
at Mount Pleasant Church cemetery in Robertson County (near Eaton), Texas. His grave is now
marked by an interpretive sign, placed there by the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission
in 1963. On the sign, it reads: “Reputed to have been the last surviving
soldier of the Civil War…he had lived very quietly until in extreme old age he gained
fame as one of the very few remaining veterans. After the nation lost all other men who had
fought in the Civil War, he was given honorary rank of General by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
When Gen. Williams died in Houston at home of a daughter, President Eisenhower proclaimed
a period of national mourning.” So was Williams really the last? It’s somewhat
unclear, though most historians today think probably not for the aforementioned reasons.
If he wasn’t the last, that honor goes to Albert Woolson, who passed away three years
before Williams in 1956 and is considered within the academic community to be the last
authenticated survivor of the Civil War. Woolson was a Union drummer boy from Minnesota who
enlisted in 1864 after his father passed away from a severe leg wound while also fighting
for the Union. Bonus Facts:
• Lowell Bridwell, the reporter for Scripps-Howard who wrote the expose on Walter Washington
Williams, had a very interesting career. While he was a reporter, he drew the ire of J. Edgar
Hoover, who suspected him of being a communist. Bridwell’s brother worked for the FBI at
the time and was given the assignment to spy on his brother. When he refused, he was forced
to quit the FBI. Lowell went on to work in the Department of Commerce and then in the
Department of Transportation during the Kennedy administration. He eventually rose through
the ranks and became the director of the Federal Highway Administration during the Johnson
administration, directing during a time of immense highway growth in the United States.
• Walter Williams was married twice, the second time for over 65 years. Because of
this, he had a very large family, rumored to have had over 200 descendants when he died.
• General John Bell Hood, the man Williams reportedly served under, was known as a very
aggressive and reckless General. Some historians think his massive frontal assault at the Battle
of Franklin was such a big disaster for the Confederate army that it lost the war for
them. During the Battle of Gettysburg, Hood (not yet a General) was so severely wounded
that his left arm became useless for the rest of this life.


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    j bowers

    Man to get an interview today with one of them guys. The Civil War was like 70 years ago. This dude must be old.

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    Joseph Hater

    John Bell Hood was a general at the battle of Gettysburg. You should get your facts straight. He was under Longstreet.

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    Bill Hamilton

    I recently discovered 34000 what would become Canadians fought for the Union and 4000 fought for the Confederate armies during the civil war. The attending doctor to Lincoln after he was shot was black and Canadian. Trump can stuff that in his pipe and smoke it. And yes during the war of 1812 which was started by American troops (you arrogant aggressive bastards) invading what was then known as Upper and Lower Canada. And yes British troops sailed down the east coast to the Chesapeake and Burned the White House. Acording to Americans …….It's all our fault.

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    The problem with this is that the Confederate states and the Confederate army did not keep the best records of their civilians and military troops so it is impossible to know if he really was in the civil war

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    My grandfather told me stories that he had heard from his grandfather who served 1863-1865 in the Union Army.

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    Goldeneye 772

    Nah dude. We all know the last survivor of the civil war was Wolverine. Fox says so, and Fox is now owned by Disney who rule the world. Man, if Obama couldve seen this comin he woulda hit disney with a drone strike.

    But anyway, I bounced on my boy's last survivor to this for hours.
    Big ups, and Im out.

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    The way to see someone's life is to research from death to birth, the known towards the unknown.
    Those who have researched his life appeared to have gone from birth to death.
    They should have started with family and friends and researched backwards.
    This how genealogy is done accurately.
    It is quite possible he was telling the truth,
    Being a confederate many newspapers would have seen him as an enemy combatant.

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    Eileen Anderson

    During that time there were no records held for 100%. Children were entering in the service lying about their ages even lying about their names. I would have been 2 years old when he died

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    Ronnie Bishop

    It's so easy to see how so much of history can be a lie! It's so important to tell your kids the truth about you and what you know.

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    Nicholas Pietrzak

    Funny how they formally recognize a union soldier as the last living veteran. Winners write history.

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    Mr. Beev

    5:52 Hood was a Major General at the time of Gettysburg.

    Actual veteran or not, its an interesting story.

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    so 9 was too young but its been proven that young people were in the military. they even say the one union guy was a drummer boy.

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    6 Gorillian Sea Monkeys

    The war of northern aggression, sensationalism and lies, and reporting on it for views, still doing it, here.

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    Today I Found Out

    Ready to learn more fun historical facts? Then check out this video and find out about The Many Myths Surrounding the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving:

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    Edward Trowski

    I remember the civil war, after I flew overseas to visit the queen….i took a cruise back to the states called the titanic, damn ship sank so I stayed in the ocean until rescued in the morning. I enlisted in ww1 and ww2 it was ok I guess and after I fought in Vietnam yrs after it was and I stopped the army when I left Afghanistan after my 5th tour of duty, man what a life now I'm a construction worker I need a damn break you know

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    McCurtain County

    No reputable scholar believes Williams ever served in the C.S.A. To put it plain and simple he lied to get a veterans pension during the hard times of 1930s depression

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    David Lee

    fun fact in 1951 the last confederate reunion occurred, all of the 3 participants were lying about their service.

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    Bennie Chadwick

    Not to far fetched for a 9 year old to lie about his age. Maybe even enlist under an assumed name. Then at nearly a hundred years old. Forget the less popular things in favor for the attention. I am not convinced either way. However it certainly helps pas time by. To listen to his story. Hats off to him either way.

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    Clint Ocallaghan

    Fyi, especially toward the end of the civil war in the south there were higher numbers of young teenage boys even pre teens and they also allowed to enlist blacks to serve in exchange for freedom. But that was too little, too late. Im nit saying he was legit or not im just throwing it out there. He may also not have his name on anything because it was illegal for underage boys to join, but the south became desperate and started to contradict the laws of the south.

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    Devin Petersen

    Everything record was written on paper so it is very easy to loose such records. My grandfather served in the U.S. air Force from 1956-1960 and his military records were destroyed in the Missouri fire of 1973. He isn't even recognized as a military servicemen. God rest his soul

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    Bill Malloy

    Here's a topic for you to investigate. A lot of those SOB Confederate perverts married very young girls when they were in their own 80s and 90s. That meant that a lot of those little teenaged play things collected from the public pole as Confederate Widows well into the 1970s and perhaps beyond.

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    My great great great uncle Albert died on the battlefield of Gettysburg he was camping in the field next to the battle and went to see what all the noise was

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    Seth Reb

    John Bell Hood was put in command of the Texas Brigade, was made a Brigadier General on March 26, 1862 and was later promoted to Major General on October 10, 1862 after taking command of a division on July 26, 1862 so he was most certainly a General at the battle of Gettysburg. The most I can give him is he didn’t make “full General” (4 Star General in the US Army) until July 18, 1864 which was never approved by the senate and was reinstated as a Lieutenant General on January 23, 1865.

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    John Chestnutt

    It seems that a person born in 1850 dying in 1950 would have witnessed the greatest amount of advancement in almost all areas of life like technology, medicine, transportation, and so much more. I realize people adjust to life's improvements and inventions over the course of time but to travel by horse to the ability to ride on an airplane at 500 mph is rediculous!

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    My Grandfather was born in 1905 and there was no state record of birth certificate until 1942 when took his family's Bible to the State officials to prove his birth. I have all that documentation proving this. Just saying.

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    Surp Nurp

    So here are the choices
    He is a fraud
    He was a drummer boy
    Hee had carried flags (forgot what it was called)
    He actually was one the battlefield

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    Layne Hollis

    I have 20 family members that fought for the Confederacy and all of them served in the 24th Mississippi out of Greene County, MS

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    Javi 4122005

    Wikipedia thinks children can join the army, but you need to be 21 or older to join the army; however, there were some 16-20 years old that joined the First World War

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    The Confederacy

    I wish the flag carriers and drummer boys were spared not to die I mean they may have carried a weapon I’m not sure but still

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    Ferra Torr

    Real fun fact: There's a woman who still receives a Civil War pension to the tune of 876 dollars a year because her father fought in the Civil War, he married her mother in his later 70's and she was born when he was 84. Irene Triplett.

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    Luke. TheDrifter

    9 years old wasnt too young to fight back then….if you could shoot a rifle, you could fight and beleive me…a 9 year old can shoot a rifle. That was the sad truth of the war between the states…young boys died on both sides and may God bless them all.

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    Kent Peterson

    the the last cival war veteran died only 25 years before I was born if this is ture. He would have lived to see war world 1 and 2.

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    Tweety Song

    There's something about losing the last witness to a war that is utterly heartbreaking. Yes, we have letters and diaries and newspapers, but it's not the same as listening to a living, breathing person tell the take. We've lost everyone from World War One. Soon enough everyone from World War Two will be gone as well.

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    abraham’s bitch

    a lot of times during the civil war people would lie about their age to get in and fight. it’s also possible that he served in some other branch of the military but not on the front lines. i still consider him a vet but i doubt he was fighting out there at that age

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    American Pride

    All my descendants who fought in the civil war were on the south side my mom is the first person in our family to move from the south to Michigan where I live my family has been a military service since the revolution and I hope to join the army when I am old enough god bless America god bless our soldiers

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    Jihadi Sultans 2

    The actual oldest civil war veteran was fighting and thought

    “This is the most powerful weapon we will ever have, I can kill over 20 men with one shot!”

    Then he got to see 2 Japanese cities get completely annihilated by 2 bombs that were dropped by a flying machine.

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    Michael H

    The last surviving Civil War veteran was alive when some of the last Revolutionary War veterans were alive. That's insane.

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