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Albert Woolsen

Albert Woolsen. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Duluth’s Central Hillside was home to Albert Woolsen, the last surviving Union Army soldier of the Civil War. Woolsen lived to be 109 years old. He was born in Watertown, New York, on February 11, 1847, and arrived in Duluth in 1862. At 17, Woolsen joined the Union Army as a “volunteer private.” He was assigned to Company C of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, detailed to the drum corps—Albert Woolsen was a drummer boy. He saw no action, but witnessed Sherman’s March. A lifelong Republican, Woolsen cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln. He was just 17 at the time and voted under a special war clause for members of the armed forces. As the last Union survivor, he was named commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Woolsen lived most of his life in Duluth at 215 East 5th Street. As he aged—and as other Union veterans died, making him the last—Duluth newspapers annually featured accounts of Woolsen celebrating his birthday; he was often photographed shoveling snow. When he was 105, he recommended the following for a long life: 1. exercise, used judiciously, 2. not worrying over trifles, and 3. due respect for the laws of nature, such as not overeating. “Moderation in all things; that goes for whiskey, women, and food,” Woolsen said. On July 12, 1954—when he was 107 years old—Woolsen wrote a letter that now hangs in an alcove close to City Hall’s entrance alongside a plaque, an American flag, and a bust of Woolsen. It reads as follows:

To My Fellow Americans, On April 9, 1865, the terrible war of rebellion ended; the differences between the Union and the Confederacy were forgotten and the North and South were once again united. As the last survivor of the Union army, I have seen these United States grow into the greatest nation in the history of mankind. Our sacrifices were not in vain.

Woolsen died August 2, 1956, at the age of 109 years. A statue of him stands outside the St, Louis County Heritage Center (aka The Depot).

Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.