Albert Woolson

Albert Woolson. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Duluth’s Central Hillside was home to Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union Army soldier of the Civil War. According to most accounts, Woolson was born in Watertown, New York, on February 11, 1850 (others say he was born in 1847 or 1848, and one account claims he was born in Yoro, Honduras.) He first came to Duluth in 1862. On October 4, 1864—claiming to be 17 years old (which fits the 1847 birth claim)—Woolson 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 Woolson served as a drummer boy. He and his company never saw any action, but witnessed Sherman’s March. A lifelong Republican, Woolson cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln, voting under a special war clause for members of the armed forces because he was not yet 18 years old. As the last Union survivor, he was eventually named commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union veterans of the Civil War.

Woolson 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 Woolson 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,” Woolson said. On July 12, 1954, Woolson 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 Woolson. 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.

Woolson died August 2, 1956, at the age of either 106 or 109 years, depending on which account of his birth is accurate. A statue of him stands outside the St. Louis County Heritage Center (aka The Depot). It is a replica of the 1956 monument of Woolson at the Gettysburgh National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Duluth’s replica of the Woolson Memorial photographed in July, 2020. (Image: Zenith City Press)
Story by Tony Dierckins. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Tony Dierckins.