Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery That Outlived the Civil War
Richard A. Serrano
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Richard Serrano, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Los Angeles Times, pens a story of two veterans. In the late 1950s, as America prepared for the Civil War centennial, two very old men lay dying. Albert Woolson, 109 years old, slipped in and out of a coma at a Duluth, Minnesota, hospital, his memories as a Yankee drummer boy slowly dimming. Walter Williams, at 117 blind and deaf and bedridden in his daughter's home in Houston, Texas, no longer could tell of his time as a Confederate forage master. The last of the Blue and the Gray were drifting away; an era was ending.
Unknown to the public, centennial officials, and the White House too, one of these men was indeed a veteran of that horrible conflict and one according to the best evidence nothing but a fraud. One was a soldier. The other had been living a great, big lie.
fairgrounds. If they could not boast of victory, they could warm themselves in the cherished code of their war: duty, chivalry, and sacred honor. In 1915, with the Great War aflame in Europe, they designated Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s birthday a legal holiday. They called it Memorial Day in Louisiana. “By this observance,” said Confederate Veteran magazine, “we hope so to inspire the children with our love for the Southern cause that they will for all time preserve the memory of the
Corps message of the war: “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” Round returned to civilian life and college and moved to Manassas. He lived in a large antebellum home, and each day around 11 a.m. his wife would step out on their porch and watch for him to depart his law office on Center Street. (If he waved a handkerchief, it was his signal that he was headed home for lunch.) He built community schools and lined the town streets with shade trees. He pushed for a national preservation battle site
Montgomery, Alabama, began preparing for a parade, a ball, and a reenactment of Jefferson Davis’s taking the oath of office as president of the Confederate States of America in 1861. The city established its own Centennial Commission and urged women to sew hoopskirts and merchants to encourage employees to dress in antebellum costumes. Werth Roberts, chairman of the Confederate Colonel Council chapter, promised that every man who grew a beard would be addressed as “honorary colonel.” Young women
The Grand Army of the Republic’s activities in Indianapolis were recorded by the Indianapolis Star on Aug. 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30, 1946. The Duluth News-Tribune reported on Aug. 26, 1946, that Woolson was attending the encampment. Fremont Power, the Indiana reporter, wrote a recollection of his meeting Woolson at the gathering, which was published upon Woolson’s death a decade later, in the Indianapolis News, Aug. 2, 1956. The Grand Army of the Republic’s meeting in Cleveland was covered by
Sept. 12, 1959. Mrs. G. W. Chambers was quoted in the Austin American Statesman, Sept. 6, 1959, defending Williams. Lester Fitzhugh was quoted in the Houston Post, Sept. 8, 1959, about a roster of Hood’s Brigade that he had uncovered. Mrs. Fisher Osborn was quoted in the Houston Post, Sept. 11, 1959, about other brigade records. United Press International, Sept. 5, 1959, reported Willie Mae Bowles’s comments that “my daddy is the type of person that never lied.” She also said she never told