Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Last Civil War Survivor – Sept. 1959

Here's an interesting article that appeared in the Lorain Journal on Sept. 4, 1959. It concerns Walter Williams, who at that time was believed to be the last surviving Civil War veteran on either the Union or Confederate side.

From Dec. 21, 1959
News Messenger
There was (and still is) doubt whether the “Old Rebel” had ever fought as a member of the Confederate army, as there was no official, documented proof.

Nevertheless, in sharp contrast to current times – in which the Confederate flag is reviled and statues of Confederate generals are being removed – Walter Williams was regarded as an honored military veteran by the U. S. Government.

When he eventually passed away later that year in December 1959, the nation’s flags flew at half staff by President Eisenhower’s executive order. Williams was given a full military funeral and was paid tribute by federal, state and local governments.

In a statement issued by the White House, the President noted, “With millions of Americans throughout our land, I pause in respectful silence to honor the passing of the last surviving veteran of the War Between the States, Walter W. Williams.

“The wounds of the deep and bitter dispute which once divided our Nation have long since healed, and a united America in a divided world now holds up on a larger canvas the cherished traditions of liberty and justice for all.

“With Mr. Williams’ passing, the hosts of Blue and Gray who were the chief actors in that great and tragic drama a century ago also have all passed from the world stage. No longer are they the Blue and Gray. All rest together as Americans in honored glory. An era has ended.”

Could it be that the extensive news coverage of Mr. Williams’ passing helped to provide the inspiration for the plot of a Deputy Dawg TV cartoon?

In the cartoon Rabid Rebel (1962), Deputy Dawg encounters an ancient Confederate soldier who doesn’t know or believe that the Civil War is over. Hilariously, the soldier mistakenly thinks Deputy Dawg (a Southerner) is a Yankee.

I remember seeing this cartoon as a kid. It was probably the first time I was made aware that there had been a Civil War. It also cemented the idea in my head that Confederate soldiers were all old geezers.

Ha! I just remembered another 1960s cartoon featuring a creaky Civil War soldier as the antagonist (although his wartime sympathies were not relative to the plot). It was a Super Chicken entry called "The Geezer." In the episode, the Geezer (a Bluecoat) stole a geyser out of a National Park for use in his car wash business.


Mike Kozlowski said...


As it turns out, Mr. Williams was indeed spinning some tales - in 1991, an author presented pretty solid proof that Mr. Williams was only about ten years old when the war ended, and it seems that more than a few men claimed ACW veteran status during the Depression in order to get a government pension. Mr Williams was the last one of them to pass. The last veteran from either side was Union veteran Albert Woolson, who passed away in 1956. The last verifiable Confederate veteran was a fellow named Pleasant Crump, who passed in 1951.


Dan Brady said...

I don't think too much of the newspaper reporter's questioning Mr. Williams' age. I've seen many cases in which my own immigrant ancestors gave different ages for themselves and their family members on different Census reports. I've even seen different birthplaces listed on different Census records for my relatives.

As to whether or not Williams was an "official" member of the Confederate army, I don't know. But I don't like someone (the reporter) trying to make a name for himself in this situation, since it sounds it was motivated by vindictive people.

As it was famously noted at the end of the movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," when the legend becomes fact – print the legend!