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Last Civil War survivor to be honored on 60th anniversary of his death

Duluth resident Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)

The last survivor of the Union Army will be honored with a ceremony and dinner Tuesday at the Depot, where the Civil War has been featured throughout the summer with the displaying of the replica Lincoln Funeral Car.

Albert Woolson died in Duluth 60 years ago Tuesday as the last surviving member of the Union Army — at age 106 or 109, depending on the source.

The ceremony will be held outside of the Depot on Michigan Street. Tickets for the dinner that will follow, a fundraiser for Veterans Memorial Hall at the Depot, are sold out.

It's been a banner summer at the Depot, where 5,700 visitors toured the museum in June compared to 3,700 the previous year. The funeral car has evoked strong responses from visitors and families.

"The Lincoln Funeral Car is the difference," said Ken Buehler, Depot spokesman. "It's about our 16th president, about the Civil War and about all men being created equal — something that seems to be a problem today as much as 150 years ago."

A bronze statue of Woolson seated outside the Depot will be rededicated as part of a 25-minute ceremony, which starts at 4 p.m. A military color guard will lead a column of Civil War Union Army re-enactors to stand guard at the statue while its history is detailed by members of American Legion Post 28. The Civil War re-enactors will fire a "long-gun" salute.

The last surviving soldier confirmed to have served on either side of the Civil War, Woolson died in 1956 in Duluth, prompting national attention that lingers to this day.

Woolson was born in either 1847, as he claimed, or in 1850, as most records note; he may have fibbed about his birthdate so he could enlist in Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, on Oct. 10, 1864. Woolson eventually became the company's lead drummer.

Woolson returned to Minnesota after the war and later settled in Duluth. He was a carpenter and later a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal and political group of Civil War veterans, of which he became senior vice commander in chief in 1953 as one of the group's last members.

Woolson lived out his final days at 215 E. Fifth St. in Duluth and died at St. Luke's hospital on Aug. 2, 1956, of a "recurring lung congestion condition."

After his death, President Dwight Eisenhower said that "the American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. ... His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States."

In addition to the statue in front of the Depot, the same statue of Woolson occupies a high-profile location at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.