A Civil War story only for those who can’t get enough of the War Between the States.
Serrano (One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, 1998) proposes to tell the stories of two men, one of whom probably never served as a soldier. “One of them was a soldier, but one,” writes the author, “according to the best evidence, was a fake. One of them had been living a great big lie.” The run-up to the centennial in 1961 brought attention to those who still survived. Albert Woolson (1847–1956) was a drummer boy with the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery, and Walter Williams foraged for “cattle, fresh crops, and anything else to eat” for John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade. Woolson was quick with tales of his war experiences, and, as often happens with old men, his stories tended to change. He was active in the Grand Army of the Republic’s reunions, or encampments, which continued intermittently until 1949 (the organization was disbanded upon Woolson’s death in 1956). Williams, on the other hand, never talked much about his short enlistment. He was more cowboy than Confederate and preferred talking about his days herding cattle on the Chisholm Trail. These two men were the last veterans of their respective sides, but there’s not a lot to tell. The author goes into detail about their last years and all that goes with aging: fighting for pensions, deafness, blindness, toothlessness, general deterioration and the process of dying. As the narrative progresses, Serrano sprinkles in stories of the other last few living soldiers of the Civil War, a tactic that merely bulks up the page count.
Serrano’s an adequate writer, and the story could have been a decent long-form magazine article. As a book, however, there is just too much mystery-free filler.