Identifying the last surviving veteran of each of America’s numerous wars, starting with the American Revolution, has long been a fascinating chore for our historians, veterans’ organizations, and, most important, for the descendants of those men who served their country.
The last veteran of the Union Army in the Civil War, Albert Woolson, of Minnesota, passed in 1956 at 109 years of age. Most newspapers and other news sources at that time also reported that there were three Confederate veterans still alive. Or, as one of them said when interviewed by a reporter, “The South’s going to outlive the North.”
BUT, WITHIN a few more years, the “historians” who constantly study such things, were reporting that, no, all three of those “rebels” had passed on, before Woolson did. Can’t have those evil, racist Confederates bragging about their side having the last surviving Civil War veteran!
I haven’t been able to find any other serious controversies or disagreements for the last surviving veterans of our wars that followed the Civil War — or the War Between the States, as Southerners tend to call it.
BUT — and this is a big one — there is still some serious disagreement among historians, veterans’ organizations, etc., about the identity of the last survivor of our Continental Army and of the various state militias of the war to free America from the British.
THERE WAS A man named George Fruits, born in Baltimore of German immigrant parents, on Jan. 2, 1762. When the Revolutionary War started, his father, also named George Fruits, joined the Continental Army and served for several years. By 1781, the younger George Fruits was 19 years old, and as Gen. Cornwallis had surrendered to Gen. George Washington and the Continentals at Yorktown recently, Fruits Jr. probably wanted to have at least a short record as a veteran before the war was over. His family had been living in Pennsylvania since he was a child, so he joined the Pennsylvania state militia, and served until the war officially ended in 1783. He always told people that he was not involved in any big battles; just “mopping-up operations,” as the peace treaty was signed in 1783.
For the rest of his life, George Fruits was careful to preserve Pennsylvania militia records that verified he had received pay as a militiaman in 1781 and 1783.
After the war was over, Fruits got into being a frontier explorer, part of the time with Daniel Boone’s group. They explored in the Ohio Valley, in northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana, as well as other places. The groups he was with had battles with Indians several times.
IN THE EARLY years of the 19th Century, George Fruits, by then about 40 years old, married an 18-year-old teenaged girl, and over the years they had a total of 12 children. When the War of 1812 started, Fruits joined the Army and served in it.
A few years later, the Fruits family decided to move to what was then the Indiana Territory, settling in what is now Montgomery County, where Crawfordsville is now the county seat. There, George Fruits farmed and worked at other jobs for many, many years.
Meanwhile, a future member of the Continentals was born in rural New York, in 1759, three years before Fruits. His name was Daniel Bakeman. He lived in various places in rural areas of New York state for most of his life.
According to historians, Bakeman married a girl 14 and one-half years old, when he was just 12! And the historians claim that the couple was married for 91 years and 12 days — the longest marriage in history. And if you believe that, I’ve got a big, beautiful lake in Arizona I’d like to sell you.
BAKEMAN SERVED in the Continental Army during the Revolution, but the evidence to prove that is a little on the scant side. He didn’t start receiving a veteran’s pension for the Revolutionary War until 1867, just two years before his death. The reason? He hadn’t been able to prove that he served in his native state of New York during the Revolution, so in early 1867 the U.S. Congress passed a special bill allowing him to receive the pension anyway.
George Fruits didn’t get a veteran’s pension at all. And some of the “historians” who have tried desperately to wipe his name off the record as the last surviving Continental, have claimed that that proves what the more recent “experts” have alleged — that Fruits wasn’t actually born until 1779, and therefore coudn’t have served in the Revolution. Never mind that he possessed those records of pay from the Pennsylvania militia for 1781 and 1783. And here’s something else: His wife, who out-lived him by four years, received a veteran’s widow’s pension after his death. As to him not receiving a veteran’s pension for his service in the War of 1812, well, maybe he just chose not to file for one.
AND, when the U.S. Civil War started in April 1861, George Fruits, 99 years old by then, went to his local Union Army recruiting center and told the personnel there he wanted to serve! Of course (hopefully with due courtesy) the recruiters told him, “Sorry, Mr. Fruits, but you’re a little too old.”
ANYWAY, BAKEMAN died in 1869, just short of his 110th birthday. George Fruits was still working, still in good health for a man his age, right on through July 4, 1876, the 100th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.
About a month later, some of his great-grandchildren — maybe great-greats — were visiting the Fruits at their home, and he played with the young children out on the lawn for some time that day. But the next day, he began feeling rather ill, and finally had to take to his bed. He sank rapidly, having over-exerted himself to please his little descendants, and in a day or two, with all his sons surrounding his bed, George Fruits died at the age of 114 years and several months. His funeral procession to the cemetery near Crawfordsville was almost a mile long. And on his monument, it gives his birth date as January 2, 1762; and verifies that he was a Revolutionary War veteran.
Now, you’ll remember that I told that (I believe) the “historians” found a way to claim that all three of those old Confederates died before Albert Woolson did, to make sure that a Yankee was the last survivor. I think they have done the same thing with the nonsense about Fruits not being born until 1779, not 1762. He had the Pennsylvania pay records for himself for 1781 and 1783; did he draw that pay when he was 2 years old and 4?
ANWAY, I can imagine some of the “historians” saying to each other, “We can’t have a Hoosier hick as the last Revolutionary soldier! Indiana wasn’t even a territory then (when the Fruits moved here), let alone a state!” So they figured out a way to make the records look like he was too young to have been a veteran.
Could I prove conclusively that George Fruits is the real thing? No — and nobody could prove, in this day and age, that Daniel Bakeman was, either.
But I’ll go with George Fruits. Virtually everything in his record checks out OK.