The Last Surviving Veteran
Joe Johnston is a guest contributor who is writing articles related to the Civil War. To read others in the series, click here. His latest book, The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery, was published by the Missouri History Museum in 2011 and received a 2012 National Indie Excellence Award (True Crime category).
Henry Sisson Bailey was laid to rest in 1933, in a quiet family service held at Knights of Pythias Cemetery in Deepwater, Missouri. At age 85, he had been the last living Civil War veteran in Henry County. It was a profound honor shared by men throughout the nation to have served in the heartbreaking and bloody conflict, returned home, and lived a long, rich life.
Most of the men had a distinctly American story, just like Henry. He was born in Virginia to children of Irish immigrants who moved west in 1849 to break ground on a farm in Howard County, on the north side of the Missouri River. When he was orphaned at age 11, Henry was sent to live with his older brother Lemuel, near Fortville, Indiana. His heart never settled in Indiana, and by the time he was a teen he dreamed of marrying his sweetheart, Hannah Fausett, and starting life on a farm of their own. He also found himself staring the Civil War squarely in the eye. During the war America started its first draft, requiring every man aged 20-45 to register.
In August 1864, President Lincoln issued a call for more troops. The law originally provided that a draftee could buy his way out for $300, or he could find a substitute who was usually paid far more. Lincoln later ended the buyout clause, but substitutes were still allowed, and that’s how Henry Bailey entered the war. The 17-year-old saw a way to make enough money to marry Hannah, and for $700, he lied about his age and took the place of a draftee, joining the 33rd Indiana Infantry on March 6, 1865.
There was virtually no training for Henry’s infantry—four days later the recruits reported to General Daniel Dustin’s brigade in General William T. Sherman’s fast-moving army, camped outside Fayetteville, North Carolina. Back in December, General Sherman had begun his dramatic March to the Sea. The South had suffered some terrible defeats, and it began to look like the Union could press the conflict to an end. Sherman brought something new to American warfare, outrunning his supply lines and leading a huge army that foraged every farm, field, home, and store for its needs. There were skirmishes, but most of the men didn’t even lay eyes on the Confederates, who kept moving away, looking for a place to stand and fight.
It was an inglorious start for Henry and the other new men from Indiana. For several days it rained, and Dustin’s brigade was delegated to help the pioneers, black soldiers assigned to the division who did the work of building and repairing roads and bridges, erecting fortifications, and dismantling enemy cannons and emplacements.
Then suddenly, after days of drudgery, everything changed. Henry had been a soldier only a week when Dustin’s Brigade led the army into battle at Averasboro, North Carolina. They had to march through the night with nerves on edge, burning pine knots to light the way. Finally, as dawn broke, they approached to within 500 hundred yards of a strong, entrenched Rebel force. As one blue brigade crashed in on the Confederates’ right, Dustin’s men charged, fired fiercely, and took the enemies’ breastworks.
But victory brought no rest, and the army pressed on the next day, wading through thigh-deep water, pushing and pulling their supply wagons through the mud. Then at Bentonville, the Confederates made another stand. This time, the Yankees were engaged in hot fighting, and Dustin was at the rear when he got the order to advance. When an officer protested that one of the regiments was still helping the pioneers, Dustin ordered, “Push forward, and let the wagon train go to hell.” The brigade moved at the double-quick for four long, hot miles to reach the battle, where they plunged in to help defeat the Confederates again.
After the Battle of Bentonville, the army marched on to occupy Goldsboro. Since before Henry arrived, they’d averaged 10 miles a day, mostly in inclement weather, and they’d now been in two major battles. They were filthy and unshorn. Their ranks were sprinkled with freed slave families. Some types of food, medicine, and supplies were running low, while others were overly abundant. Bent and broken wagons were piled with dried and cured meat. Kettles, knapsacks, and tools dangled from horses, followed by limping mules, urged along by teamsters herding every sort of livestock. As pieces of uniforms were lost, men replaced them with a colorful mixture of coats, shirts, pants, caps, and stovepipe hats. One soldier wrote, “As we marched into Goldsboro we presented a ragged and dilapidated appearance. Our boys many of them were barefoot.”
On April 9, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant. Unaware of the surrender, at 6 a.m. the next day Sherman’s camp continued marching toward Raleigh in a steady rain. Each man carried 40 rounds of ammunition and small rations of sugar, salt, coffee, bread, and meat. The next day brought more rain, along with soaring temperatures that felled many men. Late that night, as the troops slept, Sherman received a message from Grant telling of Lee’s surrender. Sherman announced the news the next morning, and the army set out marching, singing, and firing their muskets in the air, with Dustin’s Brigade in the lead. They deserved to celebrate, but the Confederate government was still functioning, and General Joseph E. Johnston was not far away, still leading what was left of the Confederate army.
Then followed one of the strangest periods of the war, as the army continued to march, camp, and forage. On April 14, Sherman received a letter from Johnston proposing a meeting to discuss surrender. Then as he and his staff prepared to board a train to meet with Johnston, they received word that President Lincoln had been assassinated. Still, the peace talks began, and the two generals quickly came to terms. Unfortunately, everyone agreed to the terms except the cabinet in Washington. It was back to the bargaining table, while the two armies endured the oppressing boredom of camp life. After a few more days, the surrender was complete, and on April 30, Sherman’s victorious army was marching to Washington, D. C.
The war was over, but to the men who had marched across the South, life was much the same. On the way to the nation’s capital, they continued to wrestle with muddy roads, and Dustin’s Brigade was again assigned to accompany the wagon trains. As the huge force crossed the Neuse River, the bridge collapsed, leaving half of the men and trains, including Dustin’s Brigade, to find other routes and build pontoon bridges.
But once they were in Washington, they had five days to clean up for a grand review. Uniforms were refreshed and new shoes were issued. Every button, sword, and bayonet was polished. Sherman took his place beside the new president, Andrew Johnson, for six and a half hours, watching the passing blue parade. Each division was led by its pioneers, and followed by ambulances, wagons, chickens, ducks, cattle, and freed slave families. Sherman would later write, “Not a soul of that vast crowd of spectators left his place, and when the rear of the column had passed, thousands of spectators lingered to express their confidence in the strength of a Government that could claim such an army.”
The men of the 33rd Indiana Infantry rode a train to Indianapolis, where they were mustered out and left to find their way back home. Henry hiked the 33 miles to return to Hannah, and the couple eventually moved back to Deepwater to raise their six children.
In the following years, thousands of Union veterans like Henry joined the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization that promoted their patriotism, published a magazine, and assembled reunions. Likewise, Confederate veterans stayed in touch through the United Confederate Veterans (UCV).
As Missouri’s warriors aged, many were in poor health, had no income other than a meager pension, and had outlived any family members who could care for them. So in 1889 the UCV worked for the creation of a home north of Higginsville to take care of the Confederate veterans. Eight hundred of them lived their last days and were buried at the home, including the last Confederate in the state, John T. Graves. He was born in Pike County, enlisted in 1861, and served two years before being discharged because of sickness. Johnny died in 1950, at the age of 108, his 77-year-old son by his side.
A year later, Missouri’s last veteran died at the age of 104. John Hutchison was born in Tennessee, and settled with his family on a farm on Pond Fork Creek, in Ozark County, in 1851. In September 1864, he saw three Rebel soldiers kill his uncle, and determined to join the fight. Hutchison was quoted in the Springfield Leader & Press, “War is not any better or worse than it was back in 1864. It’s all bad. You wade in mud and water up to your neck, and then when it’s over you don’t know why you went.”
Many others had a more heroic view of their service and what it meant to their lives. Men like Bailey, Graves, and Hutchison not only survived the carnage of war, but also lived to meet their great-grandchildren, and experience the invention of electric lights, automobiles, and airplanes. And as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, men on both sides took part in testing, “whether any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
—Joe Johnston, Guest Contributor