In the late 1950s, as America prepared for the Civil War centennial, two very old men lay dying. Albert Woolson, 109 years old, slipped in and out of a coma at a Duluth, Minnesota, hospital, his memories as a Yankee drummer boy slowly dimming. Walter Williams, at 117, blind and deaf and bedridden in his daughter's home in Houston, Texas, no longer could tell of his time as a Confederate forage master. The last of the Blue and the Gray were drifting away; an era was ending.
Unknown to the public, centennial officials, and the White House too, one of these men was indeed a veteran of that horrible conflict and one, according to the best evidence, nothing but a fraud. One was a soldier. The other had been living a great, big lie.