Last Man Standing

November 24, 1935 marked the end of an era in Grant County. John Hubbard Parson, the last Civil War veteran residing in the county was dead.
After the Civil War, to be a Union veteran was both a distinction and yet not. At its peak, the fraternal Grand Army of the Republic numbered 410,000 members. Each year, they would gather in Encampments to greet old comrades in arms and trade their stories. But they became fewer as time inexorably thinned their ranks. John Parson was the last in Grant County. By the time of the last Encampment in 1949, there were only sixteen members in the entire country. With the death of the very last Union Civil War soldier in 1956, the Grand Army of the Republic was dissolved. Now, there was no veteran of the Civil War to ask about his story, to see a faraway look in his eyes as he spoke of a time long ago when he was young and had fought for the Union. All that remained were only records, written accounts, and memories.
 John Hubbard Parson was born September 25, 1846 in Crawford County, Illinois. At age seventeen, he enlisted and was mustered in for three years service on December 11, 1863 as a Private in Company B of the 95th Illinois Infantry Regiment. A year and a half later when many of the 95th Infantry Regiment were mustered out, he was transferred to Company B of the 47th (Consolidated) Illinois Infantry Regiment, being mustered out January 21, 1866.
The 95th Regiment consisted of volunteers from Boone and McHenry counties in Illinois, who were mustered in September 4, 1862. Assigned to the Mississippi theatre of operations, they had participated in the siege of Vicksburg until it fell on July 4, 1863. Subsequently, they were stationed on garrison duty at Vicksburg during the fall and winter of 1863. Since John Parson was mustered into the 95th in December, he probably was sent to join the regiment there.
 The 95th was involved in a number of engagements while Parson was in service. Three that must have stood out in his mind were noted in his obituary.
The first was In March, 1864 when the 95th Regiment was part of the Red River Expedition under General Nathanial Banks into Louisiana west of the Mississippi River. The objective was to deny western cotton and beef to the rest of the Confederacy, but it turned into a disaster with the Union forces forced to retreat back across the Mississippi River. The 95th Regiment saw little fighting, but much marching and floundering in swamps. They returned to Vicksburg April 24, 1864, and then were transferred to Memphis, Tennessee.
The second engagement occurred in June of 1864, when Confederate cavalry under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Mississippi had the potential to threaten the supply lines supporting General Sherman’s advance on Atlanta, Georgia. To forestall this, a Union force under the command of General Samuel Sturgis, including the 95th Regiment, was ordered into northern Mississippi to confront Forrest. The two forces met near Guntown, Mississippi on June 13. Although outnumbered by more than two to one, Forrest outmaneuvered the Union forces, aided by tactical mistakes made by General Sturgis. The result was a humiliating Union defeat. When the 95th moved into line, their commander Colonel Humphrey was almost immediately killed and Captain Stewart of Company F assumed command. In a few minutes, he was badly wounded and Captain Bush of Company G assumed command. When he was killed, Captain Schellenger of Company K assumed command. The 95th held their line for two hours, pounded by artillery and with Confederate forces to their front and on both flanks. Low on ammunition and with heavy casualties, they were forced to retreat. The Regiment lost a third of its strength in killed, wounded, and missing during the battle and its aftermath.
The third engagement was the Battle of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely, Previously, on August 5, 1864, Admiral Farragut defeated the Confederate naval forces guarding Mobile Bay, Alabama. By August 23, the Union naval and army forces captured the three outer forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay. Union army and naval forces could then enforce a blockage ending the usefulness of Mobile as a Confederate seaport. The city of Mobile still remained in Confederate hands, protected by Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely in the inner Bay. In early 1865, forces began gathering for the capture of the forts and Mobile itself. With the rest of the Union XVI Corps under Major General Steele, the 95th Illinois embarked on an epic journey. Embarking on riverboats at Eastport, Mississippi February 6, 1865, they voyaged down the Tennessee River to Paducah, Kentucky, then down the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, then by transport ship along the Gulf to Dauphine Island in Mobile Bay. They arrived on March 15, after a journey of 1300 miles. The 95th was ordered to begin movements against Spanish Fort on March 24. The fort was under siege from April 2 to April 8, when it surrendered. Fort Blakely surrendered the next day, April 9. The 95th was in the forefront of both of the final attacks. The city of Mobile surrendered and was occupied April 12, 1865, after what was the last major battle of the Civil War.
As an anticlimactic aftermath, the 95th Illinois was sent on a hot grueling 200-mile march to Montgomery, Alabama which they occupied unopposed April 25, 1865. Nine days later on May 4, the Confederate general commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Florida surrendered, and combat operations ceased. For the 95th, the Civil War was over. They were on garrison duty in Montgomery until May. Then they marched 65 miles to Opelika, Alabama for similar duty, arriving on May 26. On July 15, they began their long journey home by marching back to Montgomery, then traveled by riverboat, rail and foot until the 95th arrived at Springfield, Illinois. There, they were formally mustered out August 17, 1865. Late-enlisting recruits, of which John Parson was one, were transferred to the 47th Illinois and mustered out January 21, 1866.
John Parson met Azilka Miretia Miner, who had been born September 19, 1851, in McLean County, Illinois. They were married June 16, 1867, in Mentor, Ohio. They had twelve children, two of which, Willet Guy Parson and Dr. Lester Raymond Parson also eventually came to reside in Grant County. John appeared to be a wanderer. They first lived on his father’s farm in Boone County Illinois for two years, then moved to Hampton in Franklin County, Iowa in 1869. In 1878, the family moved to Clay County, Kansas for a brief time, then moved back to Illinois for three years. Next, they farmed for 25 years in Jackson County, Minnesota, beginning in 1885. During this time, his obituary notes that he was a long-time member in the Grand Army of the Republic La Grange Post No. 79 in nearby Windom, Minnesota. In 1910, he quit farming and spent considerable time in Saskatoon Saskatchewan until 1916. He lived in Grand Forks from 1916 to 1918 before making his final home at Elbow Lake in Grant County Minnesota. In 1934, John and Azilka celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. The article noted John Parson’s health had not been so well the previous winter, but had improved in the spring. His health deteriorated further, and was confined to bed for the three months prior to his death November 4, 1935, at the age of 88. His wife passed away two years later on March 21, 1937.
Obituary for John Parson
John Parson was given a military funeral by the Carl A. Hanson American Legion Post of Elbow Lake. Because of the number of the community members who gathered to mourn him, it was held in the Scofield Memorial Auditorium. The Post Chaplain conducted the services, followed by the Post Commander giving the Legion Ritual. The body of John Parson was escorted to Union Cemetery by six pallbearers, two color bearers and color guards, and nine members comprising the ceremonial firing squad. All were veterans. The three volleys rang out, then Taps was played over his grave in a final salute to an old fellow soldier.
More than eighty years have passed since John Parson’s death. The young Legionnaire veterans of the First World War who honored him are all gone now, as are his sons and daughters. The memory of John Parson has slowly dimmed and been forgotten....Almost....
On June 17, 2023, a small audience gathered in Union Cemetery, Elbow Lake to witness a brief but moving ceremony. Gary Carlberg of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War came to honor John H. Parson, the last Civil War soldier to be buried in Grant County. A special marker was placed on his grave. The final volleys were fired, this time from a replica of a Civil War muzzleloading rifle like the one John Parson had carried.  At the deep boom of each volley with the smoke and smell of black power wafting on the breeze, a window seemed to open momentarily on the past. Then the haunting sound of Taps played once again over his no longer lonely grave.
Rest in peace, John Hubbard Parson.
You have not been forgotten.
By Don McCollar
August 24, 2023
The Grant County Historical Society thanks Gary Carlberg of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War for conducting the Ceremony for Private John Parson. The special marker and flag he presented will be preserved in a display in the Veterans Hall at the Museum.
The article relies heavily on information in the obituaries of John Parson and his wife. John Parson appears to have been entered as Parsons upon enlistment, The Illinois Adjutant General Report shows a John W. Parsons enlisting, mustered into Company B of the 95th Illinois Infantry, being transferred to and being mustered out of Company B of the 47th Illinois Infantry. However, the date of his mustering in, the sequence of battles the 95th were involved in, his being transferred to the 47th, and the date of mustering out are consistent with the information in John Parson’s obituary. Find A Grave shows some Parsons are buried in the county where his father lived, so it may have been a clerical error at the time of enlistment.
The movements of John Parson after his mustering out are taken from the obituaries. There are some discrepancies between where the obituaries say he was living and the birthplaces of some of his children given in Find A Grave for these time periods. This has not been resolved. It may be that his wife traveled to stay with relatives during her later pregnancy, or that the memory of the times of residence are incorrect.
The obituaries note that John Parson was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic post in Windom during the time he farmed near there. There was a GAR post in Windom at that time, but I have been unable to locate any information about the names of the members.
Jordan, Daniel W. III. Operational Art and the Campaigns for Mobile, 1864–65: A Staff Ride Handbook. Combat Studies Institute Press, 2019.
Journal of Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Encampment of The Department of Minnesota Grand Army of the Republic, Fords Music Hall, February 27th and 28th, 1895, Co-operative Printing Company, 1895.
Vance, G.W., Brigadier General, Adj. Gen., Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Volume III, 1861-1866. H.W. Bokker, State Publisher and Binder, 1866. p 441.
Wood, Wales W. A History of the Ninety-Fifth Regiment, Illinois Infantry Volunteers (1862-1865), Tribune Company’s Book and Job Printing Office, Chicago, IL 1865. p 219.
95th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Wikipedia. Accessed July 2023.
47th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Wikipedia. Accessed July 2023
Grand Army of the Republic, Wikipedia. Accessed July 2023.
Sources available at the Grant County Historical Society Museum:
Grant County Historical Society. The Heritage of Grant County Minnesota, 1991.
Goetzinger, Bill. Elbow Lake, The First Hundred Years, 1987.
Parsons Celebrate 67th Anniversary of Wedding” Grant County Herald Vol. LVI, Issue 17. June 21, 1934. p 1.
“Rites Today for the Last Civil War Veteran”. Grant County Herald Vol. LVII, No. 36, November 7, 1935. p 1.
“Last G.A.R. Veteran is Buried Here.” Grant County Herald Vol. LVII, No. 37, November 14, 1935. p 1.
Mrs. John Parson obituary. Grant County Herald Vol. LIX, No. 4, March 25, 1937. p 1.
“Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Last Union Soldier Ceremony for Private John Parson.” Grant County Herald Vol. 144, Issue 26, June 28, 2023, p A2.