A fairly large number of American Civil War veterans lived into the 20th Century, with a small percentage still alive during World War II. My father, born in 1914, clearly remembered a number of aged ACW vets who lived near the Glouster, Ohio, farm where he was raised. He used to tell the story of an local vet named Huhn who used to fall asleep at the general store leaning back on his chair with his feet propped up by a potbelly stove. His own snoring would occasionally startle him, causing him to crash to the wooden floor. Dad used to chuckle at the memory of Private Huhn.
In 1907, tens of thousands of Civil War vets were aging, some gracefully, some not. Here is a snapshot at their world, a far cry from today. It shows how much society had progressed from the 1860s, yet how far away it was from today’s world. Here are some interesting stats from 1907, only 42 years after Appomattox Court House…
* The average life expectancy was only 47 years. Every ACW veteran alive in 1907 had already beaten the odds by quite a bit.
* 14% of American houses had bathtubs installed in them. The telephone had been invented and 8% of homes had one. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11, a staggering sum for that day for this luxury only the rich could enjoy.
* There were 8,000 cars in the USA, and a number of veterans enjoyed rides in “horseless carriages;” America boasted a whopping total of 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most towns was 10 mph.
* A number of ACW veterans had moved to sunny California, which in 1907 had only 1.4 million people, making it the 21st most populous state in the Union.
* Some aging Civil War vets were still in the workforce. The average salary for an American worker was 22 cents a day, and most wage earners could expect between $200 and $400 in annual income. Some professions (as during the war and today) paid much more than others. The typical accountant could earn up to $2000 a year, a first class mechanical engineer often could garner $5,000 a year. Dentists earned about $2,500.
* By 1907, most Civil War veterans were grandfathers; some were great-grandfathers. 95% of all births still occurred at home, a far cry from today. Only 6% of Americans had graduated high school.
* In some cases where inflation during the Civil War was rampant due to an imbalanced supply-demand curve, prices were actually lower for the veteran warriors in 1907. Sugar was 4 cents a pound, eggs 14 cents a dozen, and coffee 15 cents a pound.
* The five leading causes of death in the USA in 1907 were pneumonia / influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea / dysentery, heart disease, and stroke. Pension records of ACW soldiers from the period are rife with these common causes of their demise.
* The American flag boasted 45 stars; only Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii had yet to enter the reunited Union. In the sparsely populated state of Nevada, a total of 30 people in 1907 lived in the tiny hamlet of Las Vegas. Elvis was no where to be found, nor was Wayne Newton or Penn and Teller.
* The tallest building in the world in 1907 was the Eiffel Tower; very few veterans had seen it.
* Some Civil War generals were still alive in 1907 and even during the couple of decades that followed, and there are still a few elderly people alive in 2007 who distinctly remember speaking to them or meeting them. The last general to die, IIRC, was John W. Geary while FDR was President in the early 1930s.
One can only wonder what the next 100 years will bring? One thing is for sure – scholars and ACW buffs in 2107 will still be debating Dan Sickles’s merits as a field commander!