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Last of the Blue and Gray Hardcover – 28 Nov 2013

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Missing Editor 27 Oct. 2013
By An Arizona reader - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I greatly anticipated this book and was somewhat disappointed. President Taft's military aide at the first veteran reunion is reported to have gone down on the " USS Titanic ". Where was the editor? Gaffes don't get better than that. More importantly there is no original research. The book extensively quotes newspaper and magazine stories and never really nails its conclusion. To be fair, it does provide an interesting survey of post Civil War commemorations and for that reason probably belongs in every true Civil War buff's library.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
By STRONGBOW - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I gave Mr. Serrano's book 1 star for sloppy research including his failure to use primary source material or dig even just a little to back up his conclusions. Some of the most elementary errors found early on in the book include his assertion that Pickett's Charge took place in the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg, when the fight at the Peach Orchard occurred the previous day. And his assertion that the town of Gettysburg lies between Baltimore and Harrisburg, when in fact it lies almost midway between Frederick Maryland and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Serrano then recounts the tale of one Henry Dorman, a veteran of the 7th Michigan Cavalry, but then implies that Dorman must have been an imposter because although a Henry Dorman is found in "Union records" (no sources cited), Dorman could not have fought at Gettysburg or near Richmond at the close of the war as he claimed, since the 7th Michigan was a "western" regiment, and by Serrano's naive' reasoning, a "western regiment" would never have fought in the eastern theater of war. Indeed the 7th Michigan Cavalry was a western regiment-- it was part of the famous Michigan Cavalry Brigade under the command of General George Custer that not only fought at Gettysburg but there scored a major victory against General J.E.B. Stuart's numerically superior Confederate cavalry on 3 July-- the final day of the three-day battle of Gettysburg. And the 7th Michigan fought in virtually every campaign of the Union Army of the Potomac all the way to Sailor's Creek, Virginia where, as part of General Phil Sheridan's forces, it helped to trap Lee's exhausted army and compelled the latter's unconditional surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. Unfortunately, such elementary errors are symptomatic of a similar modus operandi favored by sensationalist journalists who play fast and loose with facts to crank out what passes for journalism these days-- particularly at the Los Angeles Times, where Serrano is employed. What is particularly egregious is that according to his biographic profile, Serrano is based in Washington D.C., only an hour away from Gettysburg National Battlefield; a short drive and a $25 guided tour by one of the professional historian tour guides employed there would have been time well spent in preparing this narrative which is badly flawed. Having discovered myriad such errors rather early in this book, it calls into question the author's entire thesis and undermines every assertion that follows. And makes one want to deposit this book in the Goodwill bin before bothering to read further. If you wish to read accurate Civil War history there are professionally trained military historians who write books that are both thoroughly researched and footnoted-- and professionally edited. The biggest surprise of all, perhaps, is that Smithsonian Books actually published this stinker.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The 100th Anniversary and the last of the Veterans 30 Dec. 2013
By James D. Crabtree - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When the 100th commemoration of the Civil War approached there were a remarkable number of veterans in blue and gray still alive. This book attempts to unravel the stories and records of the remaining men and the way in which the 100th anniversary was observed by the nation.

Unfortunately, Serrano's work suffers from mistakes and errors which detract from the story. He mentions the Titanic as an aside... the "USS Titanic." His discussion of units involved in the Civil War makes it clear that his understanding of the war itself and how the various theaters fought is superficial. In discussing "records" of the various veterans involved he makes it sound as if each soldier who fought in the war (north or south) had a file folder somewhere recounting what he did. This is an application of modern military practices to a time when records were kept by hand and in regimental books, assuming they were even properly kept. The war saw soldiers enlist as companies, later joined together in regiments. Pensions were later based on were long lists of men, not individual records. It seems clear that Serrano's assumptions about veterans are not based on first-hand research but on contemporary research done in the 1950s.

There was little discussion about the Grand Army of the Republic or the UCV, The GAR, at least, did some soul-searching to determine who should be considered a Union veteran. The way Federal and state governments officially recognized veterans and provided them pensions should have been discussed as well.

This book could have been much better. Still, it does have some insights into what happened in the 1950s. Obviously, the "stolen valor" problem was not limited solely to Vietnam. Less obviously, especially in the pages of this book, stolen valor probably had a hand in how Civil War vets were portrayed in pop culture.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Three and a half stars... 17 Nov. 2013
By Cynthia K. Robertson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery That Outlived the Civil War by Richard A. Serrano was a book that was very interesting in parts, and not so engaging in others. Overall, I rate it 3-1/2 stars.

When the US government started planning for the 100th Anniversary of the Civil War, there were only a handful Civil War veterans still alive. Some of those were pretenders,
"imposters who sought to steal a piece of fame, a pension check, and their own corner of history." Finally, the list was whittled down to two veterans. Albert Woolson of Duluth, MN joined 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment in 1864 as a drummer. Walter Williams of Texas was a Confederate forage master for Hood's Brigade. Both men were treated as rock stars, but it turns out that only one of these men was really in the Civil War. While this section was interesting, their last years were tedious as they suffered from various maladies and their lives were drawn out.

The parts of Last of the Blue and Gray that I found really fascinating were those that dealt with the various ways that the United States commemorated the different anniversaries of the Civil War. It seems as if the Civil War was still being fought years after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. For the 50th Anniversary, "Three days before the Jubilee, the Grand Army of the Republic's chapter in Brooklyn, New York, adopted a resolution of protest and sent it to the White House. They asked President Taft to refuse to appear if the Confederate battle flag, the old Stars and Bars, were unfurled and flown there.." They felt that this would be the perfect time to bury the Confederate flag forever. The 100th Anniversary was even more acrimonious. Events were planned in Charleston, SC to commemorate Fort Sumter. Many of these events were being held at the Francis Marion Hotel, which did not accommodate blacks at the time. President Kennedy finally stepped in and moved most of the proceedings to the Charleston Navy Yard. But southerners still staged a Confederate celebration at the Francis Marion Hotel. "They covered the dais with Confederate flags. [Senator Strom] Thurmond told the all-white delegates that integration was a communist plot to weaken America. `It is the surest method for the destruction of free governments, ` he warned." It is interesting to compare our past anniversaries of the Civil War to the 150th going on at this time.

For a Civil War fanatic, you won't want to miss this book. For those with just a superficial interest, I'd take a pass.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This contains at least one spoiler, but not much of one. Read at own risk. 2 1/2 stars 23 Dec. 2013
By Walt - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I’m fascinated by stories about liars, stolen valor and fakes. Having researched many of the last soldiers for the state of Missouri and particularly our own Union faker, Henry Roe of Desoto, MO., I just had to buy this book.
The stories Serrano presents are mainly the biographies of the last soldier Union soldier, Albert Woolson, who passed away in 1956, and the last Confederate faker, Walter Williams. [I don’t consider saying this as a spoiler. Just like knowing who committed a murder on an episode of Columbo, the story is in the fact he was a fake and how the public responded to him.] It is a good, interesting read particularly for the two biographies, but lacks sorely in original research and documentation. Serrano seems to rely chiefly on William Marvel, who exposed many of the Confederate fakes and who said that there was a lot of proof Williams was not in the Civil War and none that he was. Serrano also mentions the 1860 census of the Williams family showing that Walter was “too small for kindergarten…,” Disappointedly, he limits documentation for other Confederate fakes as well. He tells the tales of John Sallings, William Bush and Jesse James fake, J. Frank Dalton, but an undertaking such as this requires genealogical style documentation and this book doesn’t provide that.
For other old true soldiers and fakes, he could have written more. “General” William Bush may have been the biggest abuser of the fame associated with his claim and more of his escapades might have been worthy of a few chuckles. The story of the last truly verified Confederate, Pleasant Crump barely receives two pages. Crump died December 31, 1951.
Where the book lost me is in the multiple pages Serrano uses to discuss the Civil War Centennial Commission and Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant III. While the Civil War Centennial is an interesting story (see Robert J. Cook’s 2011 book, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965), he wastes a number of pages he could have used expanding the stories of various fakers by instead talking about some of the issues involved in the centennial and how the commission failed to heal the wounds of the north, south and African-Americans. The problems with the Commission’s attempts at organizing centennial celebrations are not part of the story. However, the celebrations and honors bestowed on Williams as the centennial neared are, because this is his joke played itself out on the unsuspecting public.
Serrano is definitely kinder than I would be toward stolen valor. He quotes Mark Twain “…but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so that I cannot remember anything but [what did not happen].” Many of these men started their lies in the 1930s when few were alive to challenge their stories and politicians were willing to waive some of the rules to give them pensions. That’s what Henry Roe of Missouri did. He got a soldier’s pension for being “Abe Lincoln’s personal spy” by whining to the governor. He also got his fame in Life magazine and almost got to tell his story on a radio show in New York. He died right after rehearsal at age 101. Or was it 89? He did, after all, seem young for his age.
I can give the book 2 ½ stars. If you don’t know Woolson’s or Williams’ stories it is a good biography that you should be able to finish in a day or two. If you know their stories and desire newer, fresher, more original research about them and the others, then avoid the book.
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