Nearly every American who has studied history is aware of the infamous Washington Crossing the Delaware painting, depicting George Washington sailing over the Delaware River in 1776. Similarly, the Harvest of Death photograph of the American Civil War is a haunting touchstone. Morbidly fascinating, the picture depicts Union and Confederate soldiers lying dead and bloated on the Gettysburg battlefield. When we think of these images, we usually file them away in separate compartments of the brain. They were taken in separate centuries, after all, with 16 presidents and almost 100 years between them. Yet, to nine extraordinarily long-lived men, these photographs make up the bookends of their lifetime.
Congregational minister and amateur historian Rev. Elias Hillard set out on what was truly a last-chance mission. In 1864, he decided to assemble records of the Revolutionary War, gathering the records of the veterans who. had been there.
Incredibly, Hillard found six veterans of the Revolutionary War who were alive 83 years after the end of the War of Independence. All of them were over 100 years old. His mission became desperate. When asked about his motivations, Hillard said: “Our own are the last eyes that will look on men who looked on Washington; our ears the last that will hear the living voices of those who heard his words.”
The names of the men he interviewed were Samuel Downing, Daniel Waldo, Lemuel Cook, Alexander Milliner, William Hutchings, and Adam Link.
Lemuel Cook, then 105, reported being present at the Brandywine and the surrender of British Lord Cornwallis to General Washington in 1781, where he recalled Washington telling his men not to laugh at the British, saying “it’s bad enough to have to surrender without being insulted.” Cook died at the age of 106 and was buried with full military honors.
Alexander Milliner enlisted as a drummer boy as he was too young to fight. He remembered Washington patting his head and the two sharing a drink out of his flask. Milliner cited the general as “a good man, a beautiful man. He was always pleasant; never changed countenance, but wore the same in defeat and retreat as in victory.” He was present at Saratoga.
Adam Link served three tours of duty in Pennsylvania; at 70 years of age, he built a farmhouse and lived there until his death.
Daniel Frederick Bakeman’s service in the War was not certifiable, however, Congress granted him a special act, which allowed him to receive a military pension for his alleged service.
Ostensibly, his death in April 1869 made him the last surviving veteran of the war (assuming his claim about fighting is true). Impressive also was his love life. At the age of 12, he married Susan Brewer, who was 14 years and six months old, on August 29, 1772. Their marriage, which lasted 91 years and 12 days, is the longest claimed on record and also the only marriage claimed to have exceeded 90 years.
Interviews with these men were published in Hillard’s book, The Last Men of the Revolution.