Book Review: The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs by Don N. Hagist (Westholme Publishing, 2015).
In 1864, The Last Men of the Revolution was written by Elias Hillard. It purported to be not only the stories of these ancient warriors from the American Revolution but also included their photographs. Hillard and his photographer had visited these men, photographed them and taken down whatever the men had told them. It is a remarkable book.
When I saw a copy of the old book I stared into the eyes of the veterans and considered that through those eyes were seen historic combat. Perhaps, even glimpses of legendary officers. When I turned to the text I soon became disenchanted as the history was improbable or even clearly erroneous. After the passage of so many years, and so many retellings of the tales the facts had gotten blurred and obscured. Hillard made no effort to reconcile obvious inconsistencies.
Don Hagist has brought about a miracle of sorts. He has taken the 1864 volume and has dug deep into the military careers of the Last Men. This is not a cursory look here and there for information but rather a concerted and expertly conducted investigation in a wide range of primary sources. The result is utterly fascinating. The Last Men are revealed in detail that would astound them.
An added benefit is that the narrative of the true experiences of the old soldiers takes the reader into areas and aspects of military life that may be unfamiliar territory. Therefore, besides learning about these specific individuals we also come away learning a great deal more about the life of soldiers in general than we would have expected.
To the great credit of the publisher the extensive footnotes are where they belong, at the bottom of the page. They are a must read. Not only is there valuable additional information but the sources themselves are fascinating. As one reads the footnotes one must respect and admire Hagist’s research skills.
Additionally, the book contains the pension applications of the old veterans as well as the narrative presented in the 1864 volume.
A very unusual set of drawings have been created especially for this volume by historian and artist Eric H. Schnitzer depicting what the Last Men may have looked like in their youth dressed and accoutered properly for the period.
This book is unique. I highly recommend it. And, don’t forget you can look into the eyes of the Last Men.
NOTE: This book, authored by an editor of Journal of the American Revolution, was purchased and reviewed by another editor of Journal of the American Revolution with a full commitment to impartiality.