Photographs of veterans number in the thousands within the collections of the Library of Congress. We can see the faces of veterans of wars fought in foreign lands and in our own backyards. We have photographs of veterans who fought in wars in the last century – and the one before that – as well as men and women just returned from the scene of a conflict.
But what if we go even further back in American history – all way to the American Revolution? We know the faces of that war only through the hand of an artist, through oil paintings and engravings, right?
Not exactly. Though they were taken many decades after the Revolution, the Prints and Photographs Division does in fact have photographs of six men who fought for American independence from the British in the 18th century.
These were the Last Men of the Revolution:
Lemuel Cook (right), aged 105, reported he was present at the 1781 surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington, a pivotal moment in the Revolution. And Alexander Millener (bottom left in the above grid) recalled seeing Gen. Washington and his wife Martha while stationed at Valley Forge. The photographs were published in 1864, even as the U.S. was embroiled in another war – the American Civil War. Similar photographs as well as interviews with the men appeared in a book published by Rev. E. B. Hillard the same year. The personal accounts Hillard collected in the book are intriguing, of course, and add to the pages and pages written about the American Revolution. But there is also something powerful about having the photographs of six faces who actually saw those events unfold.
Hillard spoke of this idea in the introduction of his book:
“History lives only in the persons who created it. […] As we look upon their faces, as we learn the stories of their lives, it will live again before us, and we shall stand as witnesses of its great actions.” -Rev. E.B. Hillard, “The Last Men of the Revolution,” p. 24.
- Study the faces of the Last Men of the Revolution.
- Explore the American Revolution as it was depicted at the time and as later generations pictured it, including the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.
- See images related to American veterans in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- The Veterans History Project (VHP) of the Library of Congress collects and preserves images, interviews and papers of American war veterans from World War I through the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. If you are a veteran or know one, consider participating in the project. Explore the VHP online database.
As I recall, Cook was also the last known survivor of the Revolution on the American side.
What treasures. The amazing lives of common men.
Thanks SO much for this article. How amazing and special to see the faces of some who fought for America so long ago. Wow. I love this. Thanks for posting.
This collection is so amazing! I really appreciate the associated links. Amazing also how few images are from the South. But I do love all the info. Thanks!
What a stately group of men. I am always amazed at the longevity of people from past centuries. Great article!
Full text of the book is available here:
A Veteran that Hillard missed was James Barham 1764-1865
Photograph and memorial at
John Gray 1764-1868
Photograph and memorial at
Proud to say Lemuel Cook is my Great…..x5 I think….Grandpa!! I feel so fortunate to have a family member with such documentation. I almost feel like I know him because of all the interviews and articles about him.
Remembering these veterans on the 240th anniversary of the first day of the Revolutionary War.
My 5X Great Grandfather was John Gray (1764-1868) and he was the Last Verified Veteran of the American Revolutionary War. He was confirmed and awarded a Pension by H.B. 1044 passed by Congress Feb. 22, 1866. Bakeman and Fruits were unable to confirm their military service. Cook died in 1866 and Downing in 1867.
it was fitting that I woke up today after reading portions of the book Killing England trying to think whether there were any men alive during the Civil War who had fought in the revolution only to come across this article very fascinatingon the eve of Veterans Day 2017
it was fitting that I woke up today after reading portions of the book Killing England trying to think whether there were any men alive during the Civil War who had fought in the revolution only to come across this article very fascinating on the eve of Veterans Day 2017
Just came across this today – had no knowledge of its existence prior to this. Thank you. I will definitely go deeper.