“Last Veteran of Civil War in County Dies,” a front page headline from the Thursday, June 20, 1940, edition of The Hillsboro Journal announced just over 80 years ago.
Under a similar headline in a newspaper with the same date, the Montgomery County News story began, “John Montgomery Woods, 91, of Butler, the last surviving Civil War veteran of this county, died this morning at 7:35 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Osborn in Butler, where he made his home, following a brief illness.”
Born on a farm in Knoxville on Aug. 15, 1848, Woods enlisted on May 14, 1864, in Company E of the 138th Illinois Infantry. Although one local newspaper said he was 16 and the other said 17, Woods was actually just 15 years old when he entered wartime military service.
Although his service was short-lived, it was eventful. According to military records, the 138th was mustered into service on June 21, 1864, under Col. J.W. Goodwin. Five days later, the regiment was directed to Fort Leavenworth, KS, and report to Major Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, for whom Woods served as an orderly, according to his obituary.
According to the unit’s military history, western Missouri counties were “over-run and in possession of bands of guerillas and bushwhackers,” and during the months of July, August and part of September the 138th was in active service, “scarcely a day passing without a conflict with some of the horde of desperadoes infesting that community.”
Later that fall at the expiration of their term of service, the regiment returned to Camp Butler near Springfield for muster out.
However, “at this time General (Sterling) Price, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Army, invaded the State of Missouri from the southeast,” according to military history. It continues, “This regiment voluntarily extended its term of service, and by direction of the Secretary of War, proceeded to St. Louis and there reported to General Rosencrans for duty.”
It concludes, “After General Price and his army were driven from the state, this regiment again returned to Camp Butler and was mustered out of the United States service on the 14th day of October.”
After the war, Woods married Marie Fuqua in Knoxville on Dec. 21, 1869, and moved to Butler in 1906. His wife died in 1931, and at the time of his death in 1940, Woods was also preceded in death by all three of his children. One of his five grandchildren, John Scott Woods, lived in Butler throughout the 1940s before moving to Taylorville.
The last county Civil War veteran was a member of Butler Presbyterian Church, the Masonic Lodge, and the Grand Army of the Republic. He was frequently an honored guest at Memorial Day services, held in those days at Oak Grove Cemetery.
The veteran’s final resting places is at Ware’s Grove Cemetery.