“The oldest alleged that he was 112 years old.”
This almost throwaway line in the official medical report on the Great Reunion from Lt. Colonel A.E. Bradley, the U.S. Army’s Chief Surgeon who was in charge of the medical facilities during the encampment, followed Bradley noting that the youngest attending veteran was 61 years old…very likely a drummer boy from one side or the other. The references to the age ranges (or claimed age ranges) of the attendees were in Bradley’s report that noted the extremely low casualty count during the encampment despite the horrendous heat and humidity, especially during the first two days.
A century later, Colonel Bradley’s reference to the 112-year old veteran may be taken as purely anecdotal and, in fact, doubtful in the absence of any “proof” of that man’s age. However, Bradley’s report that was contained in the official report from the Pennsylvania Commission was not the only reference to this claim.
On July 2nd, 1913, the front page of the Gettysburg Times contained one story after another about the Great Reunion. One of those stories, in the next-to-rightmost column of Page 1, was entitled “Boys in Blue” (including the quotation marks) with the subtitle of Two Veterans Each Claiming to be Over 100 Years of Age. The first paragraph of the story read as follows:
“Macagan Ware, of Beaver Brook, N.J., a veteran of the Civil War and claiming to be 112 scant years old, is in Gettysburg. Mr. Ware, despite his years, is active and vivacious and is not sensitive about his age. He is, as a matter of fact, 111 years, 9 months and some days old, but for the sake of convenience he just calls himself 112 and lets it go at that.”
The second paragraph notes that Mr. Ware was accompanied by his much-younger wife of 75 years of age, who “is just as anxious as he to see where the big fight took place half a century ago, when she was a young woman of twenty-five.”
Note that the article does use the word “claiming” with regards to Macagan Ware’s age, and the truth is that a century ago – just as now – there is probably no way to verify the old man’s claim. But let’s assume that Mr. Ware wasn’t mistaken or, ahem, stretching the truth with regards to his age. Being 111 years, 9 months of age on July 2, 1913 would mean that he had been born sometime around October, 1801. Yes, you read that correctly: 1801, only a short while after the turn of that century. And that would mean that beyond the Civil War, Macagan Ware had been alive when:
– The first Barbary War from 1801 through 1805 (the famous “to the shores of Tripoli” war)
– Thomas Jefferson executed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803
– The War of 1812 was fought
– Jefferson and John Adams passed away on the same day, the nation’s fiftieth birthday on July 4, 1826
And if he lived another year, his claimed lifespan would have gone all the way from the Barbary War to the outbreak of World War I.
Very likely, we will never know for certain if Macagan Ware’s claim to be nearly 112 years old at the time of the Great Reunion was true. But in doing my research I did come across the “primary source” for the claim: the Gettysburg Times article on July 2, 1913. And it’s an interesting story to contemplate, even without verifiable proof.