Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Henry J. Johnson Papers, 1862-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, March 1997

Summary Information
Title: Henry J. Johnson papers
Creator: Johnson, Henry J.
Inclusive dates: 1862-1865
Extent: 52 letters and 3 documents
Abstract:
Henry J. Johnson was a proponent of the secession of West Virginia from Virginia. Johnson acted on his principals in the fall of 1861, enlisting for duty as a corporal in the federal 1st (West) Virginia Infantry. The Johnson papers consist of 52 letters written by Johnson to his sister, Clara, and three documents relating to Johnson's career in the 1st West Virginia Infantry.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

M-1687.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Henry J. Johnson Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Johnson, Henry J.

Rank : Corporal; Sergeant-Major (1862 January 24), 1st Lieutenant, Adjutant

Regiment : 1st West Virginia Infantry Regiment. Co. G (1861-1864)

Service : 1861 October 30-1865

A resident of Wellsburg, an Ohio River town in the far northern tip of the panhandle of West Virginia, Henry Johnson did not equivocate in his opposition to secession, even if he did not personally feel the moral weight of slavery. A proponent of the secession of West Virginia from Virginia, Johnson acted on his principals in the fall of 1861, enlisting for duty as a corporal in the federal 1st (West) Virginia Infantry.

The 1st West Virginia Infantry served for almost its entire enlistment on the western and northern flanks of the Shenandoah Valley. After taking part in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862, they were ordered to the outskirts of Washington in June, 1862, before returning to more familiar ground at the head of the Shenandoah in October. In Johnson's eyes, the atmosphere in the camp of the 1st Infantry was relatively confident and calm, pressed on occasion by guerrillas or heated up by the sectional and political tension in the community at home. The regiment itself was not immune from political division, though the men had apparently all had a choice whether to enlist in the federal cause, and although it appears that all knew of friends or relatives who served as soldiers for the Confederacy. Johnson was particularly critical of soldiers in his regiment who refused to support a Union ticket, writing "Some men in the army, let them be there ever so long, do not lose a natural sense of low-dealing and bad faith with which unfortunately they may be possessed. Others again are so low that they can be bought and sold for a trifle" (1863 April 8). At the same time that he was lashing out at "secessionists" at home and in the army, Johnson was advising his father and brother not to enlist, apparently feeling that since both he and another brother, Ike, were in the service, the family had met their obligations.

During the fall and winter of 1862-63, Johnson occupied much of his time in consorting whenever possible with local women. A self-styled ladies' man, he was impressed by the resourcefulness of some women in maintaining their loyalty in the face of great hardship. In North Mountain, for example, he met a family flying a Union flag that the women had hidden from Confederate forces by tying it into a bustle and wearing it, while the soldiers searched the house (1863 January 14).

In July, 1863, Johnson's regiment was ordered out of their mountain camp to Williamsport Md., in an attempt to cut off Lee's escape after Gettysburg. Instead of the active Army of Northern Virginia, however, the regiment discovered two to three hundred of the most severely wounded Confederate soldiers littering the roadside. "They were ragged and filthy," he wrote, "and, be it spoken with shame to their cause, were almost entirely without attendance until the arrival of our forces, the hated Yankees. I have seen many hard sights since I joined the army, but none more so than those at Williamsport day before yesterday. May God prevent me from seeing any more such. It almost unfits a man for his duty" (1863 July 16). One year later, Johnson himself was hospitalized at Grafton, apparently wounded in the arm, remaining under medical care from April through July.

The 1st Virginia mustered out of the service in November, 1864, but it appears that Johnson reenlisted, accepting a Lieutenant's commission in the 2nd West Virginia Veteran Infantry.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Johnson papers consist of 52 letters written by Henry J. Johnson to his sister, Clara, and three documents relating to Henry's career in the 1st West Virginia Infantry. The letters, particularly the first few, contain useful reports of minor military incidents, but by and large, the correspondence contains little information on actual battles or campaigns. Johnson writes frequently of his acquaintances, both civilian and soldier, and these comments create an interesting impression of life in his hometown, Wellsburg, West Virginia, and in the West Virginia and Maryland countryside around the head of the Shenandoah Valley.

Of particular interest in the collection are Johnson's comments on the efforts of western Virginia to remain within the Union and separate from its Confederate origins. His own hometown was so severely divided that many people took a malicious pleasure in the misfortunes of neighbors who had joined the "enemy." Johnson himself was a Union man through-and-through, yet an outspoken opponent of the anti-slavery movement and of firebrands like the "infernal abolitionist" Owen Lovejoy.

For military history, Johnson's account of the abortive effort to cut off Lee's escape from Pennsylvania after Gettysburg is intriguing for what it says about the toll exacted on the Army of Northern Virginia, and in another letter, he includes an interesting anecdote about a soldier's surprise visit to General Irwin McDowell's quarters.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Shenandoah River Valley (Va. and W. Va.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns.
    • Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807-1870.
    • United States. Army. West Virginia Infantry Regiment, 1st (1861-1864)
    • West Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, Female.
    • Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1862.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   7, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Henry J. Johnson papers,  1862 January 2-1865 June 29 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Bibliography

    Rawling, Charles J. History of the First Regiment, Virginia Infantry (Philadelphia, 1887)

    Subject Index
    Abolitionists.
    • 1862 June 30
    Absence without leave.
    • 1863 April 8
    Alexandria (Va.)--Description and travel.
    • 1862 June 30
    Civilians--Maryland--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 June 26
    • 1864 September 12
    Civilians--Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 January 14
    • 1863 March 4
    Civilians--West Virginia--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 April 22
    • 1863 August 23
    Cumberland (Md.)--Description and travel.
    • 1863 June 17
    Draft.
    • 1862 August 6
    Emancipation Proclamation.
    • 1863 January 14
    Flags.
    • 1863 January 14
    Funeral rites and ceremonies.
    • 1862 January 2
    Gettysburg Campaign, 1863.
    • 1863 July 16
    • 1863 July 26
    Grafton (W.Va.)--Description and travel.
    • 1864 June 7
    Guerrillas--West Virginia.
    • 1863 May 21
    Hooker, Joseph 1814-1879.
    • 1863 July 2
    Horses--Accidents.
    • 1863 July 26
    Hotels, taverns etc.--Maryland.
    • 1864 September 12
    Lander, Frederick West, 1821-1862.
    • 1862 January 2
    Lee, Robert E. (Robert Edward), 1807-1870.
    • 1863 July 16
    Lovejoy, Owen, 1811-1884.
    • 1862 June 30
    McDowell, Irwin 1815-1885.
    • 1862 August 6
    New Year.
    • 1862 January 2
    Patriotism.
    • 1862 January 2
    • 1863 July 26
    Petersburg (W.Va.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1863 September 5
    • 1863 September 20
    • 1863 November 21
    • 1863 November 30
    Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • 1864 November 3
    • 1864 November 13
    Sexual ethics.
    • 1863 March 4
    Soldiers--Recreation.
    • 1865 February 19
    Southern sympathizers--West Virginia.
    • 1862 March 6
    • 1863 March 14
    • 1863 April 8
    • 1863 May 21
    • 1863 August 23
    Strasburg (Va.), Skirmish at, 1863.
    • 1863 July 26
    Thoburn, Joseph, d. 1864.
    • 1863 May 21
    • 1864 November 3
    Union sympathizers--Virginia.
    • 1863 January 14
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • 1864 April 29
    • 1864 May 4
    • 1864 May 19
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
    • 1863 July 16
    • 1864 April 29
    • 1864 May 4
    • 1864 May 19
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Songs and music.
    • 1862 June 3
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.
    • 1862 January 2
    • 1863 January 14
    • 1863 March 4
    • 1863 April 22
    • 1863 June 26
    United States. Army--Chaplains.
    • 1863 March 14
    United States. Army--Enlistment.
    • 1862 August 18
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1862 June 30
    • 1863 April 8
    • 1863 May 21
    United States. Army--Uniforms.
    • 1862 June 20-25
    Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction.
    • 1863 January 14
    Washington (D.C.)--Description and travel.
    • 1862 June 30
    • 1862 October 11
    West Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • passim
    West Virginia--Politics and government--1861-1865.
    • 1862 January 2
    • 1863 March 14
    • 1863 April 8
    • 1863 April 15
    • 1863 August 23
    Women--West Virginia.
    • 1863 August 23