Henry J. Johnson papers  1862-1865
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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.