Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson Papers, 1862-1865

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, December 2009

Summary Information
Title: Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson papers
Creator: Johnson, Orson D., ca. 1831-1869 and Johnson, Mary L., 1835-1913
Inclusive dates: 1862-1865
Extent: 35 items
The Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson papers contain letters of Civil War soldier Orson Johnson to his wife from August 29-December 28, 1862, during his service in the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteers and during his stay in a military hospital.
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:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1995. M-3179.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized chronologically with undated and miscellaneous items in the back.


Johnson, Orson D.

Regiment :22nd Wisconsin Volunteers, Co. D

Orson Johnson, born in New York ca. 1831, was a member of the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteers, Co. D, which moved around to various camps: Racine, Wisconsin (August 1862); Cincinnati, Ohio (September 1862); Camp Bloodgood (October 1862); Williamstown, Kentucky (October 1862); Lexington, Kentucky (November 1862); and Nicholasville, Kentucky (December 1862). As a part of the Army of the Cumberland, this regiment likely fought in the Battle of Stone River. Johnson was discharged in early 1863, after being wounded in battle. Just before the war, Johnson lived as a farmer in Delavan, Wisconsin, with his wife, Mary L. (Cullen) Johnson, and young children Harry and Nettie. They married by 1854. Orson D. Johnson died on February 8, 1869.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson papers (35 items) contain 27 letters between Orson Johnson and his wife Mary from August 29-December 28, 1862, while he served in the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteers. Also included are 4 items from other family members and another Wisconsin Infantry service member, a photograph of Mary Johnson, and 2 poems clipped from a newspaper.

The letters between the Johnsons are tender, though Orson often complains of not receiving enough letters from his wife. Mary's letters provide a view of the hardships of trying to care for two children as a single mother living in Wisconsin. Orson tries to offer advice on how to manage the household and finances and is sympathetic to her difficulties. The letters offer little information related to military activities but reveal the mental and physical toll the war is taking on the family. In Orson's later letters, he discussed getting wounded, hospitalized, and discharged in early 1863 because of a disability. Orson first mentioned his time in a military hospital in November 23, 1862, and a friend wrote a letter for Orson on December 8, 1862, because he was not well enough to compose it himself. By December 18th he was well enough to write again but was discharged soon after.

This collection also holds one letter from Maria H. Stone to her brother, Orson D. Johnson and an item from H.L. Stone and O.D. Johnson to their "Dear Uncle." The final two dated letters are from privates in Co. G of the 43rd Wisconsin Infantry, one of them signed William L. Shumway, both addressed to siblings (1865). The last dated letter concerns some thoughts on Lincoln’s recent death and the end of the war (April 28, 1865). Both the 22nd Regiment, of which Orson was a member, and the 43rd Regiment were in the Army of the Cumberland at the time that these letters were written, though in different brigades. It appears that both of these regiments were involved in the defense of Nashville and the surrounding area in early 1865, making it possible that the soldiers' paths crossed.

This collection also contains a photograph of a Mary L. Johnson and two poems entitled The Wife of the Volunteers andThe American Girl , both clipped from newspapers.

The collection contains two illustrations. The letter from September 18, 1862, has a blue patriotic "head quarters" stamp depicting an eagle, a flag, and bayonets. The letter from October 7, 1862, has a large patriotic engraving for the letterhead depicting an angel with a sword leading the charge of a company of Union men, with a small Confederate flag in the distance.

Subject Terms

    • Patriotism--United States--Pictorial works.
    • Single mothers--United States.
    • Soldiers--Wisconsin--Correspondence.
    • United States. Army. Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, 22nd (1862-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Social aspects.
    • Shumway, William L.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   86, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Orson D. and Mary L. Johnson papers [series]
    Folder   12  
     August 29-November 4, 1862
    Folder   13  
     November 7-November 23, 1862
    Folder   14  
     November 25-December 11, 1862
    Folder   15  
     December 14, 1862-April 28, 1865
    Folder   16  
     Undated and Miscellaneous
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Within the Schoff Civil War collection are 3 letters of John Siperly, who was also in the 22nd Wisconsin volunteers