John Johnson was born in Toten Christiana (Oslo) Norway on March 25, 1842. He came to the United States “with his parents when quite a young lad, settling in Wisconsin.” Johnson, who was 5 feet 4 ½ inches tall with fair skin, blue eyes and light brown hair, was working on a farm near Janesville, Rock County, Wisconsin when he enlisted as a private in Company D, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment on April 20, 1861, at the age of nineteen. In November 1861 he was detached from the 2nd Wisconsin to serve with Light Battery B, 4th United States Artillery, remaining with the battery until he was mustered out of the service due to disability on April 10, 1863.
Johnson noted “I was in eleven battles of the Army of the Potomac beginning at Blackburn’s Ford and ending at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, where I lost my right arm at the shoulder. The Medal of Honor was given me, on August 28, 1893, on the recommendation to the Secretary of War by Major James Stewart, U. S. A., retired, for distinguished bravery, coolness in action, soldierly conduct, and conspicuous gallantry at the battle of Antietam, Md., September 17, 1862 and Fredericksburg, Va., December 13, 1862, while serving under Stewart’s personal command and in the same section with Lieutenant (William P.) Hogarty.”
At Antietam Johnson “was a cannoneer in Lieutenant Stewart’s section during the whole time the section and battery was engaged.” Stewart’s section had gone into battery near some stacked straw on the west side of the Hagerstown Pike in support of Brig. Gen. John Gibbon’s Iron Brigade. “In less than ten minutes fourteen med were killed and wounded.” Soon afterwards the other four guns of the battery were brought up to support Stewart’s section. The fighting, at close quarters, was intense and deadly. “Several attempts were made by the enemy to capture the guns and at one time they were within fifteen or twenty yards”. Johnson noted “we were firing double canister…I filled every position on the gun including gunner…cannoneers had been killed and wounded so rapidly that those remaining had to fill their place.” The loss at this position included 40 of 100 cannoneers killed or wounded, twenty-six horses killed and seven wounded.
At Fredericksburg Johnson noted “I was a cannoneer and filled two or three places on the guns of cannoneers who had been killed or wounded. While in the act of carrying two case-shots to the gun I was wounded by a piece of shell which carried away my right arm at the shoulder blade.” The same shell killed two other men instantly and wounded several others.” Augustus Buell wrote in The Cannoneer, “the cavity of the body was exposed and the tissue of the lung plainly visible through the hole. Johnson’s recovery was miraculous, and the way he stood up under this terrible wound caused his name to be cherished by his comrades in the battery as an example of “grit” and “nerve”.”
John Johnson was carried to a field hospital in a brick house near the Fredericksburg battlefield. He was later transferred to Lincoln Hospital in Washington D.C., several days before Christmas. He was discharged from the hospital on April 10, 1863. After being discharged from the army for disability Johnson went to Rochester, Minnesota for a time but finally moved to Washington D.C., where he got a job as a clerk with the Treasury Department. On August 17, 1868 Johnson married Mary Cline. The Johnsons would have eight children, two sons and six daughters. John Johnson died on April 3, 1907 at the age of sixty-five at his home in Washington D. C. Johnson, who was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Elks, Association of Old Inhabitants, Royal Arcanum and the Old Guard, was laid to rest at Rock Creek Cemetery on April 6, 1907.
Beyer, Walter F. and Keydel, Oscar F. Deeds of Valor. Detroit, The Perrien-Keydel Company, 1901
Buell, Augustus. The Cannoneer. Washington, D.C., The National Tribune, 1890.
Jones, J.W. The Story of American Heroism. Springfield, 1897.
Rolston, Les. Home of the Brave. Litchfield, Revival Waves of Glory Books & Publishing, 2015.
Funeral John Johnson, Washington Post, Washington D.C. April 7, 1907.
1880 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
1900 United States Federal Census. Ancestry.com.
Washington, D.C., U. S., Marriage Records, 1810-1953, Ancestry.com
This is the fifteenth essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides and what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Sharon Murray shares her story this month.
Over forty years ago while lying flat on my back in bed trying to recover from a ruptured disc, I read Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy. I was intrigued by his writings. At the time I was studying history and political science at the University of Idaho. After completing a BA and an MA in history it was time to earn a degree where I could make a living therefore, one day, I walked down the hill to the College of Mines and Earth Resources and enrolled in their master’s program in Mining Engineering. Four years later I had another diploma and job potential. I worked underground in a deep lead, zinc and silver mine in the Silver Valley, at a surface mine near the Frank Church Wilderness in Central Idaho and then spent almost 20 years working in Mineral Leasing and Mined Land Reclamation with the Idaho Department of Lands. All the while I never lost my love for or interest in history. Continue reading →