1863-64: Alfred Homer Johnson to Handy W. Johnson

These letters were written by Alfred Homer Johnson (1842-1866) the son of Handy William Johnson (1816-1914) and Francis Matilda McKneeley (1824-1898) of Griffin, Spalding county, Georgia. During the Civil War, Alfred’s father—advanced in years—served in the 2nd Georgia Reserves but offered up his four oldest sons to serve in the Confederate army.

I could not find an image of Alfred but here is one of an unidentified Georgia infantryman (LOC)

According to Confederate military records, Alfred enlisted for one year in Co. C, 39th Georgia Infantry, on 25 September 1861 and was elected 2nd Corporal. By May 1862, Alfred had reenlisted for the duration of the war as a private in Co. F, 30th Georgia Infantry. That summer and fall he was detailed as an ambulance driver. There are no other details in Alfred’s records until he is identified as being one of the wounded in the fighting at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, on or about 27 June 1864.

Alfred served in the 30th Georgia with two brothers, both of whom are mentioned in these letters. His older brother, James Archibald Johnson (1841-1864), was wounded in the fighting at Jackson, Mississippi, on 16 July 1863 after the surrender of Vicksburg. He died of his wounds over a year later, on 7 September 1864. His younger brother William Gilben (“Gip” or “Dill”) Johnson (1845-1920) survived the war. Though Alfred survived the war, he may have died prematurely in 1866 as a result of his wounds received in front of Atlanta.

In the fourth letter, Alfred mentions the death of his younger brother, O. Sidney Johnson who had entered the 3rd Regiment Georgia Reserves as a private in Co. K. in April 1864. His age was not given in his military record but he was enumerated in the June 1860 US Census as a 12 year-old in his father’s household so he was probably only 16 in April 1864. A month later, in late May 1864, perhaps just having turned 17, Sidney enlisted in Co. F, 30th Georgia, to serve with his older brothers. His descriptive list described him as standing 5′ 9″ tall, with light hair, a fair complexion, and blue eyes. Sidney died the 30th of June 1864 in an Atlanta hospital.

See also—1862-64: James Archibald Johnson to Handy William Johnson

Descriptive List for O. S. (“Sidney”) Johnson. 17 year-old Sidney could not sign his name; only make his mark.

[Note: These letters are from the private collection of Josh Branham and are published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]

Letter 1

Johnson wrote his letter on 8 April 1863, the day after “The Great Fight at Charleston” of 7 April 1863 waged by nine ironclads under the command of Admiral Dupont and the Rebel forts in Charleston Harbor.

Camp Near Charleston [South Carolina]
April 8, 1863

Dear Father and Mother,

I seat myself to drop you all a few lines to let you know how we are getting along. We are well. I hant got any news to write—only we are here waiting for a fight. We are expecting to be ordered to the battlefield every hour. The Yankees has 9 ironclads inside of the bar now and 40 standing just below the bar now and 75 transports down in the river. That is the news we get out here. I don’t know how true it may be.

We left Gip at Savannah. He is well. We will go back to Savannah just as soon as the excitement is over here at Charleston. We are here beside the big road without our tents or anything to cook in. The only one good thing—we have nice weather, and I don’t mind it as long as we have fair weather.

Pap, Jim says to tell you to [paper creased] horse and raise him a colt. Pap, write how you are getting along with your crop and how all of the things are gettin along. I will close. I hant got anything to write. You all must write as soon as you get this letter and let me hear all the news of our home. Mother, direct your letter to Charleston, South Carolina and write as soon as you get this. I don’t know how long we will stay here. Nothing more. — A. H. Johnson

To you all at home.

Letter 2

A scene depicting the Battle of Jackson that took place on 13 May 1863

Camp Vaughan Station, Mississippi
May 23, 1863

Dear Father and Mother,

I take my pen in hand to drop you all a few lines to let you know we are all well at this time and I sincerely hope these few lines will come to hand and find you all well and doing well. I hant got anything to write that will interest you—only there has been a fight at Jackson. We was there in time of the fight. I can’t say that we was in it although all of the boys think we was in it. It is true we was on the battlefield. I only shot three times and if they had come in sight of me, I would have shot more but I wanted to see them. The [ ] and balls fell very thick around us. I was not scared a bit—more than if it had a been hail. James was not there in the time of the fight, nor Gip. I sent him off in the rear. The Yankees would have taken every one of us if we’ens hadn’t got away just as we did. General Johnston did not intend to fight there. Our force commenced retreating in the night before the fight came next morning. We was left there to hold them in check so our force could get away.

We lost everything we had at Jackson—our clothes, knapsacks, and blankets. We hant got anything, only what we have got on. We lie on the ground every night by the fire. I done about as well with[out] blankets as I done with them. We will get some clothes and blankets I reckon before long. We have been marching every day since we have been here through the mud and it has been raining a great deal. The water is bad and hard to get.

The Yankees got three of our company—William Johnson 1 and William Willis 2 and Arch Head. 3 It is some spoken that Head let the Yankees take him on purpose. I can’t say whether he did or not. Mother, we passed [with]in ten miles of Uncle Alfred’s house, Gip stands the trip very well. He pressed a mule and rode four days.

I hant got anything to write that will interest you all. Look over [my] bad writing and spelling. I have a bad way to write and this paper is so bad that I can’t write on it. Mother, you must write all the news you have. Let us know how all the things are getting at home. You mustn’t be uneasy about us all that we are faring bad—not as bad as some has, I reckon—but this is bad. Worse than I like. I don’t feel under any dread whatever.

I will close for this time. Tell all of the children I want to see them all. Write as soon as this you get.

Direct your letter to Canton, Mississippi, the 30th Regt. Georgia Volunteers, in the care of Capt. R. J. Andrews, Co. F, Col. T[homas] W[oodward] Mangham, General Walker’s Brigade

— A. H. Johnson

Alfred H. Johnson

1 William Johnson of Co. F, 30th Ga. Infantry, was taken prisoner at Jackson, Mississippi, on 14 May 1863. His name appears on the list of exchanged men from Demopolis since 17 August 1863 to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Headquarters.

2 William Daniel Willis of Talbot county, Georgia, served in Co. F, 30th Ga. Infantry. He was admitted into the 1st Mississippi CSA Hospital at Jackson, Mississippi, on 14 May 1863 suffering from acute diarrhea. He was returned to duty on 27 May 1863. He was among the remaining members of the regiment who surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on 26 April 1865.

3 Archie T. Head did not enlist in Co. F, 30th Georgia Infantry until September 1862. He was captured at Jackson on 14 May 1863 and his name appears among the paroled prisoners in camp at Demopolis, Alabama, on 5 June 1863. Archie returned to his regiment and was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga later that year.

Letter 3

Camp near Morton
August 18, 1863

Dear Father and Mother,

I take my pen in hand to drop you all a few lines to let you know we are well and Dill is well. Mother, we got the letter that you [sent] by George McElhenney. We was glad to hear from you all but was sorry to hear that some of the children was and had been sick. But I do sincerely hope these few lines will come to hand and find you all well. I hant got anything of importance to write. Times are very peaceful here.

I hear this morning that there was a little fight at Canton yesterday but never heard the result of the fight yet. The loss is not much on either side, I don’t reckon. We have been stationed here ever since the fight at Jackson. I hope that we won’t have to do much more marching this year.

Mother, I want you to write and let me know how much wheat you made and whether you think that you will make enough corn to do you next year or not and I want [you] to let me know [how] the horses look and oxen and cows ad the sheep and hogs and whether you think that you wil have hogs enough to make your meat next year. Be sure and let me know how my colt looks and how he is getting on. Let me know how all the stock looks.

James said to tend to his filly as well as your colt. I will stop that subject and tell you how I want to be at home to get peaches and watermelons to eat. I would give most anything in the world to be at home to get some milk and butter. Mother, I know you would cook me something good to eat if I was at home. Mother, I want to be at [home] to get something good to eat worse than anybody in the world, I reckon.

Mother, I will tell you what we have to pay for peaches—one dollar and a half, pies two dollars, watermelons from two to ten dollars, and peaches one and a half dollars, apples two a dozen. Dill received a letter 3 or 4 days ago. Mother, I send my love to you all. Tell the children I want to see them all mighty bad. Mother, I will close for what I have wrote won’t interest you. Write as soon as you get this letter. Direct to the 30th Ga. Regiment, Wilson’s Brigade, Walker’s Division. Goodbye to you all, — Alfred H. Johnson

To you all. write soon.

Letter 4

Hospital, LaGrange, Georgia
July 14, 1864

Dear and beloved Mother and Father,

I seat myself to drop a few lines which will inform you of my troubles that is inflicted on me. The solemn and sad news that has come to my ear is this—that I have lost one of my brothers. I heard today that Sidney is passed from time to eternity. Oh! that the poor boy is better off than he was before. He departed from this life to another world. I was impressed that the poor boy could not stand a camp life. I hope the poor boy is better off. I hope he is where there is no war and trouble to be with him.

— Alfred H. Johnson

Not something you see everyday. Among the Johnson papers there remains a Surgeon’s slip issued from the Hospital at LaGrange, Georgia, dated 24 July 1864, testifying an examination of James A. Johnson (Co. F, 30th Georgia) by Asst. Surgeon Edward Milhous Vasser. The surgeon was checking the small pox scar of Johnson’s arm to make certain that it was “perfect” and didn’t require additional vaccination.

Letter 5

Mr. Johnson,

I will send you a word about your boys. I brought a letter from Lieut. J. M. Wise last night. Dilly are wounded in the foot very bad—left foot. Alfred in the face. Sidney are dead. He died on the 30th of June in Atlanta. — L. J. Foster

Grim news sent to father of the boys, undated cryptic note.

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