Colonel Charles F. Johnson
Charles Johnson was chosen as the Lieutenant Colonel when the regiment was being organized. He was promoted to Colonel after Colonel Miller was killed at the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 30, 1862. The newly appointed Colonel Johnson was wounded nearly a month later at the Battle of Charles City Crossroads on June 29, 1862. Below are two consecutive letters from Johnson to his wife, Mary. They prove that even the army's best-laid plans do not always work out. Please do not be offended by Lt. Col. Johnson's somewhat inappropriate remarks, it was another era. The value of these letters is the details of military camp life during the Civil War, which seriously outweighs a few stray remarks.
Another photograph of Johnson taken in full-dress uniform.
Source of photos and letters: The Charles F. Johnson Papers provided by the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa.
This (Washington's Birthday) has been one of excitement with us at Camp - the impression appeared to prevail at headquarters that we would be engaging in a fight some time during the day, and consequently we received orders last night to have prepared one ration for each man, and this morning it was ordered to be put in their haversacks and fourty rounds of buck and ball cartrages in each box and to hold ourselves in readiness to march in ten minutes notice - then commenced that eager and anxious, yet restrained excitement, such as known only to an army that has been encamped for months expecting and "spiling" for a fight, which was not, I assure you allaid when the guards reported that three regiments of infantry and one of Cavelry had quietly passed the camp during the night - swords were examined, pistols re-caped, horses saddled, trunks [?] packed and every thing ready and waiting for the long looked for and ardently-hoped-for commands "forward, march!" moments were hours and hours were days - about 10 o'clock a pack of artillery dashed pell mell passed the camp as fast as eight horses could carry each gun through the mud and water - then was the anxious inquiry "when will the orders come to march?" passed from lip to lip, each appeared afraid that the fight might be over before they "had a chance."
At 11 o'clock the entire brigade was ordered out to hear the "Farwell address of Gen Washington" read by Genl Howard, and then back to our quarters with the strict injunction to hold our men at their various posts to move on a double quick at the sound of the beaugle, and so we remained until night and then dismissed - bad luck to it, and "no fight".
I wished you could have seen us while listening to the "address" amist the pelting rain, not a man moving during the entire two hours - first a prayer by one of the Chaplains, then Hail Columbia by our band, then the "address" followed by the Star Spangled Banner by the 64 N.Y. Band, then a prayer followed by "America" by the 5th N.H. Band and the entire Brigade singing the song - I will endeavour to give you some idea of our arrangements - imagine the spot where the Genl stood to be on the extreme top of a high hill and the regiments on the sloping sides
The above rough sketch will give you a feint idea of our possission, supposing Genl Howard to be faced to-wards you and the artillary behind him and all parties facing inwards.
I see by the papers to-day that Jim Hufty and Henry Little are among the exchanged prisoners and in all probability are in Philad- by to-night there will be great rejoycing in some homes this day.
I have been anxiously expecting and answer to my letter to you of last Tuesday night - what is the matter - is Clara worse or have you so little time to spare that you cannot write - you should have received my letter by Thursday night and if you mailed the answer on Friday morning I should have received it to-day - however I must waite patiently, now until Monday's afternoon mail - I will keep this open until to-morrow (Sunday) night and mail it Monday morning.
Sunday night - 23rd
I have had a visitor today in the shape of Capt Meeves, who remained with me the greatest part of the day - he says that Shields did not get that possision in New York that he expected and is now at home without any to do yet.
I had two likness taken to-day of myself on horse-back, in full uniform with sword drawn, both of which are good; but the gem of all pictures is one with Abram holding Cougar by the bridle - the glossy hair of the black horse and the shiney skin of the blackest of black men is taken truly lifelike; I will retain them and endeavour to bring them to you if we do not move and I can trump up some excuse to get into Washington before you leave - if not I will endeavour to send them by some person, for I have them cased and it will cost almost as much as the pictures to send them by mail.
We are to have an inspection by either Genl McClellan or his staff to-morrow and have been all day (Sunday as it was) preparing for it, with the determination to excell any regiment in the whole Division; and I think that to-night there is not a man in the entire regiment, but would be fit to visit a ball room.
I have not received any letter from the boys this week and none from you, which is the first week since I left home that such a thing occurred.
Did you get my letter last Tuesday night?
How is Clara?
Since I mailed you my letter (yesterday morning) we have had great "times at our house". I believe that I informed you that we were to have a "grand" inspection, and as the day (yesterday) was clear, warm and perfectly spring-like early in the morning, the Genl ordered a "Review" to take place first, and we accordingly turned out, but the best laid plans of mice and mice oft gang a gee" and while in the act of passing in review the sky suddenly became o'er cast with "dark potentious clouds" and before we were through we were visited with such a hail storm as I ever witnessed before, blowing, cutting and stinging - the men were compelled to hold their heads down (un-soldier-like, but it could not be helped) and our horses reared and tossed as though a thousand spurs was entering their hide every minute - but on we went, through the ceremony to the end and the order was "to your quarters" which we did in "double quick".
We scarce reached our quarters, our white gloves, clean guns, new uniforms and bright brasses (the work of two days) did not prevent us from resembling a regiment of drowned rats, when it cleared as suddenly as it clouded, and then commenced the blow; my hat was lifted entirely off my head while standing in it, the first indication I had of what was taken place was the day-light all around me and my stove (full of fire) turned up-side down, the pipe high in the air, Abrams blanket sailing over the Hospital and every thing in the front tent off its own hook and myself with the bridle over against the Col's chimney and it going down - it was impossible for a man (on top of the hill where the marguees are) to stand without having something to hold - the shingles from the guard house (a distance of 800 yards) passed over the entire camp and landed in the next Brigade - every waggon exposed to the wind was turned over - the first thing I did (after ordering the horses in a hollow out of the wind) was to look to see how my neighbours were getting along - Company K's officers were coming out of the wreck, through the roof - Capt Wilson holding a big slit in his tent together to prevent the wind from getting in and lifting it up bodily - company H had six or eight men pulling at their Captain's like good fellows, but alas! Over it went and them in a promiscouis pile with it. Lieut. Tromp was holding his front door shut (to keep the wind out) while the back part was in ribbons and he not aware of the fact - I had to laugh even while I saw my back tent getting ready to follow the first, but it was amusing, even to see the men duck their heads to let some flying board pass over - the ducking was so prevelant that one would stoop even if a Cap without stopping to look what it was.
Finally I lowered my remaining tent and piled logs of wood on top of it (closhes, trunk, bed, and every thing under it) to prevent it from blowing away, and then commenced to collect the scattered pieces.
The wind continued all day until 12 o'clock at night when I crawled under the ruins and got a blanket and bunked in the Major's (part of which was up yet) and sent the horses, for their stables had disappeared entirely, to a farm house near by. It was the coldest day and night that we had since I left home, and one poor fellow this morning was found frozen to death and buried this evening - nearly every tent in the entire brigade was leveled and thirty-eight small and seventeen large ones in our regiment alone was rendered entirely worthless - we had not anything to eat (for it was impossible to cook) from breakfast yesterday until breakfast this morning - but now every thing is going along as if nothing had happened.
In the middle of the blow your letter of the 21st came to hand (the mail carrier holding the pomel of the saddle to keep himself from blowing off the horse). You do not appear to have received my letter of the 18th inst. Although yours is post marked the 22nd. It surely ought not to take four days for a mail to reach you, when I can (and did the last time) leave Camp, visit you, and get back to my post in 30 hours - there is a "screw loose" on that mail rout.
You will preceive that I muttered the same thing in my last letter to you, viz: the absence of any letters from home, but lo! And behold! One arrived to-day, from Willie and he complains of the same thing "we have had no letters from Mother for better than a week" - I think it strange that Mother don't write to us" is the burden of his song. He says that Joe is sick in bed, whether it is any thing serious or not he does not say, but I should suppose not as Mother has a post script and she does not mention it. Janey Shields does not appear to have got along very well with the measels, as Willie says that "we are afraid she is going to have the Typhoid Fever and has not eating any thing for 7 days"
I am glad, very glad, to hear that Clara is better and hope that she may continue so - as for the prospects of my getting to see you again I must say in all candor: I do not see any chance of my getting off again, that is soon, I may possibly, not probably, and if I should, I would not know any thing of it until on the eve of leaving - so do not build on it, but shape your course with out any regard to me - for if we once leave here the prospect of reaching Washington must necessarily decrease as the distance increases; and we certainly cannot remain much longer in this locality.
I shall write again to the boys to-night for your letters appear to be unfortunate in their dispatch, and the poor little fellows must feel lost, neither to see or hear from all they hold dear in this life.
Answer early and let me know what your determination is - I will waite an answer to this, which I suppose will take from 8 to 10 days - - oh! What a land of slow coaches! The damn thing is not worth fighting for, if the principle was not at stake
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