1862: Ebenezer Swift Johnson to Clarissa (Swift) Johnson

These letters were written by Ebenezer Swift Johnson (1840-1901), the son of Zebadiah Johnson (1816-1893) and Clarissa T. Swift (1819-1899) of New Sharon, Franklin county, Maine.

Ebenezer enlisted at the age of 21 on 1 November 1861 as a private in Co. L, 1st Maine Cavalry. For his bravery at Fredericksburg in December 1862, he was promoted to sergeant in 1863, and to quartermaster sergeant in 1864. He mustered out of the regiment on 25 November 1864 after three years service.

[Header Image: Samuel M. and William L. Johnson, Maine farmers who joined Co. F of the 1st Maine in January 1864. Samuel was killed at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek on April 6, 1865, and William was mortally wounded there, dying in hospital on April 17. I don’t know which is which. The cdv is a ca. 1865 Boston copy of the original tintype, which I’d guess was taken in the Warrenton, VA, area in the spring of 1864. The mounted brother sports a Remington revolver, and there are many other details to study. Neither brother made an effort to switch his accoutrements to appear correct in a tintype. So I’ve flipped the scan to show the pair as they stood, not as the reverse-image prints show them.—Andrew German, Civl War Faces]

Letter 1

Falmouth, Virginia
May 23d, 1862

Absent brother,

I received a letter from you today and was well pleased with the news but I should have liked it better if you had not used any profane language. Please do not use such terms when you write. Do not be offended and think I am cool for I do think a great deal of you and I think of and pray for you. You may not realize it but I have thought that I would give anything of you and others near to me were Christians.

We are all well but [Wellington] Pinkham and he is very sick. I got that sheet you sent to him in Mother’s letter. I carried it to the hospital for him but he was so low he did not know me. He was not sensible of anything. He has got the fever. The Brigade doctor sent him to Washington yesterday. I don’t know whether he is dangerously sick or not but I hope not. I did not give him the sheet. 1

It is quite sickly here now. I have not been off duty but one day since I enlisted. This country agrees with me very well.

Brig. Gen. George Lucas Hartsuff—a “large, portly-looking man.”

Our Brigade is out on review. President Lincoln is here. 2 Gen. Shields came here last night with 18,000 men. There is a very large place here & the rebels are within 6 miles of us. They shot 2 men who were on guard for us last night. They belonged to the N. Y. 55th Infantry. The Maine [?] Battery is here down to McDowell’s Headquarters. I go within 600 rods of them most every day but as I am carrying orders & dispatches, I do not dare to find Plum with permission. There are 10 messengers of us now. We have to ride most all the time from one General’s Headquarters to another and to the Colonel’s. I am about a mile from our regiment but I have a chance to see the boys most every day as they are between here and McDowell’s. I am with our Brigadier General. His name is [George Lucas] Hartsuff. His wife came here last night. She is a small but handsome woman. He is a large, portly-looking man and a nice man too. I guess we have to walk straight.

There has been a Court Martial here for two days back. One man is to be shot. He is a hard boy. When he found out his sentence, he said he did not care a damn. He was a deserter. A number have been tried for going to sleep on guard. I don’t know their penalty.

I understand that General Banks is ordered here. You need not be worried about me if you do not hear for a short time for I hear that our letters are to be detained on the way for a short time to come in a few days.

I think this war will soon be over. I shall get letters from home just the same now. Don’t stop writing if you don’t get any, will you? I should like to see you this afternoon and have a long talk with you but as I cannot, I will tell you by pen & paper how I feel. I enjoy myself as well as I did before I enlisted. Everything seems to go well and I think all is well. And I am bound to die a man and not a coward. I do not fear any rebel that ever trod Virginia. I do not fell strong in and of myself but I believe that God’s eye is on me. Be sure & write often & tell Mother to do the same. — E. S. Johnson

1 Wellington Pinkham 22, enlisted from Industry in Company L, 1st Maine Cavalry, on November 1, 1861, and died on May 24, 1862, at Meridian Hill, VA.

2 The Lincoln Log states: “Gen. McDowell and Col. Herman Haupt, aide-de-camp to McDowell and chief of construction and transportation on military railroads, meet President and party at Aquia Creek, Va., and accompany them in baggage car to McDowell’s headquarters on north side of Rappahannock. President reviews various divisions and rides along lines with hat off as men cheer. Leaves headquarters at 9 P.M. Leaves Aquia Creek on return trip at 10 P.M.” [Extracts from Dahlgren Diary, John G. Nicolay Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Correspondence, typewritten copy prepared by H. H. Chapman, 6, Correspondence of Herman Haupt, Bureau of Railway Economics, Washington, DC; Official Records—Armies 1, XI, pt. 1, 30.]

Letter 2

This letter was written from Culpeper Court House on the day before the Battle of Cedar Mountain (or Slaughter Mountain) in which the greater portion of the regiment was under fire (mostly artillery) for the first time. After this battle, the 1st Maine Cavalry served as Gen. Pope’s rear guard as he retreated back toward Manassas and defeat at Second Bull Run.

Culpeper Court House
August 8th 1862

Dear Mother,

It is about time for me to begin another letter. You know I told you in my last that I expected a letter from you that night which was last Saturday. Well I kind of reckon you are haying of it because I have not got any yet. I received one from E. G. Baker last Monday. He seemed quite pleased about enlisting. He said he was going in the 16th Regiment. Also that Edward Prince was going to enlist. They will get $185.00 before they leave the state. This is quite a sum for them to have in the hand. But the late call will grind those who have to go for $11 a month and get no bounty.

We started for here Tuesday. Got here Wednesday about 1 P. M. It was rather hot marching. It grows warmer. Night before last was the first night that I slept with my pants off. We are stopping in a corn barn. We made bunks round to sleep on. The boys are eating their breakfast. Two of them are singing, “Home again, home again from the foreign shore. And O, it fills my heart with joy, to greet my friends once more.” The boys have not got so good a breakfast as usual so they are thinking of home.

The cars have got to running into this place so Warrenton will not be the base of supplies. This will probably be the base. The sick which was at Warrenton have been sent to Alexandria.

Our regiment was out scouting last night. The 10th Maine is encamped a few rods from us. I went over to find Austin but I guess he is not in the regiment. Our regiment belongs to [Zealous B.] Tower’s Brigade now. I guess we shall have something to do before many days. There don’t seem to be many troops round here. I guess they have gone on towards Gordonsville. This railroad is connected to the Central Railroad.

We had a debating club meeting last night. The question was, “Is the confiscation act justifiable?” I was 1st on the negative. We had an entertaining time. It was a question of my own getting up.

Green corn is quite large but not large enough to roast. I wish you could see the standing stalks. I cannot begin to reach the top of some stalks on my horse and he is a tall one. A bumblebee just flew in where a board was off and told me that I was going to get a letter today. It will be from my old Mother, I suppose. Somehow or rather I don’t feel like writing today and as I want to send it out today, I guess I had better close.

So goodbye for now, — Ebenezer S. Johnson


1 Comment

  1. Nice letter! As one of the 1st Maine reenactors pictured in that photograph, and a good friend of Bud Hall, I’m happy to see it. The regiment would promptly be added to Bayard’s Brigade of cavalry and serve on the left flank at Cedar Mountain. And the 10th Maine Infantry would be thrown into the maelstrom in the wheatfield there. Their monument stands, pretty much inaccessible, on the edge of the woods that now occupy the wheatfield.


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