Johnson, William C.
Manuscript Correspondence of Pvt. William C. Johnson, Co. K, 114th Illinois Infantry, written to his wife, Samantha Johnson, of Mason City, Mason County, Illinois, 1863-1864

Group of 15 letters, 57 manuscript pp., (5 retained mailing envelopes), dated 4 February 1863 to 5 August 1864; 14 of the letters in the collection are written by Pvt. Johnson to his wife Samantha Johnson from various locations and camps during the Civil War; the remaining letter is written to Mrs. John Johnson, perhaps Johnson’s mother, by a fellow soldier, George W. Sullivan.

Pvt. William C. Johnson (1840-1864)

     Pvt. William C. Johnson was born about 1840 in Decatur County, Indiana, the son of Charles M. Johnson (1814-1886) and Melvina Peed (1821-1902). Prior to the Civil War, William moved to Menard County, Illinois, where he enlisted as a private on 4 August 1862 and was mustered into military service on 18 September 1862 in Co. K, 114th Illinois Infantry. Many of the members of the 114th Illinois were particularly outspoken against Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Capt. William Gibson of the 114th Illinois was even dismissed from the service after publicly disparaging Abraham Lincoln and writing, “I hope to sink in hell if I ever draw my sword to the fight for the negros.” Pvt. Johnson’s letter of 15 February 1863 also comments on his not signing up for the military to “free the negroes.”

    A year before he enlisted William married Samantha DeWitt (1833-1918) on 15 July 1861 in Petersburg, Menard County, Illinois. They had one child, Sylvester A. Johnson (1862-1939) born in Menard County. Samantha was the daughter of William DeWitt (1810-1892) and Mary Casteel (1811-1879).

     Family legend has it that William was bitten by a mad dog as he was returning home from the Civil War and died in Mason Co., Illinois on 29 November 1864. However, William’s three years’ service would not have ended until 1865. More than likely, William was ill and returned home on furlough or was discharged prematurely for ill health.

     After William’s death, his wife Samantha married again, to Daniel Keith Merritt (1810-1874) in 1865; and after his death she married a third time to John Huffman (1823-1903).

     W. Sullivan, who wrote to Mrs. John Johnson, is likely George W. Sullivan, who like Pvt. Johnson resided in Menard County, Illinois. He enlisted on the same date as Johnson (4 Aug. 1862), as a private and was mustered into the same company with Johnson, Co K, 114th Illinois Infantry. He was mustered out on 3 August 1865 at Vicksburg, Virginia as a wagoner. After the war Sullivan moved to Douglas Co., Oregon, where he died on 31 October 1926.

       114th Illinois Infantry

Organized at Camp Butler, Illinois., and mustered in September 18, 1862. Moved to Memphis, Tenn., November 8-16, 1862. Attached to the 5th Brigade, 5th Division, District of Memphis, Right Wing 13th Army Corps (Old), Dept. of the Tennessee, November, 1862. 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, District of Memphis, 13th Army Corps, to December, 1862. 3rd Brigade, 8th Division, 16th Army Corps, to April, 1863. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 15th Army Corps, to December, 1863. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 16th Army Corps, to June, 1864. 1st Brigade, Sturgis' Expedition, June, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 16th Army Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Detachment Army of the Tennessee, Dept. of the Cumberland, to February, 1865. Pontoneers 16th Army Corps (New), Military Division West Mississippi, to August, 1865.

SERVICE - Grant's Central Mississippi Campaign. "Tallahatchie March" November 26 - December 12, 1862. Moved to Jackson, Tenn., December 23, and duty there till February 9, 1863. Expedition to Wyatt's, Miss., February 9-18. Guard duty on Memphis & Charleston R. R. till March 17. Moved to Young's Point, La., March 17 - April 2. Operations against Vicksburg April 2 - July 4. At Ducksport, La., till May 2. Movement to Jackson, Miss., via Grand Gulf, May 2-14. Mississippi Springs May 13. Jackson May 14. Siege of Vicksburg, Miss., May 18 - July 4. Assault on Vicksburg May 19 and 22. Expedition to Mechanicsburg May 26 - June 4. Surrender of Vicksburg July 4. Advance on Jackson, Miss., July 4-10. Birdsong Ferry, Big Black River, July 4-6. Siege of Jackson July 10-17. Brandon Station July 19. At Vicksburg till September 3, and at Oak Ridge till October 14. Expedition toward Canton October 14-20. Bogue Chitto Creek October 17. Moved to Memphis, Tenn., November 20-26. Expedition to Tallahatchie River February 5-19, 1864. Coldwater Ferry February 8. Near Senatobia February 8-9. Wyatt's, Tallahatchie River, February 13. Provost duty at Memphis, Tenn., till June. Sturgis' Expedition from Memphis to Ripley, Miss., April 30 - May 9. Sturgis' Expedition to Guntown, Miss., June 1-13. Battle of Brice's Cross Roads (or Tishamingo Creek), near Guntown, June 10. Ripley June 11. Davis' Mills June 12. Smith's Expedition to Tupelo, Miss., July 5-21. Camargo's Cross Roads, near Harrisburg, July 13. Harrisburg, near Tupelo, July 14-15. Old Town (or Tishamingo Creek) July 15. Smith's Expedition to Oxford, Miss., August 1-30. Tallahatchie River August 7-9. Abbeville August 23. Moved to Duvall's Bluff, Ark., September 2. March through Arkansas and Missouri in pursuit of Price September 24 - November 16. Moved to Nashville, Tenn., November 24-30. Battle of Nashville December 15-16. Pursuit of Hood to the Tennessee River December 17-28. Moved to Eastport, Miss., and duty there till February, 1865. Moved to New Orleans, La.; thence to Dauphin Island, Ala., February 9 - March 3. Campaign against Mobile and its defenses March 3 - April 12. Siege of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely March 26 - April 9. Fort Blakely April 9. Occupation of Mobile April 12. March to Montgomery, Ala., April 13-24. and duty there till July. Moved to Vicksburg, Miss., July 17.

Mustered out August 3 and discharged August 15, 1865.

The regiment lost during service 2 Officers and 45 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 4 Officers and 159 Enlisted men by disease. Total 210.

       Sample Quotes:

“Camp near Black River, Mississippi, August 11, 1863

Dearest wife,

Again, I take the time to try to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and I hope when these few lines come to hand, they will find you and Sylvester enjoying the best of health. Well, my dear, it is very warm here now. The health of the boys is good.

Samantha, I got a letter to some days ago and then I thought I would get to come home to see you sometime this fall but the way things has turned out, I have got discouraged and give up the notion of trying anymore. I have tried every way I knowed how and I have give it up for a bad job.

Samantha, if I don’t get to come home soon, I will send you some money by the boys that come home next. I know that I can’t come till very late this fall and it is no use to keep money here and I will send some home to you for you have more need of it than I have. But I want you to keep it for yourself for no one need it as bad as you for you don’t know what may turn up yet and you must look ahead. Be saving of it for my dear, this war hain’t over yet. And before it is over, you will need it.

They are talking of having war with France and England and if that be so, you must be saving of your money. Don’t pay anyone money for me again for you need it worse than anyone else.

Now Samantha, don’t think I want you to deprive yourself and child for I want you to get everything that you want and need. If you hear anything, don’t you pay it on my debts. I will pay them myself when I come home. Samantha, I will come home this fall if I can. Samantha, if you want a cow, you can get another this fall but you must look about and see if you can get feed for them this winter and if you can’t get feed terrible cheap, you had better not buy anymore. Then you won’t take good care of your stock. Don’t let them starve nor suffer for feed. You had better not keep too much thing to feed.

Well, I must close my letter. Give my love to your father and mother and all the rest of the folks. So, no more at this time but write soon. Remember your dear husband till death, William C. Johnson

Remember me when this you see. Remember that you have a dear husband that is far far away – many miles between us at the present tie. Goodbye my dear wife and child. Take good care of your sweet self. Write soon, Wm. C. Johnson”


“February the 15, 1863, Memphis, Tennsee [sic]


Dear wife,

I take my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at present and I hope when you get this letter it will find you and the baby well. I haven’t got any letters from you for a lot…I don’t know what is the reason…I would like to hear from you, to write often to me. I haven’t got much to write now. We haven’t got any money yet and I can’t tell when I will get any. I haven’t had any since I left home. I have some [xxxxx] yet, I think that will do me till I get home as soon as I get my money you may look out for me an G.W.S. … We haven’t a gone to fight to free the damn negro. I told I did not enlist to fight to free the negro. I want you to keep in good spirit till I get back home. Then I will stay with you till I die. I will die by the side of you and I won’t you to keep this still. Don’t tell anyone, don’t tell your father, for a told I am afraid that it will get out I would not have it to get out for a hundred dollars. I would not got this to you but I had a chance to send it by mister [Kingod\. He is here today. Write soon…I am on guard today I haven’t got time to write much to you. You direct your letters to Memphis, Tennssee…. I have wrote 5 letters since I got any from you Samantha. I have had a hard time I want to see you…Samantha you don’t know how I want to see you. I would give a good [xxxxx] to get home once more. I will write more when I hear from you. I want you to write about things and how you have got a long since I left you and how all of the folks is. I want them to write. I did not answer father’s letter and I haven’t heard whether he did get it or not. I sent Rebecca a letter answer to the letter that she wrote to me…William C. Johnson”


“Memphis, Tennsee, [sic] July 25th 1864


Dear wife, once more I am permit to write another letter to you to let you know that I am well and I do hope when this letter comes to hand it may find you well. Samantha we just got back last night from another [xxx] we were a gone 17 days since I wrote to you but I told you that we were going to start and I reckon that you haven’t once about me. We were in a hard-bloody battlefield for 4 days and night. We were fighting all the time. Our regiment made 2 charges on the enemy both times we drove them back with heavy loses on their side. We whipped them on every day that they came at us. Our loss on our side of all the [troops] amounted to six hundred killed and wounded. Our regiment lost 12 killed and 25 wounded and 5 mortal wounded. Some of them were left down at [xxxxxx] where we had the [battle] that was so bad that we could not move them and we have lost two of them since we came back to town…We had 4 wounded out of our company the first sergeant John M. Hart, the next was James [Taylor], a son of old uncle [Soll Taylor] and the other was [Jesse Knowles] and James [Morris], Samuel [Knowles], and Clement [Philbrick] was killed on the battlefield be for this fight at the other battle that we had and two of the others [Knowles] boys were taken prisoner the other battle and the most of them were prisoners and we have heard from them since they have been taken. Samantha when I came back I got 3 letters from you. I was glad to hear from you. Samantha you wrote about getting well of the ague. I know that you can be cured if you will take good care of yourself…We had about 5 thousand infantry and 3 thousand cavalry. I don’t know the loss only of our regiment but all the infantry lost about half that they had a with them….

…No more at this time, write soon to me, William C. Johnson”