xt76hd7npb9p https://exploreuk.uky.edu/dips/xt76hd7npb9p/data/mets.xml Johnson, Richard W., 1827-1897. 1886  books b929178j6362009 English J. B. Lippincott company : Philadelphia, Pa. Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. United States. Army. Cavalry. 2d Regiment, 1836 United States. Army --Military life Frontier and pioneer life --Mississippi River Valley Indians of North America --Wars --1815-1875 Texas --History.  Minnesota --History. A soldier s reminiscences in peace and war. text A soldier s reminiscences in peace and war. 1886 2009 true xt76hd7npb9p section xt76hd7npb9p 

Gift of

Mrs. Henry Beaumont (11-14-57)


Soldier's Reminiscences



*   V> BY

Brig.-Gen. R. W. JOHNSON, Retired,

brevet maj.-gen. u. s. a. author of "life of gen. geo. h. thomas."

press of


philadelphia. 1886. 




this volume


St. Paul, Minn., July i, 1886.


Once, in familiar conversation with a friend, recalling incidents of our early and later lives, I was asked, "Why do you not employ your leisure hours in recording some of your experiences in the various and interesting vicissitudes through which you have passed?" It was added, "The occupation would be a pleasure for yourself, and your relatives and friends would preserve such reminiscences with an affectionate appreciation."

Almost involuntarily I drifted into the line of the suggestion, never thinking for a moment of publishing the sketches and reflections which have formed a panorama of my hours of recreation.

The accumulations, however, of these recitals and delineations came at last to equal a volume, and then came the urgent solicitations of friends to publish them in book form. I consented to do so, and this volume is now presented to the public.

R. W. J.


I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to General R. C. Drum, U.S.A., Colonel R. N. Scott, U.S.A., Thomas W. Teasdale, Esq., Lieutenant A. B. Johnson, U.S.A., and Lieutenant William C. Brown, adjutant U.S.M.A., for copies of official papers embodied within this volume.

R. W. Johnson.




My Fourth Great-grandfather   Date of Birth   The First Railroad Iron laid in the United States   My First School-house   Haley, the Teacher^-A Dull Razor   Keeping the Sabbath   Catechism and Bible, and Bible and Catechism   Teaching the Negroes    Death of Parents   A Good Rifle Shot   'Possum and 'Coon Hunting   Cooking 'Possums   Corn Huskings   Old Conch Shell.

When one has passed die meridian mile-post on his life's journey he lives in the past rather than in the present or future. He delights more in memories than in anticipations, and the recollections which come to him from the remotest past yield the greatest pleasure. We love to dwell upon the incidents of childhood, to recall the love and tenderness of fond and devoted parents, to think of Santa Claus, when we considered him the real, genuine giver of every good and of every perfect gift. But these early recollections, however pleasant, are of little interest to the public, and hence few will be referred to in these pages.

2 9 


My fourth great-grandfather emigrated to this country in 1655 and settled in Virginia, and engaged in the cultivation of a large landed estate. My father removed from Virginia and first located at the Falls of the Ohio, now Louisville, but in a short time removed to Barren County, thence to Livingston County, near the mouth of the Cumberland River, where I was born, February 7, 1827.

The year of our Lord 1827, in which I came "into this breathing world," is a memorable one in the history of our country. It was in that year the first railroad iron was laid in the United States, and from that date to the present time there has been an average of about two thousand miles of road constructed annually. Then the distance separating the two oceans was so great that there was no intercourse between the people of the East and the sparse settlements in the West. Now a trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific is performed in less than six days.

When six years old my father placed me in school. The distance of this institution of learning from our house was about two and a half miles, and to reach it in time I had to rise and partake of an early breakfast. This school-house was a model in its way,    one story high, built up with unhewn logs, and covered by ordinary clapboards, held in place by logs or poles placed on their upper surfaces. The spaces between the logs were plastered with black mud. We are told that in the building of King Solomon's temple the sound of the hammer was not heard. Neither was it when my first school-house was erected, for there were no nails used in its construction.    The only 

window in the building was made by leaving out the greater part of one log, about four feet above the floor. Into this opening a rude, rough frame was fitted, and over this was fastened oiled paper. The floor was made of puncheons,   logs split in half, the level surfaces of which were made as smooth as they could be with an axe. The seats were made of the same material, and were held up by four pins driven into auger-holes bored in the bark or round surface. These benches were simply instruments of torture. When seated the feet could not reach the floor, and in this position the children had to sit from " early morn till dewy eve," with only an intermission of one hour for dinner. Under the window was a sloping shelf, at which the writing scholars were permitted to sit. Well can I remember how envious I was of them, and how anxious I was to advance so that I could sit near that window. After passing through the primer, I was advanced to Noah Webster's spelling-book ; and when I could read the stories of the rude boy in the apple-tree and the foolish girl who counted her chickens before they were hatched, I was about as happy as education ever makes one. By the way, these two stories, embracing morality and philosophy, and which have been impressed on so many minds, should not be omitted from our present spelling-books.

Our school-house was situated in a rough, ugly spot, around which there were no houses, neither was it enclosed. I suppose it was located just there to be convenient to a fine spring of pure, cold water, and to be so far removed from other habitations that the boys 

could not be troublesome to their neighbors. The teacher was an Irishman by the name of Haley, thoroughly educated and one of the best teachers I ever knew, although he had his faults. Sometimes it seemed necessary for him to take a spree, though he never indulged his desire for liquor while he was conducting- his school. But sometimes he would feel a spree necessary, and would notify the scholars that there would be no more school until he sent them word. At the close of the day, coolly and dignifiedly he would dismiss the children and then deliberately go to work to get thoroughly drunk. He would continue this spree for a week or more, then send around word that on a certain day school would be resumed. During study hours no two boys could be out at the same time. This rule, which was never to be violated, however pressing the necessity, was enforced in this way: the door to the school-house was kept closed by a large wooden pin, which fitted into an auger-hole bored obliquely into one of the logs, against which the door closed. When one of the scholars passed out he had to take the pin with him, or her, and until the same was returned to its proper place no one else could think of crossing the threshold of that institu-tion of learning. At that time there was not a public school at every cross-road, where an education could be obtained without money and without price ; but we had to pay tuition and all other expenses.

For several years I was a student under Mr. Haley, and finally mastered enough of the arts and sciences to be promoted to the writing-class and transferred to a seat at the window.   My cup of happiness was full 


when I began to make my " pot-hooks and hangers." Of all the children who were associated with me at that school, how few there are left! Nearly all passed away before they grew up to mature man- and womanhood. In fact, I cannot recall a single one at this time whose head is above the sod.

Saturday afternoon was always occupied in making the necessary preparations for the keeping of the Sabbath as a holy day. Every one about our home was taught to " remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work ; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates ; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

The children were taught to lisp this commandment as soon after they left the cradle as possible, and to practise it at once. I do not remember ever to have seen any warm food, except coffee or tea, on my father's table on the Sabbath day, nor do I recall that I ever heard the sound of the axe, hammer, or saw. After rising on Sabbath morning, the first thing in order was the usual Scripture reading and prayers. Then a little time was devoted to the catechism, then breakfast, followed by catechism and Bible reading; more catechism and more Bible until church time. Dinner was served on our return from church, after which we had to teach the negroes what we had 

learned during the forenoon. Then we had tea, and closed up the day with a little more catechism, followed by evening prayers. I remember hearing my father say that " this preparation is necessary in order to fit us for the enjoyment of the eternal Sabbath of heaven." And I can well remember that the old Adam that was in me, even at that tender age, prompted me to think in my own heart, if heaven is like this, " I do not want any of it in mine."

Things have changed since then. We seem to have gone to the other extreme. Many parents leave all religious instruction of their children to the teachers in the Sabbath-schools, and the catechism is neglected. While we have made grand strides in almost all direc-tions, in some we have retrograded, and in none so much as religious instruction to our children.

It is curious how customs have changed in fifty years. When a boy it was a very unusual thing to see a man with beard on his face. On one occasion a gentleman called at our house and was admitted by the servant-girl. When she returned to the kitchen I asked her who it was, and she said, " Dun know ; some fellow with old dog mouf." I was very anxious to see a man with a mouth like a dog, and rushed into the house to find a man with a moustache, and he was the first one I had ever seen with beard on his face. My father was in the habit of shaving himself three times a week, and I always noticed that he was invariably cross after completing his tonsorial duties. I could not account for this idiosyncrasy ; but when I grew to be a man the secret became known   his razor must have been dull. 


Several years since I visited Kentucky and brought back with me an old conch shell, which has been in the family for more than fifty years. It was purchased in the South in the year 1832, by a brother, just before stepping on board of the " Helen McGregor," to engage passage to his home. Having made the purchase, he passed along the gang-plank and up the stairway to the office, where he registered his name, secured his berth, and then engaged in conversation with an acquaintance, who suddenly interrupted him with the remark, " Doctor, I smell burning steam, and I feel sure that there will be an explosion of the boiler very soon ; let us go back to the ladies' cabin." The words were scarcely uttered before the explosion occurred, carrying the doctor up some distance and landing him in the river, surrounded by pieces of the wreck, the dead, and dying. My brother was soon picked up, burnt, bruised, and bleeding, holding the shell in his hand. His injuries proved to be but slight, and he was soon on his way home. The tip of the shell was cut off, and it was used as a horn to call the negroes from the field to their daily meals. On Saturdays there was no school, and the boys were required to do such light work about the farm as they could, and how well I can remember the welcome sound of that old conch when it called me, dusty and tired, from labor to refreshment.

I have heard the dulcet strains of Ole Bull's violin. I have heard some of the most highly cultivated human voices, which seemed for the time to lift me above the earth, and transport me to another world where all was harmony; yet none of these were near so sweet 

as the sound of that old shell when it called me to dinner and repose. When a boy I have often placed it to my ear to hear the roaring sound within, which the negroes said was the roar of the sea. The same sound is still heard in its innermost cells, but it is not the roar of the sea I hear now, but a solemn requiem in memory of the dear ones who have long since passed away, and upon some of whom rests the grave-dust of more than forty years.

In fact, nearly all of those who heard it a half-century ago have passed through the dark, dim waters of death, and now as I look upon the dear old shell how many memories it brings up from the fountains of the past. It was handled by my father and mother, played with by my brothers, and idolized by a long list and line of faithful slaves.

If it could speak in notes to be understood, how many tales it could tell of happy faces, occasionally saddened as one by one have fallen out of the ranks, leaving vacancies never to be filled. A few more years, at most, and the youngest member of that large family will necessarily fall by the wayside, and the grand old conch will descend to the members of another generation, who will prize it for the many pleasant and dear memories that cluster around it. It called the tired and careworn slave to his meals up to the very day upon which the emancipation proclamation was issued, and while its voice is as clear and distinct as ever, it has ceased to call slaves to dinner. The country is free, and this venerable old shell, having performed its duty long and faithfully, has been promoted to a place of honor in my household, and re- 


tired from active service to pass with me a life of quiet and repose.

My parents died in 1837. I lived with a brother until his death, and then with a brother-in-law. The latter required me to work on the farm during the summer months and go to school in the winter months.

While on the farm I became a fine shot with the rifle for one of my age, and could "bring down" a squirrel from the tallest tree, rarely ever missing my aim.

Often at nio-ht I would o-o out hunting- with some of

o o o

the negroes, and we never failed to bring in a 'coon or a 'possum. The latter we could always find in some of the persimmon-trees around the farm ; then branching out into the adjacent timber, the dogs were sure to tree a 'coon. Often I have climbed up a tall tree and shaken one off some small limb where it felt secure, and when the "varmint" reached the ground the dogs and the negroes would secure it. I have never seen a Kentuckian who was not fond of 'possum, cooked just as our old cooks knew so well how to prepare them. There are some things that no white cook, male or female, can do, and one of these is to cook a 'possum properly. For this kind of culinary perfection we must ever look to the colored race. .

Corn huskings or, as they are called in Kentucky, corn shuckings, were pleasant little episodes in the lives of boys and of negroes. Farmers would haul their corn in and store it against their corn-cribs, and then notice would be sent out that on a certain night there would be a "corn shucking." At an early hour there would be a large concourse of people on hand. 

Whiskey would be passed around, and the negroes would begin their favorite corn songs. When well warmed up, two captains would be selected, the corn pile divided by a pole or rope, the captains would choose alternately until all the people were divided into two equal parts, then the contest would begin as to which party would get through first. The victorious side would then select some of their strongest men to hoist their captain upon their shoulders and bear him around as the hero of the hour. When the work was done, all hands were called to a good supper, and when all were supplied an adjournment was had to the yard, where dancing, speech-making, and singing were indulged in until the short hours. Then all hands would leave for their homes, and as they radiated from the place by the various neighborhood roads, each singing a different song and yet all apparently in harmony, one would naturally believe that they were the happiest people on the face of the earth.

This life did not suit me, and I left to reside with my brother, Dr. John M. Johnson, who secured for me an appointment as cadet at the United States Military Academy. 



Appointed Cadet   Arrival at West Point Hotel   General Scott    Cadet R. B. Ayers   Lieutenants Clarke and Reynolds   Monotonous Life of a Cadet   Speaking Disrespectfully of the President of the United States   In the Guard-House   Cadet W. L. Crittenden   Police Duties   Book-keepers, Clerks, and Salaried Men   Attachments between Classmates   Other Attachments    Marriages   Frontier Duties   Absent from Tattoo   Acting Sergeant-Major   Color-Bearer   Cadet Lieutenant S. V. Benet    Graduation   The Professors.

In the month of March, 1844, I received my appointment to West Point, through the kindness of Hon. Willis Green, at that time a member of Congress from the Second Congressional District of Kentucky, in which I resided.

I was instructed to report myself at the Academy between the 1st and 20th of June following.

I arrived on the 18th, and proceeded to the hotel, intending to remain there for a few days before reporting ; but I was soon recognized as a candidate for admission, and hurried off to report to the adjutant of the Academy.

Timothy O'Maher, who had for more than fifty years filled the position of chief clerk, was charged with receiving the new cadets, and he thoroughly understood how " to hold a fellow up" and deprive him of all his loose change. He did this service for me speedily but very completely, and I was despatched to the cadet barracks to report to some one else. 


Before night I had been furnished with a complete outfit for juvenile military house-keeping.

Having resided all my life in the interior of the country, I had never seen a soldier. On my way to the Point I learned that General Winfield Scott was on a visit to the Academy, and I longed to see the old war-worn veteran. As I ascended the hill from the steamboat landing, the band was playing on the plain. The drum-major, with his party-colored trousers, bearskin cap, and huge baton with a brass ball on one end, was the most conspicuous person I saw, and at once I supposed that my eyes rested upon the hero of Lundy's Lane.

Gazing, as I thought, upon the greatest living warrior, I was carried away with his gaudy uniform and equipments, and at that very moment I would have given all my earthly possessions for the rightful privilege of encasing myself within its gorgeous folds. However, it did not take long to learn that the great man I had taken for General Scott was Drum-Major Boussey, and that Scott would never permit himself to appear in public in the habiliments of a drum-major.

On the morning following my arrival in the cadet barracks, all of the plebes were turned out for drill and divided up into small squads, and turned over to instructors taken from the class just merging from plebeship. I fell to the lot of Cadet R. B. Ayers, subsequently the gallant and distinguished General Ayers, now colonel of the Second Regiment of Artillery. I was an awkward boy, and Ayers seemed to me to be unnecessarily cross and severe, so when the squad was dismissed I retired to my quarters 

2 I

considerably disgusted with my brief experience in the Art of War.

I suppose there never was a cadet who did not at some time during his course resolve on whipping some one when he graduated. I had three names on my black-list, and Ayers was the first one thereon because he was the first offender. Lieutenant F. N. Clarke arid Lieutenant J. J. Reynolds were the second and third in the order named. I imagined that the two last were prejudiced against me, and that if there was the slightest cause for it either would have me declared deficient. Of course this state of things existed only in my own imagination, yet it tended to spur me up to unusual activity in their respective departments. But when I changed the " gray for the blue" I buried all of my West Point prejudices under the accumulated rubbish which I left behind me.

I never met Clarke after I left the Academy. He did good service during the war in the Army of the Potomac, and died August 13, 1866. I had the pleasure of serving in the same army with Reynolds, and I found him a good officer and a clever gentleman.

The life of a cadet is one of extreme monotony, and the history of one day is the history of every day in the year, and the history of one year is the history of all passed at the Academy.

As soon as the plebes had been examined an order was issued to go into camp. Trunks and all other personal property were stored away in the academic buildings, and the corps was placed upon a light war footing. The plebes were formed in line according to height and divided equally among the four com- 


parries; the tallest were assigned to A and D companies and the others to B and C companies. At first I was attached to Company A, but was subsequently assigned to Company D. While in Company A, on one hot afternoon, I was lying down in my tent and the sentinel with measured tread walked his post near me. Stopping for a moment, he said, " Plebe, what do you think of the President of the United States ?"

Tyler was at that time in the executive chair, having succeeded to it by the death of Harrison, and had abandoned the Whig party, which had elected him Vice-President, and was held up as a traitor and turncoat by every Whig in the land. My family from the organization of that party had belonged to it, and so I was bitterly opposed to him. I replied, " I regard him as a rascal and traitor to his party." "What!" said the sentinel, " do you speak disrespectfully of the President of the United States, in open, flagrant violation of the Articles of War?" Before giving me any time to explain, he called for the corporal of the guard. The call was answered, my offence reported, and I was marched off to the guard-tent. The name of the sentinel was Harris, and he was from the State of Missouri. There was an inward feeling- of glad-ness when I learned that he had been found deficient in his studies and was only awaiting the pleasure of the War Department in his case. Soon he was sent home, and I have never heard of him since.

Well, I was in the guard-house,   the jail, the culprit's abiding-place. Thoughts of home and dear friends who took a kindly interest in me, and whose 


good-will I desired to merit, flitted across my brain. Oh, if they should hear of my disgrace they will never be able to hold up their heads again. I was assigned a place in the guard-tent, and every time any one passed I imagined that they were anxious to see the criminal.

About sundown the cry was given, "Turn out the guard for the officer of the day!" Out went the guard; the prisoners were hastened into line. The officer of the day, Cadet Lieutenant W. L. Crittenden, a nephew of Hon. John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, recognizing me among the prisoners, asked me why I was there. I told him all the circumstances, and he remarked, " Go back to your camp; your offence is not very great, and if it is I am chargeable with it also, for I believe there is not a more consummate rascal on earth than one who betrays his party and his friends." I felt better, but I was always on guard as to the expression of my opinions with reference to the Chief Magistrate of this great nation.

Crittenden was always my friend. Poor fellow, he was shot for his participation in the Lopez invasion of Cuba. When he was led out for execution he was told to kneel down. " No," replied the brave man ; "an American kneels only to his God." The fatal shot was fired, and the spirit of a noble man ascended to his God.

The camp having been regularly established, a proper regard for cleanliness required the adoption of certain police regulations. The custom had been, previous to my admission, to require the plebes to do all such menial service; accordingly, in each company, 

at certain hours of the day, they were paraded on their company grounds, marched to the cadet quartermaster's tent, where spades, shovels, and wheelbarrows were provided, and with these they were marched around the company grounds and required to pick up pieces of paper, stumps of cigars, old tobacco quids, and such other filth, trash, and litter as could be discovered by the keen eye of the corporal of police. I can well remember the feeling of mortification and humiliation that came over me when this distasteful duty was first imposed upon me. Looking back now I can see the necessity of just such training. It was to teach obedience to all orders, the first lesson that all must learn before they can properly exercise command. Another very important lesson was to teach cleanliness in camp; the only means, at least the most efficient, by which the health of troops is preserved. It was, however, terribly humiliating at the time, and I felt that I had been misled in regard to the high character of the Academy, and tried by all means in my power to get my guardian's consent to allow me to resign. He would not pay any attention to my requests, and I reluctantly remained to endure the mortification and shame which came to me when called out on police duty. At the close of a year a new class relieved us from scavenger duty, and when I saw others engaged in the same occupation it did not seem near so degrading. Young people are apt to look upon all manual labor as degrading. This is a sad mistake, and results in filling our cities with young men who seek to live by other means by crowding into the professions, for which they are not fitted, and 

2 5

where they manage to make a bare living. These same men, if they would turn their attention to some honorable labor, would not only prosper, but live happy and contented lives. Commercial colleges throughout the land are flooding the country with book-keepers and clerks, few of whom ever rise above salaried positions.

Notwithstanding the general monotony of cadet life, there are many interesting circumstances and incidents which serve to relieve it, and in after-life one recalls the days passed at West Point as among the most pleasant of his life. Attachments between classmates are formed there which never fade and die; on the contrary, they grow with our growth and strengthen with our strength.

There are other attachments of quite a different nature formed in the many quiet and secluded nooks and corners adjacent to " Flirtation Walk." When flowers bud and bloom, and all nature seems to rejoice in its own loveliness, appears to be the time for love-making.

It is at this season of the year that the young delight to separate in pairs and walk out to hear the birds sing and to enjoy the cool and invigorating breezes which never fan the cheek in the presence of the "old folks." And when a man, filled with the new wine of youth, is thrown with a young, handsome, sprightly girl, what subject has more interest to them than that of love ? Around that lovely walk many a young fellow has poured into the willing ears of beauty protestations of undying love. On that same walk many youthful maidens, with their breasts heaving with 

emotions they could not suppress, and with their voices tremulous with excitement, have said "yes," when "no" would have been far better for their future comfort and happiness. This little word yes has filled the heart of many a man with joy unspeakable, when it passed the ruby lips of her he loved. Time passes on and graduation day comes, when the marriage is to take place, for be it remembered that cadets are prohibited from having " clogs or wives," and so after graduation these promises are to be fulfilled. The expectant bride delays for a few months. In fact, how few women are ever ready ! All want time, it matters not how long they have been engaged. About the time autumnal leaves begin to fall the wedding-day is settled upon, and if you would watch the couple you would see that they seem to think that their engagement is the only one ever entered into ; that they are the only ones ever married; forgetting that in the days of Noah they did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage. Engagements and marriages will be continued as long as the world is stocked with men and women. No two or more persons can get up a corner in this business. At last the appointed time arrives, friends are invited, the preacher takes his position, the bridal party enters the church or parlor, and then and there the young lieutenant proceeds to endow his youthful bride with all his worldly goods, which in many cases consists of a new trunk, hair-brush, and a few brass buttons, and nothing more. A bridal tour is dispensed with for the reason that the services of the lieutenant are required with his company, and he must needs join the regi- 


merit at some remote frontier station. By rail, river, stage, ambulance, or wagon the young wife is taken to some out-of-the-way place, and then she begins to realize some of the hardships and privations incident to army life on the frontier. Would it be strange if she should soon begin to yearn for the comforts of that pleasant home she left behind her? It is now too late to make a change; she must share the fortunes of the young man who won her affections somewhere on " Flirtation Walk."

During my entire cadetship I did not speak to a female,   something I suppose no other graduate can say,    and hence no woman has any cause to regret a hasty and inconsiderate promise made to me in any of the many love-making nooks in or about that historic place.

The ladies of a garrison, when agreeable, make frontier life endurable, and do much to restrain young men and keep them from falling into bad habits. There is something ennobling and elevating in the society of refined women which is seen and felt by all who come in contact with them. No garrison is complete without ladies, and there should be a number at every military post.

During my plebe encampment the duties imposed on me were so heavy and unusual that when darkness came on I was ready to retire for the night. On one occasion I fell asleep and did not hear tattoo, so I was reported absent. In making my excuse to Captain J. A. Thomas, who was then commandant of cadets, I found that he was not disposed to view my offence with much leniency. I promised him faithfully that if he would pardon me for that one offence I would 

never be guilty of it again. "What assurance have I that you will keep your promise ?" queried he. I r