CIVIL WAR BOY SOLDIER part 2
|NOTE from the 15th webmaster: This article was originally online at a site in Maine, and the link disappeared. When I found it the second time at a new link, I saved a copy. As of July 2001, the link has again gone. Since I've not been able to find the original source of this article, I am posting a copy locally. If there is a copyright issue here, please contact me. slh July 2001|
|[original] Editor's Note:
Ithiel Johnson was a Methodist minister in Bowdoinham for many years. As a boy, he ran away from home to serve with an infantry unit in the Civil War, and as an older man, he penned recollections of those days in an autobiography. We retold Johnson's story of war and bloodshed in the February 1977 Bowdoinham Advertiser, and here, we reprint Johnson 's account of his second trip to Washington, D. C. and the death of President Lincoln. FDC
|I ran away to the army again in 1864, this time paying
the way of my trip with money I had earned and saved. The idea was to return to Washington
D.C. and the army had obsessed me all the time I was home. I wanted to go to take care of
the wounded soldiers in the Emery Hospital.
I reached Washington on February 26, just before Lincoln took his seat for the last time. I was at the inauguration and watched as he took the oath of office. It was a great day for the nation, and I was greatly impressed by the grand display of troops and bands of music.
I stayed at the Emery Hospital only a few days, leaving after accepting a position in a restaurant at the end of fourteenth street, working for a former member of the old 15th Mass. Regiment. I didn't like that position at all, and soon made an application to a man at the Washington Chronicle for a position as news agent at the front, but as the army was returning to the capitol, I was informed that I had better take a position nearer the city.
While I was talking with him, a gentleman came in inquiring for a boy to take a route, and I immediately stepped up to offer my services. He engaged me, and the next morning I took my first trip, in a wagon, with 1,000 Washington Chronicles to Geesebury Heights, opposite the City of Alexandria. I had nine regiments and seven forts to supply.
I used to get up at two o'clock in the morning, ride into the city and return with my papers about seven. The morning that president Lincoln was shot I came very near being shot myself, by a patrol that had been sent out to guard the road crossing the Navy Yard bridge.
LINCOLN IS SHOT
I had always driven to the bridge gate, and the guard at that bridge would open the gate and allow me to go through, but this morning I was halted more than a half mile from the bridge. I could see by the dim twilight the forms of men and horses a few rods in advance.
I thought at first I would turn my horse and run, thinking perhaps I was to be robbed, as some have been on that road. However, I was soon ordered to dismount. I hesitated in doing this, there being so much mud in the road, but I was again ordered to dismount, and I realized I must obey or be dismounted with a shot.
I hardly reached the ground before I was surrounded by more than 200 cavalrymen. The commanding officer asked me where I was going.
I told the officer I was going to the city for my papers and he said: "Rather early for news boys isn't it?" I told him it was my custom to pass that way at that hour. He ordered one of his men to take my horse. When I told him I would take care of my own horse, he very sharply commanded the sergeant to take my horse, and I was placed between two men and marched down through the mud, to my discomfort. When we reached the bridge, I said to the Captain: "If the guard on the bridge knows me, you will let me go won't you?" He said: "Certainly," and took me to the gate and asked the guard if he knew me. The guard said: "Yes, he's our paper boy."
The captain immediately ordered the sergeant to return my horse, and he took me by my boot and gave me a toss to my saddle himself. I gave him the salute and bade him good morning.
The reason I was thus held up, I am told, was because Booth had crossed the Navy Yard bridge that morning, and I was suspected as being a spy returning with messages to his friends in Washington .
Up to this time I had not yet heard that President Lincoln had been assassinated. When I reached the opposite side of the bridge I asked the guard what the trouble was, and he said: "The president has been shot."
I could not believe it, and turned my horse and dashed into the city. When I reached the street, running between the old and the new capitol, an Irishman on guard there called on me, to "Halt," but before I did, I was right upon him.
"What is the matter," I said, and he answered: "Hain't you heard the President is shot?" I replied that I didn't believe it, then gave my horse a clip and rode by him. He permitted me to go on, although he had orders not to allow any one to pass without reporting to the provost guard.
I went to the Chronicle office and found everybody very much excited. I was unable to get my papers until about eleven o'clock that morning, after the death of Lincoln.
When I got to the camp, the men were so anxious for news that they broke the line of guards and rushed out more than a half mile to meet me. I told them I should not be able to make any change that morning, and some of them gave me as high as a two dollar bill.
SEARCH FOR BOOTH
The next day a picket line was stretched for twenty miles for the purpose of preventing, if possible, the escape of Booth. No one could pass in or out of Washington without an order from the provost guard.
About this time, I received word from home that my brother Fred had enlisted in the 2nd Mass. Cavalry. Since troops were massed around Washington, I hoped I might find him.
I made inquiries and found that his regiment was located at Fairfax courthouse, so I at once laid my plans to find him. I found him very sick and uncomfortable and homesick. We soon sent him home, but he only lived a short time after reaching there.
When the funeral of Lincoln occurred, and while his body was lying in state at the capitol, I had a chance to look on the face of our martyred president.
I remained in Washington but a few weeks after this, as I became anxious to see the home folks. Before I left the city, I saw that grand review by Grant's, Sherman's and Sheridan's troops. It was a scene never to be forgotten by me. As they passed, I saw civilians take off their hats and bow their heads to weep in reverence, for they knew these troops had bared their breasts on the battlefield to save our union.
As the war was now at a close, I took a train home. I.T.J.