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3rd Maine Hannibal Johnson - Great P.O.W. Sword Story!

“Camp near Leesburg, Virginia, November 1st, 1862” is the heading on this very interesting EIGHT PAGE letter written by Hannibal Augustus Johnson, Company B of the 3rd Maine Infantry.  Not only is this an interesting letter, but Hannibal Johnson has quite an amazing story connected with his name.  Quoting from the Civil War Database:

 

According to Johnson’s book, ‘The Sword of Honor’ (an interesting read, by the way) he was captured both at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, exchanged, and captured a second time during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864.

            Johnson’s second capture was by men of the 12th South Carolina, and Captain J. C. B. Smith.  His pistol and a presentation sword were taken from him by Smith.  Johnson and others escaped captivity in November 1864 and made their way through the mountains of S.C., N.C.

and TN. to their own lines at Knoxville.  The escape took seven weeks.

            In 1875 Captain Smith located Johnson through acquaintances and returned the sword to him.  They remained friends until Smith died in 1898.”

 

Here are the highlights of our letter:

 

·         “…owing to the unsettled condition of the Regt….I have had not a moment that I could give to writing….  When your letter was received we were on picket on the canal in Md. but before our tour of duty was through we were ordered in to prepare to cross the river.  The river was at the time quite high and it had been running hard for two days and by the time we were ready to cross the water was very high.  I tell you the prospect the morning we were to cross was glooming enough for the night was very cold so much so that ice formed in the small puddles on the road side and we had orders to cross at early dawn… In the first place there was a band of music stationed on the river bank and as the men were wadding the cold river the band cheered them on by some of their excellent music.  The river was 750 yards across and many a poor fellow went in all under before they reached the other shore on act of the swift running tide but the thoughts of the immersion were almost as bad as the reality but I must confess that I never want to ford another river at this season of the year.”

·          “There has been heavy cannonading all the afternoon in the direction of Watertown and if it continues much longer our division may be called for it but no one cares for the fighting part of it but we do detest marching for our marches generally on such occasions are very rapid.”

·         “We are encamped on the ground that four (4) rebel Regts. occupied last winter but none the worse after that.  We had a rebel Major along with us yesterday for our pickets took him the night before…  He obtained a shot furlough to go home and see his family not knowing our people were on this side of the river and as he was calmly sleeping in his own house in bed our picket went into the house and in his bedroom (the immodest fellow) and took him out of bed regardless of the wishes of his wife who had not seen him for a long time and thought it mighty hard she could not enjoy his company for one single night, but we told her everything was just in war love & matrimony and left her to mourn the sudden theft from her then voiceless bed.”


·         “I tell you things have to suffer now we are again in Virginia for while in Maryland we did not take many liberties with the Farmers property, but how different are things now for our boys had no sooner crossed the river then they were at once a foraging as we call it and before night I could say upon honor that there was as many as 100 hogs as many turkeys and chickens in camp all dead, dead, dead for we all remembered the raid of Stuarts Cavalry a few weeks ago and we follow his worthy example to a less limited extent."

·         “When it came night in Maryland we cut down trees to keep us warm through the night but in Virginia down comes the Virginia fence no matter how good it is the better the fence the better the fire it makes and in fact anything we see that we want we  take it and we are living like fighting cocks and will as long as the farmers leave things around loose but I think we deserve these things as well as our Rebs farmers so we act accordingly.”

·         “I was surprised to hear that they were obliged to resort to a draft in Mass. for I thought that there was patriotism enough in the state to furnish their quota by voluntary enlistment the same as my native state.  Often I think she has done nobly for she has now 29 Regts of Infantry six (6) batteries of Artillery and one Regt of Cavalry besides about 10,000 seamen for the navy.  The 39th Mass Vols. are in our Brigade, Stoneman’s Division this reg’t. making troops from four (4) different states in the Brigade Mass, N. York, Penn. & Maine.”

 


Over the years we have had a number of Hannibal’s letters, he signs this one only “H. A. J.”, but obviously a rock solid I.D.  The letter at one time apparently got too close to something hot as on the edges and corners there are scorch marks, these do not affect the reading of the letter… just add a little character.  If you want a letter that has a great “story” here is your chance! 

 


#PO31 - Price $550

 




 Transcription:
                                                                                                                Camp near Leesburg, Virginia
                                                                                                                                       November 1st 1862

Dear Friend Samuel

                   I received your kind letter some days ago but owing to the unsettled condition of the Regt. since it has been received I have had not a moment that I could give to writing until the present time.  When your letter was received we were on picket on the canal in Md. but before our tour of duty was through we were ordered in to prepare to cross the river.  The river was at the time quite high and it had been running hard for two days and by the time we were ready to cross the water was very high.  I tell you the prospect the morning we were to cross was glooming enough for the night was very cold so much so that ice formed in the small puddles on the road side and we had orders to cross at early dawn.  The night before we crossed I do not think much else was thought and talked of but the cold bath we were to take in the morning some wishing that the water would rise so high that we could not cross others wishing Virginia was in the Red Sea or some other distant place. 

                  In the morning we the Division commenced to cross and you would laugh to see the preparations some would make some would not do a thing but raid through with shoes stockings pants and in fact everything on while others would take of shoes & socks but get an old pair of cast off shoes to cross it for the bed of the river is very rocky and we were obliged to have something on our feet.  In the first place there was a band of music stationed on the river bank and as the men were wadding the cold river the band cheered them on by some of their excellent music.

                 The river was 750 yards across and many a poor fellow went in all under before they reached the other shore on act of the swift running tide but the thoughts of the immersion were almost as bad as the reality but I must confess that I never want to ford another river at this season of the year.  We are now in camp about 2 miles from the city of Leesburg arrived about six (6) o’clock last night and our future destination I know nothing of but we the Division are assigned to Burnside’s Corps and on detached service and what that service is to be is as yet a mystery, but some say we are going to Texas some one place & some another but I guess no one knows for certain and I guess no one cares, I don’t.  One place is the same as another to me.  For we have been fooled around so much that the boys have not much choice what becomes of them and they are not much to blame neither.

                There has been heavy cannonading all the afternoon in the direction of Watertown and if it continues much longer our division may be called for it but no one cares for the fighting part of it but we do detest marching for our marches generally on such occasions are very rapid.  We are encamped on the ground that four (4) rebel Regts. occupied last winter but none the worse after that.  We had a rebel Major along with us yesterday for our pickets took him the night before the circumstances were these.  He obtained a shot furlough to go home and see his family not knowing our people were on this side of the river and as he was calmly sleeping in his own house in bed our picket went into the house and in his bedroom (the immodest fellow) and took him out of bed regardless of the wishes of his wife who had not seen him for a long time and thought it mighty hard she could not enjoy his company for one single night, but we told her everything was just in war love & matrimony and left her to mourn the sudden theft from her then voiceless bed.

               I tell you things have to suffer now we are again in Virginia for while in Maryland we did not take many liberties with the Farmers property, but how different are things now for our boys had no sooner crossed the river then they were at once a foraging as we call it and before night I could say upon honor that there was as many as 100 hogs as many turkeys and chickens in camp all dead, dead, dead for we all remembered the raid of Stuarts Cavalry a few weeks ago and we follow his worthy example to a less limited extent.  When it came night in Maryland we cut down trees to keep us warm through the night but in Virginia down comes the Virginia fence no matter how good it is the better the fence the better the fire it makes and in fact anything we see that we want we  take it and we are living like fighting cocks and will as long as the farmers leave things around loose but I think we deserve these things as well as our Rebs farmers so we act accordingly.

               I was surprised to hear that they were obliged to resort to a draft in Mass. for I thought that there was patriotism enough in the state to furnish their quota by voluntary enlistment the same as my native state.  Often I think she has done nobly for she has now 29 Regts of Infantry six (6) batteries of Artillery and one Regt of Cavalry besides about 10,000 seaman for the navy.

              The 39th Mass Vols. are in our Brigade, Stoneman’s Division this reg’t. making troops from four (4) different states in the Brigade Mass N. York Penn. & Maine.  How happy it makes me to think and know I have such dear friends in you and your family and if I ever get into anyone of the New England states again I shall make it one of my first duties to make you a visit not a duty but of pleasure for I allot as much on seeing you as my own dear father & mother.  My address on my last letter was not quite right for you had it Orderly Sgt. but I am only acting Sgt Major so please correct in my next letter or envelope.

                  The next time you are up Hitty’s give her my kind regards and tell her I have dreamed more about little sis Atwell that any other person I know, for I did love that little thing and cannot keep her out of my mind day or night.  If Julia is not married advice her to wait until the war is over for then she can find herself a first rate person for most of the likely men are in the field as soldiers (so say we all of us) Write soon to H. A. J.