The Rev. John Johnson
The Spirit of Fort
The Hero of the Confederacy;
The Ox of the Diocese
rom "Cyclopedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century" with a Brief Historical Introduction on South Carolina by General Edward McCrady, Jr. and on North Carolina by Hon. Samuel A. Ashe," v. 1, p. 512. published by Brant & Fuller, Madison, Wis., in 1892:
"Rev. John Johnson, D.D., youngest son of Joseph Johnson, M.D., was born in Charleston, S.C., December 25, 1829, and after receiving an excellent academic education at the school of Mr. C. Cotes, engaged in the professional and active life of an engineer. During ten years of such occupation, he was employed in the surveys and construction of railroads, waterworks, etc., preparing and publishing, under the patronage of the state, a large map of South Carolina, considered to be the best authority of the time, 1853, and for many years afterward.
A fondness for study and letters determined him to spent two sessions at the University of Virginia, 1858, 1860. There he won the honors of a gold medal for the best contribution to the magazine of the university, and also the valedictory of the Jefferson society. Having decided later to enter the sacred ministry of the Protestant Episcopal church, he began such preparations, and was a student at Camden, S.C., under the direction of Bishop Thomas F. Davis, when the war of the Confederacy broke out and suspended his purpose.
Joining the southern army he passed through the grades of lieutenant, captain and major of engineers, while performing active service on the fortification of Savannah, Wilmington, and Charleston. Twice wounded at Fort Sumter, where he did duty as an engineer-in-charge, during fifteen months of its severest bombardments, he took part later in the battles of Averysboro, and Bentonville, N.C., and was paroled as senior officer of engineers, at the surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army, at Greensboro, N.C.
In January, 1866, he was ordained to the ministry, and assumed charge of Grace church, Camden, S.C. Thence, in 1871, he removed to Charleston to become assistant minister of St. Philip's church, being made rector in the following year, and so continuing to the present date. He has been repeatedly elected to the general convention of the Protestant Episcopal church, in the United States. In July, 1890, he published a work of great historical and technical importance, entitled The Defense of Charleston Harbor, including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1 vol., 8v0., Charleston. The book has received high commendations from the best literary and military critics, and has passed into a second edition. In the summer of 1891, the degree of doctor of divinity was conferred upon him by the trustees of the University of the South, at Sewanee, Tenn."
From "Confederate Military History Extended Edition," v. VI: South Carolina, p. 684:
"Major John Johnson, former major of engineers in the Confederate States service, and widely known as the author of the valuable historical work, 'The Defense of Charleston Harbor,' is a native of Charleston, born in 1829. He was educated until he reached the age of sixteen years, at Charleston. He then desired to enter the United States navy; but not succeeding, engaged in civil engineering for ten years, and was associated with George E. Walker in preparing a map of the State. After this he devoted two years to study at the University of Virginia, won the first gold medal offered by the college magazine for an essay, and made the valedictory address before the Jefferson society. In 1859 he began at Camden a course of study for the ministry, but the crisis of 1860-61 diverted him from this occupation and brought into use his training as an engineer.
As a volunteer engineer in the State service, he was present at the firing upon the Star of the West, and he continued in conspicuous service until the close of the war which followed. In November, 1861, he was employed in constructing fortifications about Charleston and Savannah; early in 1862 was commissioned first lieutenant of engineers in the Confederate service, and thereafter was on duty on the fortifications of James island and in the vicinity of Charleston, and for a short time at Wilmington, N.C., until the opening of the naval attack upon Fort Sumter, April 7, 1863, when he was ordered to the fort as engineer in charge. He served in this arduous duty for fifteen months, during all the period bombardment, was wounded twice, and earned by his efficient service promotion to captain and major. Subsequently he was on duty on the Combahee river line in charge of all fortifications between Charleston and Savannah until the abandonment of that region, when accompanied the army to Cheraw as engineer officer on the staff of General Hardee. In that capacity he participated in the battles of Averysboro and Bentonville, and was then transferred to the staff of Gen. J.E. Johnston as acting chief engineer of the army.
With the return of peace Major Johnson resumed his theological preparation; in January, 1866, was ordained deacon in the Protestant Episcopal church, and in 1867, was ordained priest. He served as rector of Grace church, Camden, until 1871, and then became assistant minister of St. Philip's, Charleston. Two years later he was made rector of this church, an office he has since filled with devotion and great usefulness. He has been honored with the degree of D.D. from the university of the South, and LL.D. from Charleston college. He married, at the close of 1865, Miss C. Floride Cantey, of Camden, S.C, (daughter of James Willis Cantey and Camilla Floride Richardson - JTF) and they have a family of eight children."
From William Henry Johnson's 'Johnson Genealogy,' p. 22:
"Maj. John Johnson C.E., D.D., LL.D., youngest son and 15th child of Dr. Joseph Johnson and Catherine Bonneau, his wife, b. Dec. 25, 1829; d. Apr. 7, 1907; bapt. in St. Philip's Church, Hobkirk Hill, near Camden, S.C., the 20th Dec. 1865, by Bishop Davis. m. Camilla Floride, daughter of Gen. James Willis Cantey. She was b. May 29, 1838. He was confirmed Dec. 3, 1851.
He has been variously called by Bishops Howe and Capers 'The Ox of the Diocese.' Gen. McCrady called him 'The Hero of the Confederacy' because no man up to that time had been under such continuous gun-fire; he was 15 months continuously at Fort Sumter between the two bombshell wounds he received there, one striking his left elbow from which he suffered more than the great comminuted compound depressed fracture of the vertex of his skull. (He then showed this idiosyncrasy: that morphine excited him, a cup of coffee has put him to sleep within 10 minutes.)
Gen. McCrady has also said that during the great bombardments the authorities were changing the garrison every ten days because it is a nervous strain to be shot at and the average bottle last only 4 1/2 hours. I think a better description of him would be to call him 'The Spirit of Fort Sumter' as his motto was 'Difficultes est opportunties.' Rev. Johnson was curator of the South Carolina Historical Society, died in his 76th year.
Was one year assistant Rector of St. Philip's and 33 years Rector and about one year Rector Emeritus. For many years President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese.
His early education was a St. Christopher Coates' School. He then engaged in professional and active life as a civil engineer, after 10 years surveys, railroad construction, caterworks, etc., prepared the best map of South Carolina in 1853 that was ever drawn. Sherman complimented it extravagantly when he made use of it in his raid through South Carolina. In 1858 to 1860, he was at the University of Virginia and got the gold medal for best contribution to University magazine and another gold medal for the Valedictory at Jefferson Literary Society. He decided to enter later the Protestant Episcopal ministry and studied at Camden under Bishop Thomas J. Davis when the war broke out. He passed through the grades of Lieutenant, Captain, and Major of Engineers while doing active service in the C.S.A. at Wilmington, Savannah, and Charleston.
Gen. Beauregard has said that to Major Johnson was due the masterly defense of Fort Sumter. He took part in the battles of Averysboro and Bentonville, North Carolina, and was paroled as Senior Officer of Engineers at the surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army at Greensborough, North Carolina.
January 1866 he was ordained to the Protestant Episcopal ministry and took charge of Grace Church, Camden. in 1871, he became Assistant Minister of St. Philip's. He was repeatedly elected to the general convention of the Episcopal Churches in the United States. In July 1890, he published work of historical and technical importance: 'The Defense of Charleston Harbor.' It received high commendation from the best literary and military critics and has passed through two editions.
In 1891, the University of the South conferred on him D.D. and a few years later the College of Charleston LL.D. Some pages of the Standard Dictionary were sent to John Johnson for his opinion before the first edition was published. This author of 'The Defense of Charleston Harbor' in deed and in writing was a patriot indeed and beloved and admired even by those who disagreed with him in the days of trials. He was a great and exemplar of South Carolina manhood and honor, as well as a typical South Carolina citizen, soldier and churchman. A grand product of St. Philip's Charleston, the University of Virginia, and the Johnson family. Bishops Howe and Capers said he knew more theology than any man in the state. The great and good Rev. William Porcher DuBose, D.D., Dean of the Theological Department of the University of the South, at Sewanee, Tenn., told me that he thought more of him and loved him better than any man he had ever known; and that he knew more theology than any man he had ever met, and that the University of Virginia marked him as a man of distinction and expected great things of him.
President Roosevelt answered the Committee on Entertainment when he visited Charleston in 1902, if there were any changes or additions that he wished on the program; was told only that he desired to be introduced to Gen. Edward McCrady and Rev. John Johnson. Gen. McCrady met Roosevelt; Rev. Johnson's answer to the Committee was one word 'Impossible.' No one seemed to understand his answer and later (3 months) I asked him. He said it had annoyed him that no one seemed to understand his answer; and explained it to me as follows:
'It is the ethics of historians, that if they purport to write history and overwhelming proof is brought to the historian that he made a mistake, and that historian brings out another edition and has not corrected the mistake; no historian can ever recognize him as an historian again. Roosevelt made gross errors in his history about President Jefferson Davis. Overwhelming proofs from 13 states were presented to Roosevelt about his error and yet he did not correct it in his next edition. Now if President Roosevelt, holding the highest honor that the people of these United States can bestow, wishes to meet humble citizen John Johnson, I will be delighted to meet him; if plain citizen Roosevelt wishes to meet plain citizen John Johnson, John Johnson will be pleased to meet him; if criminal Roosevelt wishes to meet the Rev. John Johnson, John Johnson would go out of his way to extend to him his ministerial services, etc. ... but if historian Roosevelt desires to meet historian Johnson, that would be impossible as there is no such person as "Historian Roosevelt," and I cannot conceive to any other reason why President Roosevelt would care to meet your cousin Edward and myself.'
He was a remarkably healthy man, very large, abut 190 pounds, not corpulent, very military figure, long legs, very short thighs, exceedingly long straight backbone, height over 5 feet 10 inches.
He would stick to his work until he would drop. Twice in my recollection he fainted in his later days; and it is questioned whether his old skull wound explained it, but I think it had nothing to do with it.
He had two attacks of typhoid fever. I detected valvular disease of his death during an attack of La Grippe three of four years prior to his death. About about a year before his death, the thoughtful congregation wishing to relieve their faithful pastor elected him Rector Emeritus with a salary of $1,200.00 and a Rector (Rev. Samuel Cary Beckwith) in charge. Rev. John Johnson overworked himself trying to make matters easier and in perfect shape for the new incumbent. Lent services being on increased his strain and being over 76 years of age his kidneys now for the first time broke down and he was laid up for two or three weeks only when he recuperated and there were no further symptoms of kidney trouble for a year. When again they inflamed, he died in a few weeks. In his delirium in this final attack his prayers were beautiful and again and again he would say: "Oh Lord Jesus, help me so to live that when I come to die and lay down in the grave, be Thou my Shield and Comforter.' At other times he would be with is lantern at night in front of the ruined walls of Sumter, directing the rebuilding with sand bags sent from Charleston where they had been made during the day by the ladies, it was thus he rebuilt the fort every night. At another time he thought he was directing a great battle and he gave order as he vividly described the bloody scenes. At first it was in his favor, but later overwhelming numbers all but annihilated his troops and to save the remnant with a deep sign he drew an imaginary sword from beneath the sheet and surrendered and then expired.
He fought a good fight. His sermons were very fine productions and would have been appreciated every more than they were if he had not had a peculiar voice in delivery which took a little time to get accustomed to.
Dr. J.W. Mallet, Dean of the Medical Department of the University of Virginia and the most exact man that I ever knew, not only as a scientist but in all things, also the greatest chemist in America (maybe anywhere) having discovered at least three elements, etc. having (and being the first asked professorship to Johns Hopkins University, etc.) said of Rev. John Johnson's book that it was the least prejudiced, the fairest, truest, most just book on history that he ever read. Dr. Mallet stopped me on campus and told me so. Dr. Mallet although a F.RS and an English subject, still was well posted, as he had been very useful in the manufacture of gunpowder, etc. when in the Ordinance Department of the C.S.A. station in and around Charleston.
Gen. Johnson Hagood, a former college mate of mine, now a graduate of West Point in the regular U.S. Army, said that the Rev. John Johnson's book was the first book written by a Confederate to be honored by being used as a textbook at the regular Army Post course of study and quizzes for the officers. Cousin Johnson told me had he published the book 'The Defense of Charleston Harbor' three years earlier, he could not have refrained nor restricted as much of his prejudice to the Yankees, etc., so finally cut out all of his ideas, and simply made a plain statement from the reports of the officers on both sides and stuck to them. After the war when the state was in the hands of carpetbaggers and everything seemed to be going to ruin, he took a $600.00 call at Camden, and eeked out an existence by aid of his model wife who took full charge of his school on Fridays that the Rev. might have more time to prepare his Sunday sermon, etc. During this period he received six or seven more calls to churches; none of which were less than $1,000 and a rectory, and one was as much as $3,000 in Lynchburg, Virginia. His letter was characteristic of the man: 'Regrets, South Carolina needs all her sons.' He was also offered a professorship at the University of Virginia. Another was the presidency of Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, etc., but yet his patriotism for South Carolina was such that he was proof against these vanities and was satisfied with the greatest of all pleasures; a sense of feeling that the greater difficulty in performing one's duty, the greater, the truer, the purer, the more real, is the actual enjoyment, and that nothing else is worthwhile. I have never heard him express these sentiments of mine, it is true, but his dear wife, my sweet Cousin Floride kindly sent me his photograph, his cut glass pitcher (that on hot days he occasionally enjoyed a week claret sangria from the St. Philip's Mrs. Andrews) and nicely engrossed a copy of his constant prayer since he decided to be a worker in God's vineyard, and I gather from his lifework and prayers that devotion to duty was the keystone to his character as it arched above the average man. The prayer is as follows, and he commended it to his son, Roberts Poinsett Johnson:
'Manifest, Lord, thy will unto me. Make clear before me the path of duty. Show me the way in which Thou wouldst have me to go, and let me walk therein, patiently, faithfully, and zealously, as I ought to do; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.'
His home life was as instructive as his presence was bright to the children, with his jokes, saying he believed there was a puppy in the blackberry dumpling and getting up our intense curiosity upon craving it. He and his lovable wife never differed in opinion before their children, but backed each other before them, and discussed their differences in private [and] observed what excellent men and women they turned out to be.
Rev. John Johnson, D.D., M.A., son of Dr. Joseph Johnson and Catherine Bonneau and grandson of William Johnson and his wife Sarah Nightingale, dau. of Thomas Nightingale, was buried in St. Philip's Churchyard back of the Chancel according to his request in simplicity and gentility, a few flowers and with the rites of the Protestant Episcopal church. The funeral was tremendous, the admiration was sincere and the mourning unfeigned. He wrote this idea of death and one can imagine him standing on the rampart of Fort Sumter gazing at the ebb tide: 'Like some mighty river widening to the sea; Broadly and grandly, silently and deep, life joins eternity.' Numerous obituary notices appeared in local papers, especially up to May 27, 1907."
John Johnson's first cousin once removed, William Henry Trescot, was the author of the inscription on the Confederate monument in front of the state Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina, which was unveiled on May 13, 1879, and which seems appropriate to mention here:
(facing Gervais and Main streets)
perpetuates the memory
of those who
true to the instincts of their birth,
faithful to the teachings of their fathers,
constant in their love of their State,
died in the performance of their duty:
who have glorified a fallen cause
by the simple manhood of their lives.
The patient endurance of suffering,
and the heroism of death,
in the dark hours of imprisonment,
in the hopelessness of the hospital,
in the short sharp agony of the field,
found support and consolation in the belief
that at home they would not be forgotten.
Let the stranger
who may in future times
read this inscription
recognize that these were men
whom power could not corrupt,
whom death could not terrify,
whom defeat could not dishonor,
and let their virtues plead
for just judgment
of the cause in which they perished.
Let the South Carolinian
of another generation
that the State taught them
how to live and how to die,
and from her broken fortunes
she has preserved for her children
the priceless treasures of their memories,
teaching all who may claim
the same birthright
that truth, courage, and patriotism
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