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William Parker Johnson Letters

Manuscript Collection No.173

Overview | Biography | Scope and Content | Container List


October 1861 - October 1864, 1996. .3 cu.ft. in 1 box.

Provenance: The Ohio University Libraries received the William Parker Johnson Civil War Letters Collection as a gift from Charles Latham, Jr., his great-grandson, in January 1996. Robert J. Kernan processed the collection in Winter 1996 (with final editing by George W. Bain in Spring 1996).

Property Rights: The Ohio University Libraries owns the property rights to the letters.

Copyrights: Copyrights and/or literary rights as possessed in these letters are in the public domain. Consideration of all other copyrights and possible literary rights is the responsibility of the researcher and the publisher.

Access: The collection is open under the rules and regulations of the Ohio University Libraries.

Photoduplication: The Ohio University Libraries will entertain requests to photocopy reasonable amounts of material from the letters for the convenience of individual researchers.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection name and number, and Ohio University Libraries in all footnotes and bibliographic references.

Related Materials A sword belonging to Dr. Johnson and a small sewing box from the family have been donated to the collections of the Athens County Historical Society & Museum.

Other collections in the Archives & Special Collections department with Civil War materials are the Brown Family Collection (MSS Collection #18), the Nelson Van Vorhes Collection (MSS Collection #10)--both with Athens County connections, and the J. Aplin Martin Collection (MSS Collection #106).

An article on the letters and artifacts appeared in the Athens Messenger, April 21, 1996, p. D-1.

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William Parker Johnson was born September 21, 1824, on a farm near Athens, Ohio. He studied medicine with Dr. William P. Blackstone and later married his daughter Julia. By the start of the Civil War, he was practicing medicine and was a member of the Athens Town Council.

From November 1861 through late 1864, Johnson served as a medical officer with the 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I.). A skilled surgeon, Johnson was appointed Brigade Surgeon and placed in charge of field hospitals several times during the war.

After the war, Johnson returned to Athens and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives from Athens County, serving for six years. He introduced a bill and succeeded in locating the State Insane Asylum in Athens. He was the first president of the local medical society, and in 1866 was elected a trustee of Ohio University.

In late 1869 Johnson moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and joined the National Surgical Institute, specializing in orthopedic surgery. He remained connected with the Institute until 1881 and died in Indianapolis, October 20, 1889.

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The collection consists of seventy-nine Civil War letters, and ten family photographs. The letters are organized in twelve folders and arranged in chronological order.

All but a few letters are written to his wife Julia. He also wrote to his daughter Addie (Mrs. Adela Johnson Boise), and his father- in-law, fellow Athens physician Dr. William P. Blackstone. One letter in the collection (Nov. 6, 1861) was sent to Julia Johnson from her cousin Morris Johnston. The letters sent to Dr. Blackstone tell of the horrors of war and describe Johnson's surgical methods. The letters, in general, depict the daily struggle to stay healthy and give detailed information about battles, including the number of missing, wounded, and killed.

In March 1863, Johnson, suffering from frequent bowel problems, was visited by his wife. During her stay, she cooked and looked after him though her own health was poor.

The 18th O.V.I. (organized locally) fought the majority of its battles in the Tennessee theater with skirmishes in Alabama and Georgia. Some of the battles mentioned in the letters were at Manchester, Stewart Creek, Stone River, and Dug Gap, Tennessee. Johnson tells of his personal experiences during these battles and the amount of work involved tending to the wounded. A letter dated January 22, 1863, for example, tells of approaching Confederate forces. While Johnson was mounting his horse in retreat, a shell whizzed by his head and exploded a few feet from him. He continued writing about how he escaped the Rebels' clutches and how the regiment drove them away. Another letter, dated September 27, 1863, tells of a large number of wounded and several surgeons falling into the hands of the Rebels, while he made a narrow escape. The letters also frequently convey references to the health of the "Athens Boys" after the battles.

The photographs include four of Johnson (one of him in his uniform, another a print copied from a drawing), one of Julia, and individual photographs of the Johnson children, some identified and some not.

The last two files include handwritten transcriptions for a number of the letters, and a paper by Mr. Latham on his ancestors delivered in January 1996.

Envelopes received with the collection have been removed for safe keeping; photocopies have been placed in with the letters.

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Box 1

  • Folder 1 - October 1861 - May 1862
  • Folder 2 - June 1862 - July 1862
  • Folder 3 - August 1862 - September 1862
  • Folder 4 - October 1862
  • Folder 5 - December 1862 (with envelope dated November)
  • Folder 6 - January 1863
  • Folder 7 - March 1863 - April 1863
  • Folder 8 - May 1863 - July 1863
  • Folder 9 - September 1863
  • Folder 10 - October 1863 - November 1863
  • Folder 11 - May 1864 - July 1864
  • Folder 12 - October 1864
  • Folder 13 - Photographs
  • Folder 14 - Letter transcriptions (handwritten)
  • Folder 15 - "Second Wave," paper delivered January 1996

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