Alternate Presentations of Name: Scott W. Johnston, W. Scott Johnson, W. Scott, Johnston, Washington Johnson, Washington Scott Johnston
Born in Readington Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey on 8 January 1833, Washington Scott Johnston was a son of John J. and Eliza (Ten Eyck) Johnston. In 1850, the federal census confirms his residence in a dormitory at Lafayette College in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. A member of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity’s Gamma Chapter in 1852, he later graduated from Lafayette College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Engineering.
His entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File at the Pennsylvania State Archives indicates that he was employed as a lawyer at the dawn of the Civil War.
Civil War Military Service
According to the Civil War Veterans’ Card File, W. Scott Johnston enrolled for military service on 27 March 1863 at Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and then officially mustered in for duty as a Private with Company E of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on 5 April 1863 at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Military records at the time described him as being 5’7″ tall with dark hair, hazel eyes and a “brown complexion,” which is likely a transcription error since there appear to be other mistakes on this index card.
* Note: Various other military documents also place W. Scott Johnston’s enrollment date as March of 1863, and a pension record indicates that he also served with Company I of the 5th Pennsylvania Militia; however, the 1920 edition of the General Register of the Members of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity, 1850-1920 reported that he enlisted with the 47th Pennsylvania as a Private in 1861, and served with the regiment as an enlisted soldier until receiving his promotion to the rank of 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant in 1863. (His entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File states that the promotion occurred on 1 September 1864.)
An initial muster in year of 1861 does appear to be the most likely date, though, since his entry on one of the regiment’s muster rolls states that he “Joined by appointment of 1st Lt. & Adj’t. Sept. 1 1864 from Co. E” and since his entry in the Civil War Veterans’ Card File states that he was 28 at the time of his initial enrollment. (Since he was born in 1833, if he was actually 28 years old at the time of his entry into service, this would mean he would have had to muster in for duty in 1861.) Furthermore, his Civil War Veterans’ Card entry states that he re-enlisted for duty at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida on 12 February 1864. Typically, other men from this regiment who enlisted at Fort Taylor in 1863 or early 1864 did so after having completed their initial three-year terms of service which had begun in 1861 (meaning that, if W. Scott Johnston was “re-enlisting,” he was also most likely doing so after completing his own initial three-year term which had begun in 1861).
What is certain is that W. Scott Johnston served in various campaigns across the South with his regiment, including the 47th’s 1863 defense of Florida and the 47th’s participation as the only Pennsylvania regiment engaged in Union General Nathaniel Banks’ Red River Campaign across Louisiana (from March to May 1864).
On 25 February 1864, the 47th set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would make history. Steaming for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps.
From 14-26 March, the 47th passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the remaining members of the regiment encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
Casualties were severe. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also seriously wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands.
Still others from the 47th were captured by Confederate troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until they were released during prisoner exchanges on 22 July and in August, September and November. At least two members of the 47th Pennsylvania never made it out of that POW camp alive.
Following what some historians have called a rout by Confederates at Pleasant Hill and others have labeled a technical victory for the Union or a draw for both sides, the 47th fell back to Grand Ecore to resupply and regroup until 22 April. Retreating to Alexandria, they and their fellow Union soldiers next scored a clear victory against the Confederates at Cane Hill.
On 23 April, the 47th and their fellow brigade members crossed the Cane River via Monett’s Ferry and, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, helped to build a dam from 30 April through 10 May, which enabled federal gunboats to more easily traverse the rapids of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, W. Scott Johnston moved with the majority of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.
Removed from command amid the controversy over the Union Army’s successes and failures during the Red River Expedition, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was placed on leave by President Abraham Lincoln. Banks subsequently spent much of his time in Washington, D.C. as a Reconstruction advocate for Louisiana.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
Still able and willing to fight after their Bayou battles, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania received orders on the 4th of July 1864 to return to the Washington, D.C. area. They did so in two stages.
Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the East Coast aboard the McClellan beginning 7 July while Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty under the command of F Company Captain Henry S. Harte. Once they were able to secure transport later that month, they then also sailed for the East Coast, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of their regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August.
An Encounter with Lincoln and Snicker’s Gap
Following their arrival in Virginia and a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I were then ordered to join with Major-General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia, where they engaged in the Battle o Cool Spring, and assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the opening days of September saw the promotion at Berryville, Virginia of several enlisted men and officers, including W. Scott Johnston, who was advanced to the rank of 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant with the regiment’s central command staff on 1 September 1864. A number of others from the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers departed at this same time, mustering out upon expiration of their respective three-year service terms, including the captains of D, E and F Companies.
Those remaining behind, including 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant W. Scott Johnston, were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.
Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864
Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the 47th Pennsylvanian Volunteers helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. Advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Finally reaching and fording the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.
Meanwhile, the 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.
The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill, eight miles south of Winchester (21-22 September), and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.
One of the saddest duties 1st Lieutenant W. Scott Johnston performed as Regimental Adjutant was to communicate with the family members of deceased soldiers. In all too many cases, bereaved widows were stonewalled in their quests to obtain their husbands’ pension funds from the federal government, and were forced to appeal to regimental leaders for help as shown by this response sent sent from the headquarters of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers at Charleston, South Carolina on 11 September 1865 to Private Uriah Keiser’s widow at her Sandy Hill, Perry County, Pennsylvania address:
Yours of September 1st 1865, inquiring how the name of your husband appeared on the Rolls & Records of the 47th Pa Vols, addressed to Col Gobin, was this day referred by him to me for investigation and report.
In reply I would state that our Records contain the name of Uriah Keiser, 45 years of age, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches high, Dark complexion, Blue Eyes, Black hair. Born in Perry County Penna, Laborer by occupation. Enlisted Feby 22nd 1864 Harrisburg Pa. for 3 years. Mustered into service at Harrisburg Pa. Feb 22, 1864, and that he died at Barracks Hospital New Orleans La. July 1864. His final Statements and Inventory of Effects were forwarded to Brig Genl L Thomas [sp?] Adjt. Genl. U.S. Army July 5th 1865.
Uriah Keiser was never assigned to any company but carried on our Rolls and Returns as an unassigned Recruit.
Any further information you may desire, (if in my possession) will be cheerfully furnished upon application.
I am Very Respectfully Yours,
W. Scott Johnston
1st Lieut. & Adj. 47th Pa Vols
Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864
During the Fall of 1864, General Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.
From a military standpoint, it was another impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”
The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down and later buried on the battlefield. Sergeant Francis A. Parks and Private Marcus Berksheimer were also killed in action at Cedar Creek.
Company E’s Corporal Edward W. Menner and Privates Andrew Burk, John Kunker, Owen Moser, Jacob Ochs, and John Peterson were wounded in action. Kunker, Menner, Moser, Ochs, and Peterson survived but Private Burk, who had sustained gunshot wounds to the head and upper right arm and had initially been declared killed in action by mistake, was shipped from one hospital to another in an attempt to save his life. Treated first at a field hospital following the battle, he was then sent to the Union Army’s post hospital at Winchester where, on 13 December 1864, he underwent surgery to remove bone matter from his brain. He was then shipped to the Union Army’s General Hospital at Frederick, Maryland, where he died two days before Christmas (on 23 December 1864) from phthisis, a chronic wasting away from disease-related complications (often tubercular) commonly suffered by soldiers convalescing in hospitals after being severely wounded in battle.
Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss when a bullet pierced his cap.
Still others were captured and held as prisoners of war, several of whom died. Corporal James Huff,wounded in action and captured by Confederate forces during the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana just six months earlier, was captured again by Rebels during the Battle of Cedar Creek. Marched to the Confederate Army prison camp at Salisbury, North Carolina, he died there as a POW on 5 March 1865.
Corporal Frederick J. Scott was also captured; he died in captivity at Danville, Virginia on 22 February 1865. He was promoted to the rank of, but not mustered as a 2nd Lieutenant on 20 March 1865.
Corporal William H. Eichman was one of the “fortunate” ones; wounded in action during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October, he was then captured, and held as a prisoner of war (POW) until he was released on 11 May 1865. He was honorably mustered out less than a month later – on 1 June 1865.
Privates Jacob Haggerty and Henry Beavers were also captured and held as POWs until being released on 1 March and 8 March 1865, respectively. Private Franklin Moser was wounded in action and then also declared as missing in action following the battle.
Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. Private Charles Arnold was accidentally wounded on 23 November 1864, and was discharged seven months later (on 25 June 1865) on a Surgeon’s Certificate.
Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th was then ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. Five days before Christmas they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home.
1865 – 1866
Assigned in February to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th moved, via Winchester and Kernstown, back to Washington, D.C.
By 19 April 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.
Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial. As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May. Captain Levi Stuber of Company I also advanced to the rank of Major with the regiment’s central staff during this time.
On their final southern tour, 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant W. Scott Johnston and his fellow 47th Pennsylvanians served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Again in Dwight’s Division, this time they were attached to the 3rd Brigade, U.S. Department of the South. Taking over for the 165th New York Volunteers in July, they quartered in Charleston, South Carolina at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury.
Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant W. Scott Johnston joined the majority of men from the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in honorably mustering out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then transported to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.
After the War
Following his honorable discharge from the military, W. Scott Johnston returned to his pre-war career as a civil engineer. In 1870 the federal census indicates that he resided in Eldora, Hardin County, Iowa while employed as an engineer. His entry in the 1920 edition of the General Register of the Members of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity, 1850-1920 also confirms that he worked as an attorney later in life.
Around this same time, W. Scott Johnston was also named in a report from the first session of 43rd U.S. Congress. During its 1873-74 session, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Military Affairs was asked to consider bill H.R. 1245:
in relation to the case of Henry D. Wharton, late commissary-sergeant Forty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, on application for pay of installment of bounty….
Johnston, whose title and regiment data (1st Lieutenant and Adjutant 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers) were included in the report, advised the U.S. House of Representatives that Henry Wharton was honorably discharged and eligible for his back pay. (For more details, see Henry D. Wharton’s biographical sketch.)
Later Civilian Life
Sometime between the decade ended, W. Scott Johnston married. Listed as a single man on the 1870 federal census, he was described by an 1880 census taker as a widower. By that time, W. Scott Johnston had also returned to New Jersey, and was residing in Phillipsburg, Warren County. From 1881-1884, he served as the Coroner of Warren County, New Jersey.
Suffering from a host of health problems (arteriosclerosis, cardiac hypertrophy, chronic bronchitis, enuresis, myalgia, an old fracture of his right elbow with partial ankylosis, and rheumatism), he finally became disabled enough that he opted to move to the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers in Hudson County by 1890.
By 1900, his health improved enough to enable him to relocate to Erie County, Pennsylvania, where he was employed once again as an engineer; however, health problems began to plague him again in the new century. In 1906, he was admitted to the U.S. Home for Disabled Veterans in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio at the age of 73.
By 1920, he was listed on the federal census as a resident of the U.S. Home for Disabled Veterans (Mountain Branch) in Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee. On the ledger for this home, he was described as weighing a scant 122 pounds. Sadly, this ledger also indicated that he had no family or friends. Both ledgers confirm his occupation as an engineer. Tennessee death records, including his state death certificate, confirm that he was a widower at the time of his passing.
On 11 April 1925, W. Scott Johnston finally answered his last bugle call at the Soldiers’ Home in Tennessee. His death certificate indicated that he was suffering from chronic nephritis, rheumatism and senility at the time of his passing. He was laid to rest at the Home’s cemetery on 12 April 1925.
1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg: 1869.
2. Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
3. Civil War Veterans’ Card File. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State Archives, 1861-1865.
4. Death Certificate (W. Scott Johnston, File No.: 8, Registered No.: 1695), in Tennessee City Death Records. Nashville: State of Tennessee: State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics and Tennessee State Library and Archives, 1925.
5. General Register of the Members of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity, 1850-1920. Philadelphia: 1920.
6. Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (W. Scott Johnston; Central Branch/Dayton, Ohio; Mountain Branch/Johnson City, Tennessee), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
7. Reports of the Committees of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Forty-Third Congress. Washington, D.C., 1873-1874.
8. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.
9. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Tennessee: 1850, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1920.
10. U.S. and New Jersey Veterans’ Schedules. Washington, D.C. and New Jersey: 1890.
11. W. Scott Johnston, in Tennessee Deaths and Burials Index, 1874–1955. Salt Lake City: FamilySearch, 1925.