Glimpses of Soldiers' Lives: Private R. Cecil Johnson
Prints and Photographs
As the American Civil War began, R. Cecil Johnson was a hopeful entrepreneur, "grafting" apples and seeds and sending whiskey specimens home to his brother and business partner, Smith. He was just twenty years old, living in Fulton County, Georgia, with a day job selling trees and an enterprising spirit. A letter sent home in February 1861, came with seed, a sample of Cognac, and a generous "six apples and six peaches gratis."
Three days later Johnson sent another letter, which conveys a poignant calm before the war's storm. He laments his brother's delayed purchase of peach stones, describes how he was caught in the rain when planting apple seed. Then, he explains how, in order to avoid either becoming (or perhaps remaining) "a devil of a fellow", he passed along the information from Beaufort to the newspaper editors, and asks for more information about the military preparations. Finally, he speaks of seeing the emphatically underlined "our President," and of his "short and excellent speech."
On April 26th Johnson sent word that he had joined the "Atlanta Greys" in the 8th Georgia Infantry of the Confederate army. Aware of his danger, Johnson leaves his investments in Beaufort to Smith. But he still schemes, predicting that "a fortune" can be made of selling garden seed, now that the South has been cut off from the Northern supply. "If I survive the war I intend to make a big business of it," he wrote.
Johnson transferred into General Wade Hampton's Cavalry Battalion on September 12th. The next letter in his file is shorter than the previous three, in pencil instead of pen, on a sheet ripped from a notebook instead of a full page. Dated June 19, 1862, it contains the first mention of tragedy--the death of his brother Ben. "It came upon me like a thunder-clap," wrote Johnson.
Cecil Johnson was killed at the battle of Upperville, on June 21st, 1863. The last letter comes from J. E. Screven, his Major in the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry. According to Screven, Johnson was "performing a voluntary and hazardous service" when he was slain. "He was a soldier in the highest sense of the term," wrote Screven. "I am proud of him in his death as I was proud of him in life as a member of my old company."
"R. Cecil Johnson materials," LOT 14043-5. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. [view description of the group]
"Richard Cecile Johnson (Confederate)." The American Civil War Research Database. http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=person&id=200098278 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
Compiled by: Ann Tyler Moses, Liljenquist Family Fellow, 2012. Last updated 2012 July.