My g-g-grandfather Fredrick William John had a younger brother Augustus, (who went by the surname Johns after he arrived in America). He was also a soldier in the Civil War. In fact he enlisted August 13, 1862 with Company F of the 21st Wisconsin Infantry, under the command of Col. B. J. Sweet. He was living in Oakfield, Dodge County, Wisconsin at the time. His brother F.W. didn’t join up until several years later.
Augustus, a cooper by trade, had only been in America a year when he met and then married Maria Schaal in Dodge County in 1856. When war broke out in 1861, according to his wife Maria, Augustus enlisted because of their deep belief in the inherent evilness of slavery. She recalls his leaving:
Not only was she now alone to take care of the homestead, but she was three months pregnant at the time.
The 21st organized itself in Oshkosh to start its journey to the front. They arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio, by way of Chicago and Indianapolis, on September 13, 1862 about noon. As the enemy forces were marching upon Cincinnati and Louisville, they were ordered to report to Gen. Wallace at Covington, Kentucky, so they quickly crossed the Ohio river, at which time they were assigned to the 3rd division of Gen.Wallaces Corps and proceeded to take positions in the trenches. The 21st was at that time 960 strong.
On their arrival at Cincinnati, Col. Sweet reported to Gov. Solomon of Wisconsin that “everything in the way of equipping the men seems to be in a state of uncertainty and confusion. We have no tents. They cannot give us any here.”
In fact, the 21st was organized so quickly that the men hadn’t even had time to practice drills in their rush to the battlefield. And they had no tents, no clothes, no guns. While the Union Army was in a hurry to recruit men to fight the war, they didn’t seem to be well prepared to arm and supply them. It was a good thing they brought their own rations, otherwise they wouldn’t have been eating either.
The next morning the 21st was going to be sent to the front two miles away. Col. Sweet was hoping that they would have a few moments to drill the men “and teach them the whole art of war.”
After arriving at Covington’s front, they spent their time changing positions twice over the next few days and sitting around in the trenches. On the 17th were then ordered to report to Louisville, Kentucky. They were to report to General Sheridan, who was commanding the Army of the Ohio. They remained in the area until October 1st. The men were marched to the trenches at 3:00 every morning and stayed until 6 am, changing position from one side of the city to another over the course of their stay. It was at this time that they finally obtained tents and were now thoroughly equipped for field duty. However, because of the constant marches, trench duty, the company paperwork and organization of the regiment, they had only been drilled three or four times.
Their assignment now was to the 28th Brigade commanded by Col. John Starkweather, part of Rousseau’s Division.
On October 1 they proceeded to march to route out the rebel army from the state of Kentucky. Eight days of intense heat and very little running water. at the end of which they engaged in the Battle of Chaplin Hills. They arrived at the battlefield about 4:00 in the afternoon on the 8th of Oct where they were immediately ordered to take position in a cornfield at the extreme left of the line of battle, a battle which was in the midst of action and had been for some time. General Jackson’s Division was in the immediate front of their position. Many of the 21st were shot down while getting into position, the bullets passing through the front and hitting whomever was behind. Because of the Jackson line in front of them they were unable to fire back at the enemy, unless they wanted to decimate their own troops. Eventually, as the battle progressed, the 21st was facing the enemy line and fired, it was “only when overpowered by superior numbers” did the regiment commense its retreat behind a new line of battle.
After this battle over the next month they marched to Lebanon, Kentucky, and then on to Bowling Green. From Bowling Green they headed to Mitchellsville Station, Tennessee, then on to Nashville, at which time they set up camp. Then on December 26th they marched with the army in its advance upon the rebels who were at Murfreesboro 30 miles from Nashville.
On December 30th while the army was taking position at Stones River the brigade of which the 21st regiment was a part was positioned on the extreme left flank covering the Jefferson Pike. At 7:00 in the morning, as the brigade train was approaching, it was attacked from the rear by Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry which consisted of about 3500 men. The Union regiment lay in two lines nearest to the point of attack and immediately proceeded double quick by the left flank down the road past the train to drive the revels from the line, but not before twenty one of the wagons were driven off and set on fire. The 21st at once formed line on the side of the road for protection of the trains which passed on. Wheeler’s cavalry charged upon the regiment but was unable to dislodge them and fell back out of musket range. The Union army was finally able to place some battery in a convenient enough spot to cause the rebels to retreat in haste and confusion. But, not before they were able to take 64 sick men, teamsters, and conveyances from the brigade train. One of those men captured was Augustus.
Augustus was, at this point, being listed in the rolls as “prisoner at Jefferson on 30th of December 1862” until September of 1863, at which time he finally shows up as “in the hospital at Stevenson, Alabama.” It appears that he was a prisoner at least through May of 1863. The records do not indicate when he was released, nor when he entered the hospital, but at least by September he is now free from imprisonment with the rebels and recovering in a hospital. It is possible that he was part of a prisoner exchange between the two armies as there is no indication that he was ever in a particular prison during the war.
Augustus continued his service with the Union Army until he was mustered out at the end of the war.
The following excerpts are from Maria’s interview:
“And news of big battles came. My husband was in Murphysboro, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and marched with Sheridan eastward to the sea. We had always written each other once a week, but now all news of Sherman’s army ceased and I heard nothing from my husband for weeks. When a letter came from my husband, I used to put it under my pillow and pray to the Father not to let my babes become orphans as I had been. When I nursed my baby, the hot tears rolled down my cheeks and my baby looked up as if she wondered why I wept.
My husband drew $13 a month as a soldier. Of this he kept $3 for his own use, and sent me $10 every month. Also, he washed shirts for the other soldiers who did not like to do such work, and who did not save their money. These shirts would get full of vermin and had to be washed in boiling water. My husband got 10 cents for each shirt he washed. All that he earned this way, he saved up and sent me a $50 gold bond and a gold ring that he purchased with these savings. He wrote that the food the soldiers got was not good. “I get only cow tail to eat”, he said. So I sent him a box of food once, but the freight on it was $9, which I found hard to pay.
Still with Sherman, my husband marched to Washington, and was mustered out. He came home by way of Milwaukee, where he bought a cheap linen duster to protect his cloths. The night I expected him, I never went to bed. When he got in at the station, he started right for our cottage, and the neighbors said his feet never touched the ground, because he flew to his family. He was neatly shaved and clean — cleanest of the whole company that returned. I had just lain down when the train pulled in, and the children ran in to say, “There is a soldier coming.” A moment after that, my husband came in with the children clinging to him. My little 2 year old, Flora, who had never seen him, was clinging to him, too! Then, for the one time in my life, I fainted!!!”
Marie never mentions Augustus’ capture in her memoirs.
During the month of travel to the battle that would imprison Augustus, he also served as a Provost Guard, these were the military police of the Union Army during this particular war. On the field they were also the security detachment for Division and Corps Headquarters. They protected Headquarter’s units, provided men to guard captured Confederates on their way to the rear, and provided security against Confederate guerrillas and raiders. In Augustus’s case he was probably handpicked by his CO as a temporary measure to fill in a spot as needed. The position was a well respected one by the Union troops.