Willie Johnston (Medal of Honor)
|William "Willie" Johnston|
Morristown, New York
|Allegiance||United States of America
|Years of service||1861 - 1865|
|Battles/wars||American Civil War|
|Awards||Medal of Honor|
William "Willie" Johnston (born July 1850), from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was a drummer boy in Company D of the 3rd Vermont Infantry. His service during the Seven Days retreat in the Peninsula Campaign was exemplary. He was the only drummer in his division to come away with his instrument, during a general rout. His superiors considered this a meritorious feat, when fellow soldiers had thrown away their guns. As a result, he received the Medal of Honor on the recommendation of his division commander, thereby becoming the youngest recipient of the highest decoration at 13 years of age.
Johnston was born in Morristown, New York in 1850. (Note - His birthplace is also listed as Warrentown in St. Lawrence County, N.Y.) Apparently his family moved to Salem, Vermont (now Derby). When his father enlisted in December, 1861, young Willie begged to go with him. The commanding officer agreed. He was enlisted as a drummer boy on December 11, 1861 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He was 11 years old and five feet tall.
Johnston enlisted as a drummer in Company D, 3d Vermont Infantry Regiment on May 1, 1862 and was mustered into United States service same day. His father, William Johnston, was a member of Company B of the same regiment.
Johnston's first fight was at Lee's Mill, Virginia, on April 16, 1862.
During his next campaign, the Seven Days Battles from June 25 to July 1, 1862, Johnston was cited for bravery.
During that retreat many men threw away all their equipment so they would have less weight to carry. Johnston, however, retained his drum and brought it safely to Harrison's Landing. There, he had the honor of drumming for the division parade, he being the only drummer boy to bring his instrument off the battlefields. Johnston's division commander noted this fact and included them in his report. President Lincoln heard the story and wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, suggesting the youth be given a medal. Stanton agreed, and Willie Johnston was presented his Medal of Honor September 16, 1863, at the age of 13, for a deed performed when he was but 11 years of age.
This was the second Medal of Honor ever awarded. Secretary Stanton presented the actual award.
Johnston re-enlisted at Brandy Station, Va. on February 15, 1864. He transferred to Company H, February 15, 1864, and then became Drum Major of the 20th Regiment of Veteran Reserve Corps. He was mustered out of service on December 30, 1864.
Nothing is known of his life after his discharge from the Army.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and organization: Musician, Company D, 3d Vermont Infantry. Place and date: Unknown. Entered service at: St. Johnsbury, Vt. Birth: Morristown, N.Y. Date of issue: 16 September 1863.
Date and place of act not on record in War Department.
- Wisler, G. Clifton. Mr. Lincoln's Drummer. 1995.
- "Willie went to war", Vermont Civil War Enterprises, 2005, first biography, Marius B. Peladeau
- At the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont there is some Civil War memorabilia on display. This includes Johnston’s photograph and drumsticks. Johnston is featured in the museum's kit and as "Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer."
Until the establishment of the Medal of Honor there was only decoration presented in the United States Army - the original Purple Heart. However, since the Purple Heart had not been awarded since the Revolutionary War, and would not be used again until World War I, the Medal of Honor was effectively the only award available to U.S. military personnel at the time of the Civil War.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.
- "Civil War Medal of Honor recipients (A-L)". Medal of Honor citations. United States Army Center of Military History. August 6, 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- "Willie Johnston (Medal of Honor)". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2008-12-10.