Johnson, John Lipscomb

Chaplain John Lipscomb Johnson (1835-1915)

Of the 17th Virginia Infantry and later he served as a hospital chaplain in Lynchburg, VA

By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg

John L. Johnson was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, the son of Lewis Johnson (1800-1853) and Jane Dabney Johnson (1800-1863).  He was one of at least five children that the couple raised at Forest Hill, the family plantation.  In 1854, Johnson began his studies at the University of Virginia where he graduated in 1860.  He was ordained in Charlottesville to the gospel ministry on June 10, 1860.   One month after his ordination, Johnson married Julia Anna Toy in Norfolk.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

Just as his adult life was taking full form his wife became critically ill.  She did survive but for a while could be classified as a semi-invalid.  Johnson’s words describing the shadow now falling upon the country,

The whole country had become a seething political cauldron…. Virginia was wrestling with the all-absorbing problem, and Richmond was like a bee-hive.  The Convention had been called to determine the question…. [John Lipscomb Johnson, Autobiographical Notes, 129].

Johnson was teaching at Hollins College near Big Lick (Roanoke).  Sensing the trouble that lay ahead he sent his wife with Col. George P. Taylor and his two daughters to Richmond.  When he delivered her into Taylor’s care he met Jubal A. Early for the first time.  Early was hoarse from having canvassed against secession and could barely speak above a whisper.  Hoarseness did not deter Early from his soliloquy on the desire of the North to fight.  Early asserted, “You don’t think they will fight, hey?… Just wait: you’ll see as much fight in them as you’ll care to and then there’ll be some left” [130].  Early like many military men were opposed to secession until their state seceded.

Continuing for the time being at his position at Hollins College, Johnson saw a picture of the newly designed Confederate Flag in the newspaper.  He bought material and some ladies made him a flag, and a black servant helped him hoist it to the top of the tallest building on campus.

Once commencement was over that April Johnson, who favored secession, took his leave of the superintendent of the institution heading for Norfolk never to return to Hollins College.  April 17th saw the passing of the Ordinance of Secession in Virginia.  War was imminent!

In May Johnson made a formal application for an appointment to the Chaplaincy of one of the Virginia Regiments.  The anxious young minister remarked,

I waited to hear from Richmond until I was sick of heart and, finally, like Peter, went fishing.  It was June and I was up to my breasts in water, hauling the seine, when a messenger brought me an official envelope postmarked “Richmond.”  Upon opening it I found that I had received one of the first four appointments as Chaplain of Virginia State Troops with the rank and pay of Captain of Cavalry, and I was ordered to report to the Governor at once.  Upon doing so promptly, I was handed by the Governor a commission as Chaplain of the 17th Virginia Infantry and ordered to report without delay to Headquarters at Manassas Junction—General P. G. T. Beauregard [131].

Johnson was off to his new assignment. He desired to arrive early enough to make preparations at camp for his ministry in behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Leaving his wife at Glenmore he set out for Orange Court House to catch the train.  He had with him a Bible, books, horse, camp chest, double barreled shot gun and silver spurs.  Off he went to do his duty under God to spread the Word and evidently scatter some buckshot.

Chaplain of the 17th Virginia Infantry

On July 1st, 1861 Chaplain Johnson reported for duty.  Finally he arrived at the camp of the 17th Virginia just a little southeast of the Manassas Depot.  The Brigade was composed of the 1st, 7th, and 11th, as well as the 17th Virginia, which was under the command of Brig. Gen. James Longstreet.  The brigade was a mixture of denominations, but a large contingent of the companies from Loudoun and Fauquier Counties were Baptists as was their chaplain.  Johnson preached his first sermon as chaplain the second Lord’s Day in July.

Johnson soon discovered,

I found that no regular form could be adopted, except perhaps this, that the Chaplain must preach when he could, where he could, and the best he could.  It was a matter of frequent remark that it was of no use to appoint services for Sunday morning, for the Long Roll would be sure to beat.  And often it looked just that way.  For services at night two or three smart lightwood torches stuck up on tins was all the local preparation needed.  Then the men would stand up, or bring camp stools, or sit down, or even lie down on the ground, just as they preferred [135].

When Johnson reported to Colonel Corse he gave him some interesting advice, “Well, parson, you know your duty better than I do, and all the order I have to give you is this: Do it the very best you can…. Your office is higher than mine.”  The ministry of our Lord was held in high esteem in those days.  If the views of General “Stonewall” Jackson and General JEB Stuart are considered on that issue there would be high esteem this calling.

Chaplain Johnson began service with his own tent, table and cook.  He rode a bay mare.  On July 18th the Long Roll sounded and the Regiment fell in for its first major battle—First Manassas.  How was the chaplain prepared?  In his words, “A double barrel gun and a haversack with some ginger-cakes constituted my equipment.  On the pummel of my saddle lay a roll of red flannel to be torn into strips and used as markers for the men” [135].

Upon arriving for the fight the regiment spent a large portion of the day waiting.  Gen. Longstreet who had kept an unlighted cigar in his mouth most of that time removed it and refreshed himself with some of the chaplain’s ginger-cakes. When the Federals arrived they sent bullets upon them from the bluff “like a heavy shower of rain.”  Before the chaplain could find a use for his gun a captain was wounded and then the servant of the Lord helped him to the hospital.  Then Johnson learned what his work was when a battle occurred.  “I was busy with the wounded the rest of the day,” said the chaplain, “and when night came I found that I myself was hurt….  It gave me the proud privilege of saying I was wounded at Blackburn’s Ford” [136].  This battle was a precursor to the main battle of the twenty-first.

The wounded chaplain was flat on his back as the battle opened up.  He could hear the firing which brought with it a desire to know how things were progressing.  He saw some who came by near him and they were in a panic.  When he tried to glean information about the battle, some distraught persons said that the Yankees had hoisted the black flag and were sweeping everything before them.  The chaplain could not separate truth from fiction from the reports.  He could not retreat in his condition therefore he kept a pistol ready for use.  Finally, the chaplain grabbed some crutches to try to get a view of the battle.  This led to quite an adventure in itself.

The chaplain was sent to Orange Court House for some recuperative time. Later he rejoined his regiment at Centerville.  Camp was moved to Fairfax Court House in September where they remained about a month.  Then it was back to Centerville.  Here they were to establish winter quarters.  The hobbled Chaplain interested the men in building a large log chapel and a small log building as his quarters.  Here he had room for his camp cot.  Having their own chapel provided the opportunity to have services whenever they desired.  Chaplain J. Wm. Jones said of this chapel,

When we went into winter-quarters along the Manassas lines in the winter of 1861-62, a few of the commands had well constructed chapels.  I think the first one was built in the Seventeenth Virginia Regiment, of which my old university friend, Rev. John L. Johnson was chaplain [Christ in the Camp, 260].

During the winter Johnson made a number of trips to Charlottesville, Richmond and other spots of interest to the companies making up the regiment.  Chaplain Johnson always returned with boxes of clothing and other supplies. After making his appeals to the citizens they would give help to the soldier boys.

Chaplain Johnson did not do all the preaching to his men, but as providence allowed he invited others to preach as well.  When Johnson attended the University of Virginia his chaplain was Dr. J. C. Granberry, who was now the chaplain of the 11th Virginia.  Granberry was usually not far away since they were in the same brigade.  Thus Johnson would often call upon him to preach and share his quarters in the “little manse” his men had constructed.  Johnson described his college chaplain as “the most helpless man I ever saw in temporal matters; he did not have an idea about providing for himself and, usually, like the Master, had nowhere to lay his head” [Johnson, 139].

While encamped at Fairfax Court House Chaplain Johnson’s brother-in-law Chaplain Crawford Toy (of the 53rd Georgia) visited.  The 17thVirginia went on picket duty while Toy was there so the chaplain took him along.  Then the 17th returned to Fairfax.

Johnson was the member of a mess or club with a man named Billy Pickett who was their provision expert.  The chaplain heard a shot and a grunt one Saturday afternoon indicating they would have fresh pork for breakfast and dinner.  Johnson was working on a message to preach on the Lord’s Day when this happened.  At that point he began to have a twinge of conscience about eating stolen meat to strengthen himself to preach the gospel.  However, the chaplain began to contemplate his situation, and resolved that he could not prove the hog was stolen.  He knew that the men of his mess would not be so particular as to allow themselves room for troubled consciences, likely because of growling stomachs.  Chaplain Johnson finally resolved the issue by concluding

…. the hog was most likely the property of some Northern man who had taken all he could get hold of and gone back to his people; Federal soldiers were living as far as they could on the stock and crops of Southern men, some of the men who made up the Regiment; and they boasted that when they left the country, a crow, if he crossed it, would have to carry his rations [Johnson, 140].

What was the final conclusion of the tender conscience of the chaplain?  He confessed, “I made no protest on Sunday but took ‘what was set before me.’”  Some weeks went by before the chaplain had to second guess himself.  This resulted from having loaned Billy Pickett his horse, saddle, blanket, bridle, saddlebags and silver spurs for a trip to Leesburg, but Pickett returned to camp with the lame excuse that the horse died.  The chaplain was never reimbursed for anything by Pickett.  Chaplain Johnson said his vision cleared up regarding the man, the pig, as well as his horse.  Obviously Pickett sold the horse with all the accouterments and pocketed the money leaving God’s man high and dry.  This made the man and the ownership of the pig more suspect.  Another expensive lesson learned!  Chaplain Johnson was still in training.

On the second Lord’s Day of February 1862 Chaplain Johnson preached his final sermon at Centerville.  A short while after this he was stricken with a liver aliment.  Before the chaplain could get back to the 17thVirginia Federal Gen. George “Little Mac” McClellan moved his forces to Fortress Monroe and Yorktown.  Johnson was sent by ambulance to Manassas and shipped to Orange Court House.  On the first Lord’s Day in April the chaplain held service there.  The next Lord’s Day he had returned and ministered to the 17th Virginia at Yorktown.  Johnson said, “Our stay there was perhaps the most uncomfortable that I experienced during the war.  We were not fighting, but we were hungry” [Johnson, 141].  After a few days he found a friend in the commissary who gave him four ship-biscuits.  Johnson gave one to Col. Corse, one to Dr. Lewis and ate one.  The other was pocketed.  After his meal he lay down in the forest encampment to sleep “never feeling richer in my life,” he remarked.

The enemy would not let him sleep. The Federals were shelling the woods.  They kept up the shelling even the next day.  Chaplain Johnson noted that whatever side of a tree you were on was the wrong side.  He spoke to his fellow chaplain Florence McCarthy of the 7th Virginia.  This discussion revolved around getting out of cannon range.  They tried but the danger only increased so they returned to camp.  While Johnson was washing his face in the branch a cannon ball landed muddying the water near him.

Chaplain Johnson was deployed to take the sick of his brigade to Richmond.  Not long after reaching this destination the Battle of Williamsburg was fought, and the chaplain missed it much to his dismay.  Upon completing his duties with the sick the chaplain wondered what to expect next.  He was afoot and sick and went to the house of his friend O. H. Chalkley.  The doctors determined he had cholera.  The doctor was constant in his attention; the doctor medicated him with French brandy which was used liberally. The sick chaplain said it “seemed to me that I could almost feel the grapes” [Johnson, 143].

His physician told him that it would be a long time before he could return safely to the field of action.  However, Chaplain Johnson was at the Battle of Seven Pines on the 31st of May.  Here the chaplain would be forced to do the work of a physician.  Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland came to Johnson to help a member of his staff.  The man had been critically wounded.  He requested the chaplain to do what he could, and then send the man to Richmond.  Johnson said,

I took him in charge, a large man with long, tawny beard clotted with blood from an ugly wound in the forehead.  I gave to him all the personal care the circumstances would permit, dressed his wound, and put him, unconscious still, in the ambulance for Richmond.  In the next morning’s paper I read in looking over the casualties of the day before: “Capt. Don P. Halsey, Gen. Garland’s staff, shot through the head, probably mortally wounded” [Johnson, 143].

The chaplain was a good nurse and God in His providence ordained the man’s recovery.  Halsey had been a classmate of Johnson’s at the University of Virginia, but having been wounded on the battlefield the chaplain did not recognize the man with whom he had crammed for French Literature.

The chaplain was so worn out with the strain of the day that he lay down between two rails with an inch of water under him and slept for the first time in days.  The next day was spent assisting wounded men aboard a train.  Also working with these suffering soldiers was the Attorney-General of Virginia the Honorable John Randolph Tucker.

Chaplain Johnson buried hundreds of men.  At Gaines Mill, Johnson noted, Dr. J. L. Burrows the pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond repeatedly gave the burial service over the dead asserting that they should be given a Christian burial.  Chaplain Johnson revealed the devastation of Frazier’s Farm and Malvern Hill for he commented that you could “walk over acres and acres of ground without once touching the earth, so thick were the dead.”  Among the dead were personal acquaintances from childhood to the day of battle.

At Malvern Hill Johnson’s college chaplain, as well as fellow chaplain, John C. Granberry of the 11th Virginia was reported among the dead.  This brought Johnson to mourn for his brother in Christ, but word finally came that he was wounded in the head and taken prisoner.  Chaplain Granberry lost the sight of one eye.  Johnson said that during those days of the first year of the war he learned what a boon college mates are to you as long as you live [146].

He realized that his usefulness in the 17th Virginia had come to an end as a result of injuries.  However, instead of looking for a way out of the Lord’s work among soldiers he sought to find a way to remain a viable servant of the Sovereign Lord.

Chaplain at the Lynchburg Post


Chaplain Johnson was told by his surgeon that he could not go back to the field for an extended period.  How would he continue to minister the word of God?  Johnson began to contemplate his position. What was his duty under such a circumstance?  He did not want to be cut off from military life during a time when his nation was at war.  The only way he believed he could continue was to ask for an assignment at a hospital post.  Perhaps his condition would also provide a usefulness on the same basis of the “consolation” as noted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 1.  This was the conclusion he reached after prayer and Scriptural consideration. Providentially Lynchburg was commended to him so he made formal application for a transfer to a military hospital post.

Johnson had a number of concerns in addition to his health and place of service for the Lord.  One was his wife who had been with her family in Norfolk, but when that city had been abandoned by the Confederate army she made it to Glenmore at Orange.  She had been cut off from her relatives. Federals were at that time between her and Chaplain Johnson.  He determined to rescue his wife from among the enemy and bring her off to Lynchburg.  His two horses were at Ellangowan so he cut across to pick them up and come to the south side of the North Anna River.  He used whatever cover providence provided going through the woods and fields to Glenmore.  His sudden appearance astonished his wife and sister.  He had a good buggy and harness there.  Johnson had a hurried dinner, obtained a negro boy to ride Comet and hitched Sam to the buggy and headed toward Lynchburg with his wife.

Johnson ran into a kinsman who had his finest mare stolen from him by enemy soldiers while on the road.  So with the enemy spread out over the area and their adrenalin pumping they pressed on and arrived without incident the first evening at the home of Henry Harris the father of two college friends, and there they spent the night.  Next morning they passed through Louisa Court House as worshippers were coming out of church.  They stopped briefly and then pressed toward the James River.  That night they stayed with the Flemings, the parents of another college friend.  They ferried the river on Monday and entered Buckingham County.  After many refusals for lodging a man in a large home was persuaded to put them up.  They went without supper but had a very scrumptious breakfast.  Sadly the lady of the manor was mourning the death of her grandson.  At noon they reached Campbell County and the house of Mr. Reavley.  Finally on Wednesday they reached Lynchburg. The first task was to arrange lodging.  Johnson had three former Hollins students there and the first home he tried was Miss Nettie Moore’s and her parents agreed to take them as boarders.  Other than the few things they carried with them they would have to wait for the train to bring their belongings from Orange Court House.

The chaplain’s next order of business was to report to headquarters.  He thus reported to Major James D. Galt for duty as directed.  Galt was the Commandant of Lynchburg’s military post.

Chaplain Johnson’s first Lord’s Day in Lynchburg was as supply for the First Baptist Church.  Two of the deacons had had daughters under his instruction and another had a sister under his tutelage at Hollins.  This would not be the last time he preached to this congregation.

The facility of the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street was offered to Chaplain John L. Johnson for weekday preaching services for soldiers.  The facility was in a helpful location.  The chaplain thus purposed to hold services on week days for the men, and he encouraged them to attend Lynchburg’s local churches on Sunday.

Chaplain Johnson had a confrontation as he assumed his new post.  At the beginning of his chaplaincy to the hospitals he was blocked from entering the first hospital where he came to minister.  The guard told him it was by order of Dr. Houston.  Johnson went immediately to the doctor’s office.  The doctor was not going to admit the chaplain without a direct order from Major Galt.  The chaplain began to argue with the doctor, and the doctor replied that Johnson was “pertinacious.”  Chaplain Johnson stopped the doctor saying, “That is not a word to be used between gentlemen unless an insult is intended.”  The doctor was carrying a curled headed hickory cane.  He started toward the chaplain with the cane held in a hostile way and Chaplain Johnson broke into laughter.  The chaplain seized the moment telling the physician to sit down, and then said, “Excuse my impoliteness in laughing; but if you had been as I have been, in a panic for a year at cannon-balls and shells and the like, I think you too would laugh at the idea of danger from a hickory cane” [Johnson, 153-154].  The matter was settled somewhat “awkwardly” but without the intervention of the Commandant.  The doctor was not very discreet over the altercation and soon all Lynchburg knew about it, but not to the credit of the physician.

Once Dr. Houston left the room a clerk asked Johnson what he would have done if struck by the cane.  Johnson replied with a question, “Which one of us would you have helped, if we had had to scuffle?”  The reply was, “You, Sir, all of us were with you.”  This all goes to prove that a chaplain’s life was certainly not dull although sometimes unpleasant.

The Lord was with His servants who were ministering the unadulterated gospel.  There was a protracted meeting held at the Baptist meeting house that began toward the end of August and extended almost to Christmas.  With as many as 5000 Confederate soldiers in the hospitals there were crowds of convalescing men (the walking or riding wounded) attending the services.  The Spirit of the Lord was working and many of those professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and made their public profession of faith in baptism.  Chaplain Johnson preached often to those gatherings.

How did others perceive the ministry of Chaplain Johnson? Dr. A. E. Dickenson writing from Lynchburg on August 21, 1862 said, “Rev. J. L. Johnson is one of the chaplains at this post, and is laboring with great zeal and efficiency” [Jones 278].  This seemed to characterize his ministry.


In 1863 Johnson began two new ministries to help interest the hospitalized soldiers.  One was for their physical and the other for their spiritual needs.  The first project was to get vegetables and milk for the sick.  He worked it out with the railroads coming into Lynchburg to carry the food gratis and he contacted people along the rail lines to contribute surplus farm products for the sick.  Johnson sent circulars out appealing for help and setting a day for the food stuffs to be delivered to the stations.  He purchased his first milk can for fifty dollars and commenced collecting fresh milk for the patients.  This ministry exceeded his expectations.  The other project was the Soldiers’ Library which will be discussed a few lines later.

Early in 1863 Johnson was invited to visit Mount Hermon Baptist Church in Bedford County.  This appointment was fulfilled the second Saturday and Sunday of February.  Not long after having preached there he was extend a unanimous call to pastor the church.  He was tempted since the church was within horseback distance of Lynchburg, a once a month engagement, and regaling the traveler with the full panorama of the Peaks of Otter.  The salary offered was not enough in Johnson’s estimation to repair the wear and tear on his clothing for a year [Johnson, 155].  Johnson was a practical man so he made the congregation an offer.  If they would pay him in provisions at the rate they sold them before the war, and paid him at the rate they did their pastor before the war with these farm products he promised to take the church.  This was acceptable and from that time on his family was never wanting for food.  Johnson and the congregation became very attached.

Johnson was a man of many tasks for in February of 1863 he performed a wedding for a college friend in Albemarle County.  That friend was Henry N. B. Wood.  As Chaplain Johnson traveled through Charlottesville he learned of the death of his dear mother.  The stunned servant of God discovered that she had passed away on January 30th.  He reflected in his autobiography that he remembered how sympathetic she had been with his ministry.  Also, he remembered that she had given him thirteen pairs of socks for the Alexandria volunteers in 1861.  This loss of his loving mother was great.  She had sent books for the library he established in Lynchburg.

Now consider the library ministry.  Dickenson also revealed, “Brother Johnson has succeeded in establishing a soldier’s library, by means of which papers, religious and secular, magazines and books are placed in the hands of every soldier who desires reading matter” [Jones, 209].  Chaplain J. Wm. Jones wrote,

Happening in Lynchburg the other day I visited the “Soldiers’ Library,” established by the efficient post chaplain (Brother J. L. Johnson), and was very much pleased with its arrangement and management.  It is supplied with about eight hundred volumes of religious and miscellaneous books, a large number of pamphlets, weekly issues of all the religious papers published in the South, a number of secular papers, etc.  It has a claim for contributions of money and books upon the friends of the soldier in every State since State lines are not thought of in distributing its benefits [Jones, 368].

Chaplain Jones wrote this letter to the Christian Index and sought to help Chaplain Johnson’s project along as a Christian brother should.

The purpose of Johnson in this library was to create an atmosphere where the men could congregate to read books and newspapers, chat, write letters, get stationary and relax.  The chaplain expended around $600 dollars in getting started: rented a room on the street and installed shelves, hired a man to keep the place going, appealed for books, subscribed chiefly to religious papers along with some political papers from the Confederate States and asked for contributions.  One desire was for a convalescent to feel at home reading a publication he used at home.  Soon books and papers begin to be donated in addition to what he purchased.  The room was a great boon to the men and was often crowded.  Johnson even got an agent for the library.  Rev. B. S. Callaghan gave his service to the task of appealing to others in behalf of this worthy cause.  Thomas A. Broadus, a lad of seventeen was the librarian; he was a relative of Dr. John A. Broadus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Confederate evangelist.  The first year the library received over six thousand dollars in contributions and housed over a thousand volumes.

The Johnsons headed to the Orange County area the first day of March 1863. The area was again under Confederate control.  He wanted to check on his sister in Glenmore.  The condition of the roads was very trying and the journey very costly. On March 8th their son was born prematurely but lived only fourteen days.  Chaplain Johnson wrote,

I saw the little man once, but have not forgotten the face, the dark hair and eyes, and the appealing look, which seemed to say, “Help me to live!”  They buried him in the old-time graveyard by the garden and that one little grave makes the place holy to us forever [Johnson, 156].

Not long after the loss of their little one the Johnsons were able to start housekeeping.  They rented from John McDevitt who was a full fledged Irishman and by trade a tailor.  Mrs. McDevitt was a hot tempered Irish lady with lightening in her tongue, but she had a tender and warm heart, said Johnson.  With no living children and her motherly instinct unsatisfied she adopted a chicken whom she named “Billy.”  “Billy” was like her shadow following her wherever she went.  When “Billy” was almost frying size she stepped on him and the light of life left “Billy.”  She wept and grieved as if “Billy” had been her own child.

Mrs. McDevitt was an excellent cook and willingly taught Mrs. Johnson, and a young black girl they purchased, how to cook.  Johnson bought a shack on 15th Street and renovated it and moved in.  The basement had a kitchen and servant’s room, the second floor had a dining room and family room, and in the attic they had a sleeping room and preacher’s study.

November of 1863 Chaplain Johnson headed South for two weeks seeking funds for the Soldiers’ Library.  So he was off to Raleigh, Charlotte, Columbia, Edgefield, Augusta and Madison.  He collected over three thousand dollars for the library.  Heading home was a task for he agreed to help a merchant friend, a blockade runner, who found out that he had some empty trunks.  He suggested that Johnson bring goods back to Lynchburg in the trunks for sale and they split the profits.  Also, some ladies desired to visit their husbands who were in the army in Virginia and the chaplain was convinced to take charge of them and the goods they were taking to their husbands and friends.  Chaplain Johnson ended up in charge of thirteen trunks and a number of ladies.  When they arrived by train to Wilmington they had to wait for a train to Virginia.  The ladies slept in the car while the chaplain stacked the trunks in the form of a pyramid and perched himself on the top for the night.  If anyone sought to carry off a trunk there would be crash of trunks and he would be awakened to save the items.  Upon reaching Virginia the chaplain parceled off the ladies as best he could.  The blockade goods were put into the hands of a merchant who sold them.  He sent his friend fifteen hundred dollars for his part of the profits.  This trip ended up being a boon to the library and to the chaplain.

As 1863 was drawing to a close the pastor of the African Baptist Church of Lynchburg died.  Chaplain Johnson was approached about supplying the church.  He had three Lord’s Days a month open.  Johnson consulted the congregation he pastored as well as his military superiors, and all agreed this was acceptable.  He began to supply the African church temporarily.  However, no one else was ever called to the church so Johnson eventually became their pastor.  Johnson was enamored with the baptismal services he held as their pastor,

I baptized a goodly number of them, buried some, but cannot remember that I married any of them.  In the matter of baptism, as I presume was usual among them, they had a way of exploiting their religion by springing out of the water as they arose from the stream, and thus amid shouts going into spasms and requiring two deacons to tug them ashore, where they rolled upon the earth, while the sisters labored in vain to restore quiet.  I wanted to see if the spasms were genuine and so after two or three of them had suffered from them, I announced that the services of the deacons would be dispensed with as there was no Scripture authority for them.  It was the end of baptismal spasms [Johnson, 161-163].

When one contemplates all the tasks that Chaplain Johnson took upon himself one realizes the enormity of his work load in serving the King of Glory.


John L. Johnson’s labors were faithfully carried out as he fulfilled his duties as a chaplain, a pastor and a benefactor for soldiers.  After major battles there were one to three weeks he would spend a great deal of time in the cemeteries.  Sometimes he would have twenty-five to fifty burials.  There were entire days spent burying the dead.

The crowning event in 1864 was the birth of a little daughter with hair of gold.  She was named Alice Ogilvie.  While living in Lynchburg the Johnsons became close friends with Maurice Moore and his family.  This was a strong attachment that began when they boarded with them.  Mr. Moore called him “Bishop” and he in turn called him “Judge.”


As the war came to a conclusion Chaplain Johnson had little to say.  Though his words were few he wrote, “When the paroxysms of our grief were past, we began to adjust ourselves to the new conditions” [Johnson, 166].  He sent his wife and daughter to Baltimore to her parents, and then began preparing to leave Lynchburg.  He sought to take leave of the churches.  Johnson noted that, “to go was a necessity.”  His commission as chaplain had expired, the African Baptist Church would be looking for a black minister, and Mount Hermon Baptist Church could not support his family.

The fifth Lord’s Day in July Pastor John L. Johnson was in Baltimore preaching at Franklin Square Baptist Church where he became pastor.  Then Johnson pastored Court Street Baptist Church in Portsmouth, then back to Lynchburg, and other towns in Virginia.  He also held various offices in his denomination and assisted in raising money for Richmond College.  To honor his alma mater, he compiled The University Memorial Biographical Sketches of Alumni of the University of Virginia Who Fell in the Confederate War.

In 1873, Johnson moved with his wife and two children to Oxford, Mississippi, where he taught English at the University of Mississippi.  He taught at Oxford, preaching on Sundays, for sixteen years, until he and four other professors were dismissed in 1889 after a feud with the carpetbagger chancellor, Alexander Peter Stewart.  One objection against Johnson was “He will give you trouble; he will fight.  He is a Virginian!”  Johnson then took his family to Tennessee, where he was president of Mary Sharp College in Winchester.  Johnson’s next stop was Columbia, Mississippi, where he was pastor of the First Baptist Church.  In 1896, he resigned as pastor and retired two miles from Duck Hill.  He enjoyed an active retirement, writing articles, preaching and working within the Baptist denomination.  For a short time, he served as president of Hillman College for Young Women. The old Confederate chaplain died March 2, 1915.

This entry was posted in Chaplain Biographies. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.