Caught in the Chaos of West Virginia | HistoryNet MENU

Caught in the Chaos of West Virginia

By Steven L. Johnson
8/27/2018 • Civil War Times Magazine

Name: Irwin D. Johnson

Dates: 1831-1910

Allegiance: Confederate

Highest Rank: Private

Unit: Company G, 10th Virginia Cavalry

Service Record: Enlisted August 5, 1861, 10th Virginia Cavalry. Captured in Braxton County, W.Va., in February 1864. Confined to prisons in Wheeling and Camp Chase, Ohio, until exchanged on March 12, 1865. Hospitalized in Richmond and again listed as a POW in April 1865. Paroled on April 22, 1865, while still at Libby Prison in Richmond.

Irwin D. Johnson was born on January 27, 1831, in a part of Nichols County, Virginia, that became Braxton County in 1845. He lived in the western part of the state (what would become West Virginia in 1863) where loyalties were mixed. Johnson enlisted in the Confederate Army at Camp Davis on August 5, 1861. Records indicate he was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. He was assigned to Company G of the 10th Virginia Cavalry.

Johnson served as a cavalryman in Hampton’s Legion, one of the brigades under General J.E.B. Stuart. In the spring of 1862, he was temporarily out of action at a hospital near Richmond for unknown reasons. Beginning in the summer of 1863, his cavalry unit was involved in action at Frederick, Manassas, Winchester and Martinsburg. He and his comrades had to live off the land, sometimes going for days with only parched corn to eat. In January 1863, Johnson was at the army’s winter camp on the Rappahannock River. Specific information is not available, but it is presumed that he was with General Stuart at Gettysburg.

Johnson finally received a furlough in early 1864 that he had been anticipating for more than a year. By 1864 his home county was controlled by Union home guards, and records indicate that he was captured on February 16, 1864, in Braxton County, W.Va. He must have made it home, as his wife, Melvina, gave birth to a son on October 12, 1864.

He was confined to prisons in Wheeling, W.Va., and Camp Chase, Ohio, through the remainder of 1864. On March 12, 1865, he was exchanged for Union prisoners. Subsequent records are somewhat confusing about the aftermath of his exchange. For example, they show Johnson as being hospitalized in Richmond the same day of the exchange. He was listed as a POW again in early April 1865 at a hospital in Richmond. It is likely that once Richmond fell the hospitalized Southerners were again under Union control.

He was paroled on April 22 but was still at Libby Prison in Richmond. After the war he returned to his farm on Keeners Ridge in Braxton County. He eventually had 12 children, born between 1852 and 1876. Irwin died in 1910 and was buried with his wife on their farm.

 

Steven L. Johnson is a great-grandson of Irwin D. Johnson.

Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here

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