Letter: Remembering a mother’s service during the Civil War

Published: 5/21/2020 12:01:14 AM

In 1862, Jonathan Johnson began active service as captain of Company D, 15th Regiment, N.H. Volunteers, and went to war. One year later, at 47, he died, leaving his wife, Nancy, a widow with eight children at home, four of them under 16.

Johnson succumbed to “swamp fever,” contracted in New Orleans. He was sent home to Deerfield to die. His son George never returned home, and was buried in a double grave after the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.

During his year of service, Capt. Johnson kept a diary and regularly wrote home. The trip home to New Hampshire took two months. Along the way, he wrote a letter to his son, Benjamin, 12. “If you expect a harvest, you must put in the seed. Take care of what you put in, and do it in season. Mother earth is the best paymaster there is. She always puts her fruits in their season, while the paymasters of the United States pay only when they get the money. We have not been paid yet. Therefore, plant and sow plentifully, and you can be sure of your pay. ”

I am the caretaker for Granite Cemetery in Deerfield, where Johnson is buried. Nancy is to his right. George is buried next to his mother. There is no chance that I will forget to place new American flags for the men. As for Nancy, she went the distance overcoming unspeakable tragedy. The average life expectancy in 1865 was 40. Nancy made it to 94 years and 5 months. Somebody had to harvest the crops and take care of the children. She deserves a new flag, too.



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