INSCRIBED SMITH AND WESSON NO.2 ARMY OF LT. HENRY T. JOHNS 49th AND 61st MASSACHUSETTS, MEDAL OF HONOR: FORLORN HOPE AT PORT HUDSON

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Henry T. Johns was a 34 year-old Methodist minister in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, who felt he could no longer put off enlisting in the army after the set backs of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in 1862 and did two tours of duty. He first answered the call for nine-month troops by enlisting 9/11/62 and mustering into Co. C of the 49th Mass. as a private on 9/19/62, serving with them until muster out on 9/1/1863.

The 49th was assigned to General Banks in Louisiana and took part in his campaign against Port Hudson in May 1863. Johns had been appointed acting commissary sergeant and then as the quartermaster’s clerk, which would keep him out of action, but was convinced of the justness of the cause, “Openly or blindly, every Union soldier is doing God’s work,” and was determined that, “nothing but some unforeseen providence shall confine me to my safe position in the quartermaster’s department when comes the call to arms…”

He was as good as his word: on May 21 at the Battle of Plains Store, in the approach to Port Hudson, he borrowed a rifle from a pioneer and fought in the ranks. In the ill-fated assault on Port Hudson on May 27, he volunteered for the “forlorn hope,” troops moving in advance of the main battle lines, half carrying fascines to bridge ditches and half carrying weapons as a storming party, Johns among them. He gives a detailed account of the fighting, mentions two bullet holes through his clothing and does not mention being wounded, though some sources say he was (though on May 25, for some reason.) As a whole the regiment lost 80 of 233 men in the attack. The proportion was even higher among those in the “forlorn hope.”  Johns was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his actions, the citation reading, “Private Johns volunteered in response to a call and took part in the movement that was made upon the enemy's works under a heavy fire there from in advance of the general assault.”

Johns wrote a wonderfully detailed account of his experiences with the 49th in 1864, “Life with the Forty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers,” which likely explains why he listed his occupation as “author,” when enlisting a second time on 8/27/64. He mustered into Co. A of the 61st Massachusetts as a private on September 12 and then mustering out twelve days later to accept a commission as 2nd Lieutenant. His commission was likely in large part due to his performance at Port Hudson. Men volunteering for the “forlorn hope” had been told their names would be entered on a “roll of honor,” from which promotions might be made. In any case, his company of the 61st was one of five sent to City Point, Va., to await the remaining five and was assigned to the Engineer Brigade.

That detail of the regiment was sent to the front lines twice: in December it was posted in the lines to the right of Fort Sedgwick and in February took part in the movement to Hatcher’s Run. While near Fort Sedgwick Johns seems to have again volunteered for a storming party, though the attack did not take place. In an application for a leave of absence in early January he mentions that a promotion had been promised for volunteering for an attack. The promotion had not come through and he would gladly take a leave instead. He does not seem to have gotten the leave but, in fact, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Co. C in early February, to date 1/15/1865.

With the arrival of the remaining five companies of the regiment they were assigned to Collis’s Independent Brigade, 9th Corps, and took part in the final assault on Petersburg on April 2, charging from a position near Fort Sedgwick, again, and capturing, “a line of breastworks on the left of the Jerusalem Plank Road, a part of the outer works of Fort Mahone.” Thirty-five officers and men were killed or wounded in the fighting. Johns was one of nine officers recommended in the regiment’s official report for brevets for the action, and was later promoted to brevet captain, U.S. Volunteers, to date 4/9/65, for “gallant and meritorious services during the recent operations resulting in the fall of Richmond, Va, and the surrender of the insurgent army under General R.E. Lee.”

Johns mustered out June 4, 1865, and returned to civilian life. We find him in the 1880s living with his family (he had married in 1857,) in Washington with his occupation listed as “Journalist,” though an obituary makes clear he had worked for thirty years at the Pension Bureau. In later life he moved to California, where he died at the “Glendale Sanitarium” after a brief illness and was buried in Oakland in May 1906.

Johns’ pistol is a very nice example of the Smith and Wesson “Number 2 Army,” nicely engraved in script down the backstrap, “Lieut. Johns 61st Mass Vols.” The barrel, cylinder and frame have full coverage of their original deep blue finish. The barrel address is fully legible. The mechanics are good. The rosewood grips have a nice finish with just some light scratches to the butt flat. The serial number is 21273. The metal is very good overall. The only roughness occurs on the bottom of the buttstrap, which would be exposed when carried in a belt holster. These .32 caliber six-shot pistols were extremely popular among officers for their light weight and the resiliency of their waterproof rimfire cartridges. On its own, this would be a nice revolver, the owner’s service record makes it exceptional. His book on his time with the 49th Mass is also well worth reading for its insights on daily life in the army and the men he came in contact with during the war.  [sr]

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