Thursday, November 02, 2006

Pvt. Charles Johnson


When I first started this blog, I made mention of Charles Johnson, a private in the 7th cavalry who attempted to desert during Custer’s summer campaign in Kansas in 1867. Already suffering from a high desertion rate and having heard rumors about half of his remaining troops preparing to desert, Custer wanted to prevent further desertions and when he heard that three troopers had left the encampment with their horses, Custer sent one of his officers after them. Johnson was shot in the head and returned to the encampment in a wagon. Custer refused to allow Johnson to receive medical treatment for the next twelve hours. Eventually, a doctor came to his aid; it’s doubtful that medicine at that time could have done much to assuage one’s pain. Stocks of laudanum might have been available. In any event, Johnson remained alive for three days and died in route to Fort Wallace. The date on Johnson’s tombstone records his date of death as July 17, four days after Custer was said to have arrived at Fort Wallace.

Although I don’t know why Johnson decided to desert, I admire his decision and his refusal to be a part of the western campaign against the Indian tribes in northwestern Kansas. He might have had other, more material, reasons to leave the Army, such as a desire to pan for gold in Colorado. Even so, we can only hope that he had a moment of conscience and refused to be a part of the ethnocentric and imperialistic aims of the American military and the politicians who refused to maintain treaties made between the government and the western tribes.

Initially buried at Fort Wallace, Johnson, along with the other soldiers buried at Fort Wallace, was disinterred and transported to Fort Leavenworth after the Cheyenne and Sioux no longer threatened the white settlers and after Fort Wallace was closed down. Although Johnson should have been buried closer to Frederick Wyllyams and Nathan Trail, other troopers who died while defending Fort Wallace in 1867, he instead is buried among soldiers who are not identified, possibly the soldiers from Fort Larned whose identification had been lost during disinterment and shipment to Fort Leavenworth.