William Parker Johnson
Dr. William Parker Johnson was born on the Hockhocking River September 21, 1824 on a farm near Athens, Ohio. His father, John Johnson, a prosperous farmer, was frugal, but had a benevolent nature. His mother, Sarah Wyatt, kept the farmstead and raised the children. Upon nearing manhood, Park, as he preferred, attended Ohio University and the University of Louisville. He studied medicine under Dr. William P. Blackstone, a country doctor in Athens County. Dr. Blackstone's daughter, Julia, and Dr. Johnson developed a relationship and were soon married. Together they were blessed with seven children but five of them died in childhood. At the time of the Civil War, Dr. Johnson was practicing medicine and a member of the city council in Athens, Ohio.
Serving as a medical officer, Dr. Johnson was the regimental surgeon for the 18th Ohio Volunteers and oversaw all details of the health of the regiment. In addition, for periods of time, he was also the brigade surgeon for the 29th Brigade (Stanley's) or more commonly referred to by its later name as the 2nd Brigade. After the Battle of Stones River, he was placed in charge of several hospitals with over 1000 men under his care. Gathering the wounded from the recent battle together in one place, he is reported to say that the men were "most clamorous to get treatment in my hospital. Reluctantly, he was placed in charge of one hospital that was very unsanitary. He tried to refuse on the grounds that it was dirty and he did not have the time, but was told that was the exact reason why he was given the extra duty. During the war, he suffered constantly with diarrhea. At times his diet consisted of farina, crackers, rice, tea and toast. He took a pill composed of 1/2 of a grain of nitrate of silver ipecac and opium every four hours. He was forced to terminate his military career before his 3 year enlistment was over. Returning to Athens, he devoted himself in the practice of treating sick and being involved in civic affairs. He was the first president of the Athens Medical Society and elected as Trustee for Ohio University in 1866.
After the war, Johnson returned to Athens and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives from Athens County, serving for six years. He introduced a bill and succeeded in locating the Athens Lunatic Asylum across the river from Athens. He was the first president of the local medicine society and in 1866 was elected a trustee of Ohio University. In late 1869 he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and joined Dr. Horace Allen in the creation of the National Surgical Institute, specializing in orthopedic surgery "treating and correcting deformities." Oddly enough, he was reported to use steel pins in reconstructing broken bones long before it became a common practice. Even this well schooled doctor could not stop the ravages of time, however. In 1872, he lost his beloved, Julia, while she was in her early forties.He remained connected with the institute until 1881 and he died in Indianapolis on October 20, 1889.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF THE COLLECTION
William Parker Johnson was born September 21, 1824, on a farm near Athens, Ohio. He studied medicine with Dr. William P. Blackstone and later married his daughter Julia. By the start of the Civil War, he was practicing medicine and was a member of the Athens Town Council. From November 1861 through late 1864, Johnson served as a medical officer with the 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I.). A skilled surgeon, Johnson was appointed Brigade Surgeon and placed in charge of field hospitals several times during the war.
After the war, Johnson returned to Athens and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives from Athens County, serving for six years. He introduced a bill and succeeded in locating the State Insane Asylum in Athens. He was the first president of the local medical society, and in 1866 was elected a trustee of Ohio University. In late 1869 Johnson moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and joined the National Surgical Institute, specializing in orthopedic surgery. He remained connected with the Institute until 1881 and died in Indianapolis, October 20, 1889.
Available at Ohio Univerity Alden Library
SCOPE AND CONTENTS OF THE COLLECTION
The collection consists of seventy-nine Civil War letters, and ten family photographs. The letters are organized in twelve folders and arranged in chronological order.
All but a few letters are written to his wife Julia. He also wrote to his daughter Addie (Mrs. Adela Johnson Boise), and his father- in-law, fellow Athens physician Dr. William P. Blackstone. One letter in the collection (Nov. 6, 1861) was sent to Julia Johnson from her cousin Morris Johnston. The letters sent to Dr. Blackstone tell of the horrors of war and describe Johnson's surgical methods. The letters, in general, depict the daily struggle to stay healthy and give detailed information about battles, including the number of missing, wounded, and killed.
In March 1863, Johnson, suffering from frequent bowel problems, was visited by his wife. During her stay, she cooked and looked after him though her own health was poor.
The 18th O.V.I. (organized locally) fought the majority of its battles in the Tennessee theater with skirmishes in Alabama and Georgia. Some of the battles mentioned in the letters were at Manchester, Stewart Creek, Stone River, and Dug Gap, Tennessee. Johnson tells of his personal experiences during these battles and the amount of work involved tending to the wounded. A letter dated January 22, 1863, for example, tells of approaching Confederate forces. While Johnson was mounting his horse in retreat, a shell whizzed by his head and exploded a few feet from him. He continued writing about how he escaped the Rebels' clutches and how the regiment drove them away. Another letter, dated September 27, 1863, tells of a large number of wounded and several surgeons falling into the hands of the Rebels, while he made a narrow escape. The letters also frequently convey references to the health of the "Athens Boys" after the battles.
The photographs include four of Johnson (one of him in his uniform, another a print copied from a drawing), one of Julia, and individual photographs of the Johnson children, some identified and some not.
The last two files include handwritten transcriptions for a number of the letters, and a paper by Mr. Latham on his ancestors delivered in January 1996.