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Lieutenant Joseph E. Johnson, 58th Pa Infantry reporting details of the death Of Colonel John Richter Jones at the battle of Batchelder’s (Batchelor’s) Creek Station, North Carolina 1863

"Just after we got into the woods I was joined by two other companies of our Regiment—“B” and “O” with three pieces of Rigg's Battery. On reaching the bridge, we found the post still held by a company and a half of the 46th Massachusetts. Col. Jones, who had passed us some distance back exclaiming 'I'll have that howitzer yet!' was with them...." Lieutenant Joseph E. Johnson, 58th Pa Infantry, North Carolina 1863


New Berne, N.C.,
June 20, 1863

My Dear Mr. Jones

In accordance with your request, I have seated myself this morning to give you the full particulars of Col. Jones’ death which happened under my own notice, but I saw so little that anything I can tell you will be of comparatively little interest. I shall give you my own experience from the morning of the eventful 23rd of May.

The first intimation that I received of the intention of [the] Rebels ? was early in the morning while bathing in the stream [Core Creek]. A guard at the Bridge, just above where I was, commenced firing; wondering at this, I began to make inquiries into the cause of it. But I was soon satisfied concerning that by the whistle of bullets through the bushes from the other side.

The Rebels were close to us! I informed my company at onece which I found had been placed on guard over the prisoner’s captured the day before [at Gum swamp]. Very soon orders came to move toward camp, when we moved off quietly. Our march to Batchelders’ Creed was made with out incident. I, myself, supposed the Rebels had retured. It was hot and dusty and I took my time, being at the head of the column.

When we got to camp we were relieved from guarding the prisoners and I at once got my dinner and went to sleep. About an hour after I had laid down, I was awakened by the Adjutant who ordered me to form the company at once as the Rebels were shelling our outpost on the Neuse Road. I gave the necessary orders to my Sergeant, and very soon afterward, word came from the Col. [Jones] to follow him over to the Bridge, which by the Road was about a mile and half from Camp.

As we crossed the Railroad the Col was sitting on his horse giving some orders in regard to the Blockhouse. Just after we got into the woods I was joined by two other companies of our Regiment—“B” and “O” with three pieces of Rigg's Battery. On reaching the bridge, we found the post still held by a company and a half of the 46th Massachusetts. Col. Jones, who had passed us some distance back exclaiming 'I'll have that howitzer yet!' was with them. No firing was going on except an occasional stray shot from our own men in the Rifle pits or breastworks. The Col. soon started [Henry] Metcalf's company 'B' across the bridge and down the creek under cover of the bluff with orders to outflank the Rebels on the left. [John] Buyer's [Company] 'I' immediately afterward took up the creek to turn the Rebel right.

Sometime now elapsed—I left my men ly[ing] down in the woods and for sometime stood talking with the Col[onel] on the bridge along with a captain of the 46th [Mass.]. Then, we all three walked over and crawled up the bank to try and reconnoiter the Rebel position—their centre supposed to be at 'Richardson's House', but we could see nothing although they could see us, as the shots that began to come around us soon told us. We fell back and everything remained quiet for a long while, when we were startled by the loud reports of artillery fired in quick succession in the direction of 'Tuscarora.’

I remarked to the Col[onel] that 'they' were getting away at the Blockhouse. He said he 'supposed so' and I went to my company. I afterward found that they had opened on the Blockhouse at 'Tuscarora' with fifteen pieces of Artillery. Soon after this the Col[onel] called out 'Johnson, bring your company here,' which I did at once and we went across the bridge together.

When we got to the top of the hill I asked him what he wished me to do. He [Colonel Jones] said 'March straight up the road!'. I suggested that we had better deploy but he said not, and turned back toward the bridge. I then ordered a corporal and three men to the front as 'advanced guard'. But then command was scarcely out of my mouth when we were opened upon by a terribly severe fire from the ambushed Rebels. The men dropped quick enough, as they always will. But I got them into a ditch by the road side and we commenced returning the fire.

When the firing commenced the Col[onel] turned back [and] said be careful, that we were firing upon our own men. I assured him that this was impossible that the firing was coming from the front and that Metcalf was now firing on our right and I indicated the smoke of his [artillery] pieces in the edge of the swamp a quarter of a mile off. But he persisted on saying that we were firing on our own men. He turned down on the hill saying 'Depend upon it, you are firing upon Metcalf!' After that I did not see him alive, I have often thought since though, about his strange mistake. Could it have been that, the premonitions of his closely approaching fate, had diminished his usually quick military perceptions?

After he left us the fire of the enemy became very severe--the balls struck all about us in the road starting up ? spots of dust. A man in the ditch close by me, was struck in the arm that being the only part of his person exposed. I took his musket and sent him to the rear and we fought it out for some time. Another [man] was hit in the head—all this time we were firing at nobody—the enemy's line of Skirmishers a half a mile long had concentrated their fire upon our single company. All we could do was to lie close and fire at the smoke of their [artillery] pieces.

At length, I heard the Rumble of Artillery around a bend in the road and within a short distance of us. A single well directed discharge would perhaps cut down half the company, so I have the command, ‘In Retreat! and we fell back over the bridge to our breastworks. As we reached the foot of the bluff I saw an officer lying, apparently dead by the road side but I paid no attention as I supposed it was one of the 46th and it took all my care to manage the company as I saw that some of the men would like to go further than the breastworks which I had made up my mind to hold until we were relieved.

Imagine my horror then on getting across at being told that the Col[onel]. was killed. As soon as the Rebels found that we were not to be driven away--for we had scarcely crossed before they opened with shell--they ceased firing--and I had the body brought across and sent it to the rear, to the ambulance. On making inquiries afterward I found that he had been standing with 'Mike' at the foot of the Hill watching our movement in front. Just before he was struck he reproved a Massachusetts soldier for 'dodging'. When he was hit he exclaimed 'Oh! Mike!' who was close by and caught the Colonel in his arms - and laid him down and as soon as he found that he was dead—[he] rode to the rear for help in a most distracted manner. It is my belief that he was shot by a Rebel Sharpshooter from behind the top of the chimney of 'Richardson House'. The hill covered him entirely from any other place that the Rebels occupied. His death was almost instantaneous as the ball grazed the right ventricle of the heart and passed then through his spine, lodging in the lining of his coat. The story of his exclaiming 'My God! My King!' must have originated in Philadelphia as we never heard of it until we saw it in the Inquirer.

And what took place after this must be quite familiar to you already. It is needless for me to repeat it. I fear in fat that I have been too probing already. If so my apology must be that I made it as short as I could and that my ‘talent’ for narration is not yet as fully develop as I one day hope it may be.

At the time Col. Jones was killed I suppose I was about thirty-yards away--just that much nearer the enemy than he was. Yet he was taken and I was left. In him, the Regiment and the service have met a great loss—did a few of our Major General harness half of his fearless energy, this war would not last long. Our single regiment at different times while we were at Batchelor's Creek killed wounded or captured about ninety-five (95) Rebels beside a number of horses, arms, and stores of various kinds. This does not of course include the last of all the one to Evans Swamp, which was so brilliantly planned and carried out that I think there is little doubt that the Col[onel would have made brigadier general - and I believe that if once in a command of a division, North Carolina wouldn't have held him - Still he died a glorious death. I would not ask to have mine [death] more so. “Order (?) 81”. You will find [the order] enclosed. In it I believe that General Foster speaks the feelings of his heart. As I know that he had the very highest opinion of the Colonel’s ability.

With kindest regards to Mrs. Jones and with the deepest sympathy for all kind friends and Roxborough whose loss has been ours—

I remain, Yours truly, Joseph E. Johnson.

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Submitter: Sherri Cawley Joseph Ersey Johnson was born in Pennsylvania on February 4, 1848. He enlisted when he was 18 years old as a 2nd Lieutenant. On December 19, 1861, he was commissioned into “A” Company, 58th PA Infantry. Johnson was listed as wounded three times on September 29, 1864 at Fort Harrison, Virginia. For his service at Fort Harrison, he earned the Medal of Honor, issued on April 1, 1898. Johnson died a war hero, on April 30, 1911. He is buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery.

John Ricther Jones, recruited the 58th Infantry at Philadelphia and was its first colonel. Col. Jones was engaged in action at Gum swamp on May 22, 1863, the 58th claiming victory, and sharing in the capture of the enemy's works, including 125 prisoners, 1 gun, many small arms, as well as valuable stores. In a skirmish at Batchelder's creek the following day, Col. Jones was killed and was succeeded by Lieut.-Col. Curtis

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