An Industrious Sober Man Was Eber Johnson

When we think of the Civil War, we tend to think of the participants in two groups: young soldiers in combat and old white-haired veterans who later sat around telling tales of their days in the war. What is often overlooked is the toll — both physical and mental — that the war took on those who returned home.

When he enlisted he was a farmer and has always followed said occupation. Don’t think that his disease has been aggravated in the least by intemperance or any bad habits as Mr. Eber Johnson was always regarded as an industrious sober man prior to his enlistment.┬áSince his return from the U.S. service he is still a sober man but unable to perform any manual labor to amount to anything.

Those words are from John Murnahan in his affidavit on 11 March 1886, filed as part of Eber Johnson’s application to obtain a Civil War pension. Eber, my great-great-grandfather, had been a private in Company D, 1st Ohio Heavy Artillery. He enlisted in October 1864 at the age of 41 (older than most enlistees). He was discharged 25 July 1865. Though he served just nine months, the war had a devastating effect on him.

After his death in January 1894, Eber’s widow Ann M. (Stephens) Johnson applied for a pension. In her application, she states:

My property consists of forty one acres of land with a cheap frame house and log barn left to me by my husband in his will. Valued at about 200 dollars. My tax on said property is $4.50 annually. I have no personal property outside of my household goods. I have no income of any kind outside of the third I get off of the 41 acres of land.

What happened that caused Eber to go from an industrious man to not being able to perform manual labor, to the point that his widow was left with just 41 acres of land and “a cheap frame house”? Those of us looking back can’t be completely certain, but in Eber’s mind there was no doubt as to what caused his physical decline. It was one long, arduous march from Knoxville to Bean Station, Tennessee in December 1864.

That it was on a forced march from near Knoxville to Bean Station, Tenn. It was in the middle of Winter and we had to leave our overcoats, knapsacks, etc and it was so severely cold that the water would freeze to our pantaloons.

Whether or not that one march was the direct cause of Eber’s decline is a matter of debate. One thing is certain: the Eber Johnson who returned home in July 1865 was not the same man who left in October 1864.

Eber’s pension application was eventually approved. The amount: $12 per month.


Eber Johnson’s signature. Declaration for Original Invalid Pension, 23 May 1885. Pension application 541396.

Eber Johnson, Civil War Pension file, application 541396.

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