The Auburn Military
Records Project

Auburn, Mass.

Civil War


[originally published in abbreviated form in The Auburn News, (dt?) 1987]


by John J. Hartwell

The sky seemed perprtually overcast during that December of 1864. The cold drizzle looked as if it would never end. Slogging through ankle-deep mud to reach the latrines at the edge of the swamp, 21-year old Jerome Johnson longed for a crisp, clean blanket of snow. If he were back home in Auburn now, he'd likely be snug beside a blazing fireplace, looking out the window at just such a peaceful scene.

He had never frequented his father's outhouse as ofen as he did these latrines. But with the swamp, the bad food, and the shortage of warm clothing, just about everyone was sick. Even the rebs guarding them weren't much better off. The war had been going badly for the South for a long time now, and its economy and transportation system had broken down. There might be plenty of food and supplies of stores at one place, while a hundred miles away there was starvation and deprivation.

And Florence, Georgia seemed to be a hundred miles from everywhere.

Born in Auburnon August 10, 1844, Jerome Johnson had enlisted in the 25th Regiment, Mass. Volunteer Infantry barely a month after his seventeenth birthday. Twenty-four other young Auburn men were enrolled in the same regiment. Most of them were assigned to Company A, but for some reason, Private Jerome Johnson wound up in Capt. Parkhurst's Company K.

He had seen his forst action the following February (1844) at the Battle of Roanoke, and had been wounded (though slightly) at New Bern, NC, a month later. The 25th was to be in North Carolina for more than a year and a half, engaged in a war of marches and skirmishes, interspersed with a few larger engagements.

Private Johnson seemingly enjoyed army life, and when, at the end of 1863, he was offered a month's furlough home in return for re-enlisting for the duration of the war, he willingly agreed. He spent the entire month of February, a864, at the ___ Street home where he had grown up, rejoining his regiment at Hampden, Va. early in March

A major new campaign was being prepared. It involved an advance south of Richmond, with the goal of cutting the rebel capitakl off from communication with the rest of the Confederacy. Moving by ship up the James River, the army landed at Bermuda Hundred on May 4, 1864.

The 25th was at this time attached to Gen John Heckman's "Red Star Brigade," part of the XVIIIth Corps, Army of the James. A few days later, the fighting began with a sharp fight at Port Walthat Junction,as the Federals broke the rail link between Richmond and Petersburg.. On May 9th, another brief but bloody encounter occurred at Arrowfield Church.

Thus far, things had gone well for the Union forces. But because of timid, indecisive Federal leadership, the Confederates were allowed ample time to rush reinforcements to the area,

On May 16th, the rebels launched their counter-attack on the Union line drawn up at a place called Drewery's Bluff. In a thick fog, amidst the confusion of battle, the 25th's acting commander, Maj. Moulton, was unaware that the units just to the right of his regiment's position had been overwhelmed and nearly destroyed. Widening the breach in the Union line, rebel cavalry and infantry poured through. The 25th found itself nearly surrounded.

The men fought valiantly against mounting odds. But finally, with ammunition almost exhausted, Moulton issued the unusual order: "Reverse Front! Charge!" The 25th faced to the rear, and charged the encircling Confederates, barely breaking out of the trap. After it had retreated less than a mile, the regiment's Colonel, Josiah Pickett, though still suffering from a recurrent fever, rejoined the regiment. He rallied his men, along with others from several broken regiments. Under his leadership they stopped the rebel advance, probably saving the rest of the army from destruction.

Nut, Private Jerome Johnson of Auburn was not among them. The day had been a costly one for the 25th Mass. Casualties amounted to fully 62% of those engaged, including __ dead, and 73 missing. Jerome Johnson was among the latter.