Captain Jonathan Johnson:
A Deerfield Civil War Diary

originally published in the Communicator, May 2010
by Mel Graykin

In 1861, Deerfield wasn’t so much a town as a cluster of small communities centered around various crossroads.  The Johnsons, Nancy and Jonathan, lived on South Road with their nine children.  Daughter Sarah was already married to Joe Colcord, the son of a neighbor.  Their oldest son, George, worked with his father at their shoe business, located in a little shop in their house.  Like most people in Deerfield, the Johnsons went to Church every Sunday.  They were a happy, prosperous family. 

In 1862, Jonathan Johnson began active service as Captain of Company D, 15th Regiment, NH Volunteers, and went to war.  One year later, at the age of forty-seven, he died, leaving his wife Nancy a widow with eight children at home, four of them less than 16 years of age.

Capt. Jonathan Johnson succumbed to what they called “swamp fever”, contracted while fighting in New Orleans.  He was sent home to Deerfield to die.  His son George never returned home, and was buried in a double grave after the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.  Both had gone to war to preserve the Union, and believed that slavery was an iniquitous institution.  Both died for that cause.

During his year of service, Capt. Johnson kept a diary and regularly wrote home.  These fragile, precious letters were preserved by his widow and came into the hands of his grandson after her death.  Alden Chase Brett was so deeply moved by the story that came out of his grandfather’s letters and diary, and the family history that was passed down to him, that he compiled it into a book.  We can all benefit from the meticulous work Brett did relating in chronological order the letters and diary entries that tell this tragic story.

It makes compelling reading, which I highly recommend to any student of Deerfield history or of the Civil War.  The Deerfield Historical Society and the Philbrick-James Library both have copies available for the public.