By Harvey S. Teal, this article originally appeared in the Chronicle-Independent on March 29, 2013, as “Travels of a Historical Document .”
On June 9, 2012 at a Civil War show in Columbia, S.C., I browsed along from one dealer table to the next searching for Civil War relics in my fields of interest. As I examined the items on the table of the Broadfoot Publishing Company, with much excitement and anticipation I opened a folder labeled, “Immortal Six Hundred — original manuscript.” When I realized I was examining a Lieut. William E. Johnson Jr. 1864 manuscript list of the Immortal Six Hundred, goose bumps arose on my arms.
I was quite familiar with the Johnson Family and the overall history of the Immortal Six Hundred. In a previous Chronicle-Independent column, I described how the Union Army placed 600 captured Confederate officers on Morris Island in front of the Union batteries firing on Fort Sumter and Charleston. Johnson and other officers created a list of the 600 hundred.
In 1961, I had purchased from Mrs. Dan M. Jones on Mills Street in Camden about 300 manuscripts of William E. Johnson Sr., her ancestor. Here was I, 51 years later, examining an extremely important Civil War historical document of his son, Lieut. William E. Johnson Jr. I could feel the “Hand of Providence” guiding me as I quickly negotiated a price with the dealer and walked out of the show, an excited new owner of this Johnson Family document.
On the cover of the document was this note, “Return to W.E. Johnson (son of Lieut. W.E. Johnson by whom this Record was kept), Fair St., Camden, So. Carolina. June 12, 1911.” Who had borrowed the list? Who wrote the mysterious, cryptic initials “B M E” on one corner of the list cover? When and how did the list get out of family hands? Where had the list been for more than 100 years?
A few weeks ago, Ben Schreiner gave me the answer to the question of who had borrowed Lieut. Johnson’s list. In the July 1911 Confederate Veteran, the editor reported receiving Johnson’s list and added, “…which has been published in The Veteran.” However, a search of The Veteran failed to verify this claim of publication.
Apparently the list was returned from The Confederate Veteran in Nashville, Tenn., to the Fair Street address indicated on the cover of the list. This was the home of the Lieutenant’s son, W.E. Johnson III and his family. The lieutenant’s granddaughter, Henrietta, would have been about 34 years old at the time.
In the 1950s-60s, I visited Henrietta a few times and got to know her casually. She loaned me a photograph of William M. Shannon to copy for use in Rides about Camden, Pen Pictures of the Past, a pamphlet I edited. During this period, Joan Inabinet knew Henrietta possessed the Civil War prisoner of war letters of Lieut. William E. Johnson Jr. since Henrietta gave her a copy of one of them. She likely also had his diary and Immortal Six Hundred list at the time.
It is known that the family of Dick Littlejohn, a Spartanburg collector, gave the 23 Lieutenant W.E. Johnson, Jr. prisoner of war letters and his diary to Wofford University in 2010. How did they get into Littlejohn’s hands? The answer is not known but here is the likely scenario.
In the 1950s-60s, one B.M. Ellison of Lancaster frequently visited Henrietta McWillie Johnson, seeking to buy from her pieces of Alexander Young silver and other items such as manuscripts. Mrs. Dan. M. Jones, Henrietta’s cousin, and antique dealer Norman Fohl both related this to me on several occasions.
In a combined purchase/donation to the South Caroliniana Library in 1981, Ellison turned over to the library a scrapbook and about 48 manuscripts written to or from William E. Johnson, Jr. or to William M. Shannon which Johnson had collected when the famous Cash-Shannon duel occurred on July 5, 1880.
Johnson came into possession of these items due to being Shannon’s second in the duel. Johnson’s son had married William M. Shannon’s daughter, Catherine McWillie Shannon. Ellison acquired these materials from Henrietta McWillie Johnson.
In 2005 a member of the B.M. Ellison Family gave the South Caroliniana Library 19 W.E. Johnson Jr. manuscripts from the Ellison estate, another example of Johnson materials Ellison acquired from Henrietta McWillie Johnson.
Ellison likely also purchased Johnson’s Civil War letters and diary from Henrietta and later sold them to collector Dick Littlejohn. This purchase also likely included Johnson’s Immortal Six Hundred list since the initials “B M E” appears on the cover. The list, however, never went to Wofford University but wound up in the hands of Broadfoot Publishing Company.
Wofford University has since sold the envelopes from the 23 Lieutenant Johnson prisoner letters to a dealer who sold them to about a dozen collectors scattered across the United States.
In any event, it is clear the roster traveled to and from many places: Morris Island; Fort Pulaski; Hilton Head; Fort Delaware; Liberty Hill; Holly Hedge and Fair Street in Camden; Nashville, Tenn., and wherever Broadfoot Publishing Company carried it. It is also clear it had multiple owners — Lieutenant W.E. Johnson Jr.; his son, W.E. Johnson III; granddaughter, Henrietta McWillie Johnson; B.M. Ellison; Broadfoot Publishing Company; and Harvey S. Teal.
Lieutenant W.E. Johnson Jr.’s Immortal Six Hundred roster has survived all of these travels to at least nine cities, through multiplies states from Georgia to Delaware then back to South Carolina and from South Carolina to Tennessee, sea voyages to Fort Pulaski, Hilton Head, and Fort Delaware and through the hands of at least six different owners.
Lieutenant Johnson’s roster was on display at the Kershaw County Historical Society program on March 24, 2013, at Holly Hedge. At that meeting, Harvey S. Teal transferred ownership of Lieutenant William E. Johnson Jr.’s roster of the Immortal Six Hundred to The South Caroliniana Library and the State of South Carolina. On that day it made its final journey to its final home.