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Union Officer, State Leader’s Grave Rests in Overgrown Cemetery

By Staff | Sep 28, 2016

Photo by Miles Layton Eli Henthorn (left), Gene Bell and Richard Neff call attention to the plight of this Tyler County cemetery where a Union officer and state leader’s grave rests in the tall grass at this cemetery in Long Reach.

FRIENDLY – In a graveyard by an abandoned church, there lies the tombstone of soldier and early leader of West Virginia.

Union Colonel Daniel D. Johnson’s headstone is relatively unremarkable when compared to the larger grave markers and a marble tomb nearby in the churchyard along W.Va. 2 near Long Reach.

A rusting bronze symbol that symbolizes Johnson’s service in the Union Army barely sticks out of the 8-inch high grass that surrounds his grave among others. The man’s biography gives you chills as to what he accomplished, and then you see this unattended gravestone just a few paces away from Tyler County’s oldest grave, that of Rachel Jolly.

The shadows of time are long over this cemetery, Johnson’s grave.

A group of intrepid cemetery explorers Eli Henthorn, Gene Bell and Richard Neff directed the Tyler Star News to this amazing find.

“I think it is a shame that the cemetery where Gen. Johnson is buried is in such disrepair, although I can relate to the struggles they have in keeping that cemetery mowed,” Henthorn said.

The teen is cautiously optimistic because the cemetery looks as though someone had mowed a certain portion of the graveyard and had problems such as the mower breaking down when they started on the older section.

“As the caretaker of a rural cemetery, I can vouch for the fact that it is difficult to keep up with, especially during this time of year with the fall grass growing very rapidly and yellow jackets making nests everywhere,” Henthorn said. “I am grateful however that this cemetery has not been given up on, like so many in the county have that aren’t being mowed or maintained at all. I am confident that it probably will be mowed once more before the mowing season ends though.”

A little bit of research revealed a man who had fought in major battles during the Civil War and served as state Senate President He was present at the Wheeling Conventions that set in motion a break from Virginia and led to statehood.

Bell provided a partial copy of Johnson’s personal diary that had been written during his service with the 14th West Virginia Infantry.

Johnson joined the Union Army as a major in August 1862 and was promoted about a year later in July 1863. The diary mentions many familiar spots along the Ohio River from Blennerhasset Island to Racine, Ohio, and of course, Parkersburg – a Union military transportation hub – as well as far flung places such as Romney, Martinsburg, Frederick, Md., and Winchester, Va.

“He was in many hard-contested battles, wounded at Opequon (Va.), and in several engagements acted as a Brigade Commander, before he was mustered out and finally honorably discharged July 3, 1865,” according to the “Prominent Men of West Virginia.”

Though the diary provides a detailed accounting of battles where Johnson fought, there are a few vignettes from Johnson’s diary that deserve a little bit of ink.

The war was long from ending when Johnson penned these lines on July of 1864. Worth noting, Union General William T. Sherman’s troops were engaged in the Battle of Atlanta and the Gettysburg’s “victory” was about a year old.

Johnson was in command of the 2nd Brigade while in Romney.

“Preaching in camp this morning by our chaplain Rev. J.L. Irwin from the text, ‘My peace I give to you.'” Johnson wrote in his diary entry for July 24th. “It is indeed a great pleasure to listen to the word of God, to enjoy the blessed consolations of the Gospel of our blessed Savior. O how rich are these seasons of prayer amidst the toil and strife of war, when we can pause in our career of human slaughter and ask God to close this terrible scene and restore peace to this distracted country. Can it be possible that a follower of the Prince of Peace would take the life of his fellow men? Even so, it has been this day. We arose from the altar of prayer to participate in the (word missing) of blood.”

Johnson joined the war because he was opposed to Secession. After serving many hard-fought campaigns and seeing many men die with no end in sight to the hostilities, Johnson took note of the two-year anniversary Aug. 18 of joining the Grand Army of the Republic. In his journal, he wrote:

“Two years ago, I left my home to enter the service of my country and do battle for the Constitution and Laws of my Country,” he wrote. “Little did I then dream that I would be in a ‘tented field’ today and, had the proper policy been pursued, I am confident I would today be enjoying the peace and joy of a happy home. (Missing word) I had not been in the service a month ‘ere the policy was changed from a war for the Constitution and integrity of our nation to a mad crusade against (word missing) the institution of Slavery. Instead of fighting to subdue the physical force of the rebellion, the authorities sought to change the moral sentiment of the people in rebellion. The original policy has been abandoned and this policy substituted in its stead. We have been fighting on this policy for two years, yet apparently we may fight two years more and not accomplish our object. I think the policy is wrong. Time alone will (word missing) the question.”

After the war, Republicans pushed forward a program of Reconstruction. Johnson returned home to Tyler County and was elected as a Democrat in 1866 to the state House of Delegates. His fellow Tyler Countian A.I. Boreman a Republican was serving as the state’s first governor before moving to the U.S. Senate. Boreman is buried in Parkersburg Memorial Gardens. Side note, Johnson’s older brother, Okey, was also an attorney, lawmaker for Wood County and a prominent Justice for the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals.

Anyway, Johnson opposed the imposition of test oaths on former Confederate sympathizers.

“There was no organized resistance to such measure, but by his criticism aroused such a sentiment which later resulted in the transfer of political power in the state to the Democratic Party,” according to the “Prominent Men of West Virginia.”

Johnson served as Senate President between 1872 and 1877 as well as from 1879 to 1881. He was appointed Regent of the State University in Charleston in 1873. Worth noting, Johnson served as presidential elector in 1880 when he cast his vote for Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who was narrowly defeated by Republican James A. Garfield of Ohio. Interesting enough, Garfield died 135-years ago on Sept. 19, 1881, a few months after he shot. To say that national politics was messy during Johnson’s life is an understatement. He died at age 57 in December of 1893.

Neff said a committee should be formed to better maintain the cemetery where Johnson is buried.

“We need to take more care of our cemeteries because they are part of Tyler County’s legacy,” he said.