1st Lt. Warren L. Johnson

Co. C - 33rd Regiment Ohio Infantry Volunteers

Warren Lafayette, "Lafe" Johnson was born march 6, 1844 in Ross County, Ohio, residence near Londonderry. He was the son of Franklin and Mary A. Huddle Johnson and was known as "Lafe". His mother died of pneumonia when he was two years old. Tradition is that as the young mother was dying, she asked for her young baby boy, kissed him tenderly, put her hand on his head, and said: "I leave you in God's hands" and was also in the hands of his grandparents, Christian and Nancy Huddle of Ohio. They encouraged his education and at the outbreak of the Civil War, Lafe Johnson was attending Mt. Pleasant Academy, Kingston, Ohio. He would draw on his mother's blessing, grandparent's steadfast upbringing, and own above average education and intelligence again and again as he experienced all the horrors and tortures brought when a turn in the war cast him in Confederate prison.


Very early in the war period Lafe enlisted in Co. C, 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, August 10, 1861. He was promoted to corporal, then to sergeant, and finally to 1st lieutenant. He served in forces commanded by Gen. D. C. Buell and W. C. Rosecran; his company was commanded by Lt. Nelson Purdum. At the battle of Chickamauga, September 20, 1863, Confederates led by Gen. Braxton Bragg captured Lafe Johnson and many of his Union comrades.

For over seventeen months, Lafe was incarcerated in various prisons, Belle Isle, Libby, Andersonville, Charleston, and Florence; his parole, February 24, 1865, Wilmington, NC and discharge, March 22, 1865 at Columbus, Ohio, finally ended the weary months of starvation and misery.

At his enlistment, Lafe began a diary which he kept faithfully even during his days in prison. Paper was scarce, so he used bits and scraps to record his " Life in Confederate Prisons." In Annapolis during parole procedures, Lafe lost the beloved diary, which had helped him survive the mental anguish of imprisonment. "I prized it beyond any memento I could have obtained during my prison life...I turned away with heavy and sorrowful heart." Lafe visited family and friends in Ohio where he slowly gathered strength to fight off the scurvy that had plagued him during his prison experience.

By April 1865, Lafe was ready to move westward to northwest Missouri, as had many of his neighbors of Ohio. His grandfather, Christian Huddle, came to Nodaway County in 1865, also residing near Burlington Junction. When Lafe settled in Nodaway County, he was first involved with farming; but determined that his health would not permit such effort.

By October 1865, Mary Cary (who back in Maryland assisted soldiers after parole) had located Lafe in Nodaway County and returned his lost diary to him. Soon he began work in the Nodaway County circuit clerk's office supervised by John C. Terhune who would become his brother-in-law. Lafe Johnson married Martha Terhune, daughter of Adam and Betsy Terhune, in Mayville, April 1866. They began housekeeping in a small two-room house, which was vacated for the Maryville post office building, now Maryville Public Library. The family later resided at 507 East 5th, Maryville, where they owned the 500 block.

In November 1866 Lafe was elected county treasurer. He also studied law under J. P. Coover and began law practice in Nodaway County in 1867. But it was his position as judge that gave Lafe great satisfaction, and he kept that office in Polk Township until he died July 17, 1926. He was affectionately called the "marrying squire"—for years performing that ceremony for the young people of Nodaway County. His law experience and genuine concern for his fellow soldiers led the old soldier to assist the Civil War – Spanish American War veterans in obtaining their pensions. In his law office at 112 East Third was a complete Civil War library, and on the wall was a photograph of the "hanging of the raiders" which he witnessed in Andersonville. Two of W. L. Johnson's pension application ledgers have survived, and these show his careful yet beautiful handwriting. In the back of one ledger he had pasted a photograph of Andersonville, a constant reminder of those terrible months.

Lafe was a leading Democrat, member of the Christian church, a Mason, one of the first trustees of Maryville Seminary, a GAR member and officer, and prominent in public affairs of the county and city.

Using his diary as a base, Lafe quickly began to record his trying experience as a prisoner. Chapter I was published March 5, 1885, in the Nodaway Democrat, Maryville, and at the same time was published back in his home newspaper in Ohio. By 1885, Lafe had returned to somewhat better health and weighed 200 pounds. His comrades at GAR joked that Lafe was making up for all the months of starvation.

Warren "Lafe" Johnson and wife, Martha had five children: Edgar, James, Gertrude, Verna and John. Lafe and Martha are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Maryville, Missouri. In addition to many descendants, Lafe Johnson leaves as legacy his unique and well-written Civil War story. Thus, the old soldier lives in the pages, which follow.

Andersonville, Georgia, would have been left in history as any other southern small town had it not been for the site of a 25-acre pen for Union soldiers. The Confederates needed to place the prisoners out-of-reach of the Union advance, and the movements from Andersonville to Charleston to Florence reflect CSA fear that Sherman would charge Andersonville to free his Union men. When the war began, neither the North nor the South was prepared to care for prisoners of war. At the outset, parole and exchange solved the problem.

Later, exchange stopped and both sides were faced with finding rations and provisions for a large number of captives. Crowding, heat and cold, disease, and lack of medicine all added to the misery of being incarcerated.

The photographer, mentioned by Lafe Johnson in his text, has provided for history books many views of the conditions of Andersonville. The stockade made of huge pine logs 20 feet high, the "deadline" past which no one could go, and the narrow contaminated stream which was the only source of water were photographed. To add to the picture of despair, a Union soldier in Andersonville kept lists of his many comrades as they died; he recorded 12,920 names. The list was brought out in March 1865, providing identification for most of the deceased. Yet there are 900 unmarked graves. Such was "life in Confederate prisons."