Sunday, August 30, 2015

Willie Johnston: Eleven-Year-Old Medal of Honor Winner


He was transferred from the 20th Regiment to Company H of the 3rd Vermont on May 12, 1865. He was officially discharged August 31, 1865 at Battleboro, Vermont, receiving the same bounty as his father of $500 from the United States government and $187.50 from the St. Johnsbury government.

Nothing is known of Willie’s life after this point. He is believed to have enrolled in Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont in 1866, graduating in 1870. After this point, Willie practically vanishes. He may have died in 1936, but even that is debatable. Willie never married or had children. He never requested or drew a pension. Nothing more is known about the life of the youngest Medal of Honor recipient in United States history. This mystery is only confounded by his drum being found in a house in Chelsea, Massachusetts on May 9, 1888. A note attached to the drum read, “Willie Johnston, aged 13, Company D, Third Vermont Regiment. Presented with a medal by Secretary Stanton for carrying this drum through the Seven Days Fight before Richmond, being the only drum carried the last of June and 1st of July.” While the mystery surrounding Willie’s life after the Civil War is frustrating, the bravery and courage of someone so young in the midst of battle are undeniable.

In 2005 a statue of Willie Johnston was erected in Santa Clarita, California. The plaque on the statue reads:

"William J. Johnston Jr.
Presented the Medal of Honor on September 16, 1863 for gallantry in the Seven Days Battle and the Peninsula Campaign."

“Willie” was a five foot tall, eleven year old drummer boy in Company D, Third Vermont Volunteers Infantry of the Union Army, when he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. He alone saved his drum and held his ground, and his devotion to duty is an inspiration to children and adults alike. Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton honored Willie with the following words:

“For exemplifying the spirit of all our soldiers, and for serving your country so well. The nation has decided to honor you. May all our citizens demonstrate the devotion shown by this young man.”

The statue stands in kind remembrance of a boy who, in all likelihood, never set foot in California.


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