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Cool Things - Civil War Saber & Revolvers

Johnson saber

These fine weapons were "Presented as a Token of His Soldierly Qualities."

As with all major conflicts, the Civil War left its mark on many people. Often the mark was physical as well as emotional. John Arrell Johnson bore the scars of his war-time service for over half his life.

The Civil War had its roots in Kansas Territory, also known as Bleeding Kansas for the acts of violence carried out by both antislavery and proslavery supporters. Fielding Johnson (John's father) came to Kansas from Indiana at the height of the territorial troubles in 1856; he helped move slaves to freedom through Quindaro. Also arriving in 1856 was George Washington Veale, Fielding's business partner and John's brother-in-law. John joined them in Kansas shortly afterwards.

When war broke out in 1861, John enlisted in Company E of the Fourth Kansas Volunteers. He entered the service as a private but was soon elected second lieutenant. Veale, John's brother-in-law, served as captain of the company. The Fourth Kansas was never completely organized as a full regiment, although Senator James Lane did lead them in several engagements in Missouri, including the capture of Osceola.

The companies of the Fourth Kansas were eventually reassigned (this was a common practice that involved taking state volunteers into the regular army). Both Veale and Johnson next served in Company A of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry. The Sixth stayed close to home, seeing action in Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Johnson fought in all the regiment's early battles, repeatedly distinguishing himself.

Hilt on Johnson saber

At the battle of Cane Hill, Arkansas in late 1862, Johnson suffered a severe wound that would affect him the rest of his life. A bullet passed through his left lung and grazed the backbone, taking away part of a vertebra. He recovered well enough to return to the regiment, but often was restricted to light duty.

Johnson's dedication to duty earned him promotions. A first lieutenant at the time of the wounding, he became captain of Company A only days later. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to major. As Johnson was often unavailable for heavy duty, he became the Inspector of the Army's District of the Frontier, reviewing the actions of questionable officers.

Johnson was admired by his men. On December 23, 1863, at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Company A presented him with this pair of Remington revolvers, having silver-plated barrels, gold-plated cylinders, and ivory handles. The handles are affixed with engraved silver plates, one side listing his military record with dates of promotion, and concluding with the words, "Presented as a Token of his Soldierly Qualities." On the other side is a list of battles: "Dry Wood, Morristown, Two Battles at Osceola, Three Battles at Newtonia, Fort Wayne, Cane Hill." It also includes the words: "A Soldier Friend finds Friends in Deed."

Company M also made a presentation to Johnson—a Damascus steel saber with a silver hilt and gold-plated guard. One side of the blade lists the battles. The other side bears the inscription, "One Country, One Flag," a standard patriotic slogan. A silver plate on the scabbard reads, "Presented to Maj. John A. Johnson by Company M, Sixth Kansas Cavalry, as a token of their confidence in a gallant and meritorious officer."

Johnson revolvers

Johnson came to Topeka after the war, where he worked in business to the extent allowed by his injuries. He participated in veterans' reunions and worked to satisfy their needs. This was repaid in 1889, when the surviving officers of the Sixth Kansas petitioned Congress for a special pension of $50 a month for life to help Johnson when he could not work. The petition was quickly granted.

John Arrell Johnson died in Topeka on June 30, 1894, due to complications of diseases caused by his old war wound, a few weeks short of his 53rd birthday. Two years before he died, Johnson had donated the revolvers and sword to the Kansas State Historical Society. They are in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

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Entry: Cool Things - Civil War Saber & Revolvers

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2007

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.