Littleton Johnson

(Bertie County)

Featured Character – Divided Allegiances

Union Recuriting Poster

Courtesy of the Henry Toole Clark Papers, North Carolina State Archives

The Conscription Act passed by the Confederate Congress allowed wealthy planters to pay other men to serve in their place as “substitutes.”  On April 1, 1862, Littleton Johnson from Bertie County enlisted as a substitute in Company G, 32nd North Carolina Infantry.  Promoted to corporal in November 1862, he suffered a demotion to private in April 1863.  A few weeks later, the regiment received word of their transfer out of North Carolina to the Army of Northern Virginia.  Possibly angered about his reduction in rank and serving away from home, Johnson deserted to the Union Army in May 1863.  In October 1863, Johnson wrote a letter to newly-appointed Union officer Charles Henry Foster.  Johnson offered to raise a company of Bertie County men for Foster’s 2nd North Carolina Union Volunteers.  For his recruiting services, Johnson received a captain’s commission and command of the new regiment’s Company B.  He and his men became part of the Union garrison in Plymouth.  In April 1864, Confederate General Robert F. Hoke laid siege to the town.  As a Confederate deserter, Johnson feared capture by Confederate forces.  After his superior officer ordered all Union troops to surrender, Johnson told his men to escape by any means possible.  Johnson swam across the Roanoke River to relative safety in the Bertie County swamps.  Together with about twenty other men, he made his way back to Union lines at Fort Macon.  As an avid supporter of Charles Henry Foster, Johnson expressed outrage at his commanding officer’s dismissal from the service in March 1864.  On June 12, 1864, Fort Macon’s provost guard arrested Johnson for “open and gross violation of discipline and endeavoring to incite mutiny among the men in camp.”  Union officials discharged him without trial on August 13, 1864.  He returned to his farm in Bertie County.