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The Civil War in Missouri

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Jimmie Johnston: Child Soldier of the Civil War

"Powder Boy" James V. Johnston (Download 768 KB PDF)
Main Idea

  • James “Jimmie” Vincent Johnston was born September 23, 1857, and “was the youngest person who rendered effective service in battle”  during the Civil War at age 6 ½. 

Story 

Highlights

  • His father, Captain John V. Johnston, was executive officer on Admiral Andrew Hull Foote’s flagship during the attack on Fort Donelson. 
  • On February 13, 1864, his wife and son Jimmie were aboard the Forest Rose gunboat with him when they were unexpectedly attacked by a force of 5,000 Confederates who were trying to cross the Mississippi to reinforce General Joseph E. Johnston, who was confronting General Sherman in Georgia. 
  • From February 13 to 15, the Forest Rose resisted their attempts to cross the river. Captain Johnston attempted to keep his son below deck with his wife, but the boy escaped to be with the gunners several times. 
  • Finally, when the regular powder boy was shot and killed, Jimmie took on his role. 
  • When his father discovered him, he asked where he had gotten the load of powder. Jimmie replied, “Why, Tommy [the powder boy] had his head shotted off over there, an’ I’m a-carrying’ his powder.”   
  • Thanks to little Jimmie’s help, the Forest Rose repelled the Confederate force successfully.
  • After the battle, in appreciation of the boy’s heroics the sailors nicknamed him “Admiral Jimmie” and made him a miniature sailor’s uniform.

Primary Sources

"Powder Boy" James V. Johnston (Download 768 KB PDF)
Naval Uniform of "Powder Boy"
James V. Johnston (Download 511 KB PDF)