United States Navy

Mortimer L. Johnson

Mortimer Lawrence Johnson was born in Nahant, Mass., on June 1, 1842, the son of Walter Johnson. He was appointed Acting Midshipman on December 2, 1859.

On March 4, 1862, an armed launch from the frigate Wabash, including Midshipman Johnson, was positioned to protect a railroad bridge near Fernandina, Florida, during operations against that port. Commander P. Dayton, commanding Pawnee, reported that Johnson "pushed along the railroad with some of his men, and in the course of the day brought in two locomotives and three railroad cars."

On April 11, 1862, Midshipman Johnson participated in a 100-man detail from the frigate Wabash that manned Battery Sigel during the attack and capture of Fort Pulaski, Ga. Commander C. R. P. Rodgers, commanding Wabash, commended Johnson and others for their participation in the attack.

Johnson was promoted to Ensign September 16, 1862.

Commander Charles Steedman, commanding the gunboat Paul Jones, commenting on operations with army forces under General Brannan on October 21, 1862, on the Broad River, S.C., said of Johnson "who accompanied me as aid and signal officer, I am much indebted."

Johnson was ordered to the staff of Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Pont on his flagship, Wabash, in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron before the end of January 1863. On January 28, acting as Du Pont's aid, Johnson witnessed and participated in an attack on a fort at Genesis Point in an armed tugboat. He reported back to the admiral that "the fort was a very formidable casemated earthwork with bombproofs, and mounting nine guns, the firing from which was excellent."

On April 15, DuPont, reporting on an attack on Fort Sumter on April 7, commented that his aid, Ensign Johnson, "full of spirit and energy, made the signals under difficult circumstances, and kept an accurate note of all that were made to and from the fleet."

On September 8, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren, the new squadron commander onboard his flag-ship, Philadelphia, in his report on injuring sustained by the ironclad vessels of the squadron, indicated Ensign Johnson "was slightly hurt last night in the turret by a bolt."

On September 11, Dahlgren reported on an aborted attack on Fort Sumter, in which he included an extract from the staff journal, in which Ensign Johnson recorded the movement of the various ships in the squadron, and the admiral and his staff.

On December 20, 1863, Ensign Johnson conducted a reconnaissance from Battery Putnam (Gregg), reporting to Admiral Dahlgren on the construction status of an ironclad on the Cooper River, obstructions around Fort Sumter, and the movement of a large gun on Sullivan's Island along the beach toward Breach Inlet. Two days later, he reported on a second set of observations, again on the construction of an ironclad, debris around Fort Sumter, and the movement of a large gun from Fort Moultrie toward Breach Inlet. Again, on January 1, 1864, Johnson reported on observations made from Battery Putnam, mostly detail of the obstructions near Fort Sumter, and construction of several ironclads.

He was promoted to Lieutenant on February 22, 1864. On December 28, 1864, Commodore H. K. Thatcher, commanding steam frigate Colorado, and a division of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, reported that Lieutenant Johnson "managed the signals with great promptness and ability and is entitled to my cordial thanks" during action against Fort Fisher on December 24 and 25. Of note, Colorado's executive officer at this time was Lieutenant George Dewey.

On January 14, 1865, Commodore Thatcher mentioned Johnson in a report to Rear Admiral David Porter:

I have to commend to your notice especially Lieutenant M. L. Johnson, who, in the midst of a heavy fire from the enemy, with a boat's crew of volunteers, carried a hawser from this ship to the New Ironsides, in order to enable us to bring all the guns to bear from the port battery.

On June 1, 1865, Johnson is listed as commanding the side-wheel steamer Estrella. Two weeks later, Admiral Thatcher informed Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that he had appointed his flag-lieutenant, W. L. Johnson, to command his new flagship, Estrella.

Sometime before August 11, 1865, Lieutenant Johnson was condemned by medical survey and sent north; command of the Estrella devolved to a Commander Simpson. In October, Thatcher, commenting on Johnson's medical survey, justified his need to retain two specific officers on his staff as compensation for the loss of Johnson's "valuable services."

In 1866, President Andrew Johnson nominated Johnson for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, effective July 25.

He was promoted to Commander on April 26, 1878, and by 1880, was stationed at Portsmouth Navy Yard, his wife Nellie, and daughters Alice, Bessie and Marie (the last two, twins). Nellie and all the daughters were natives of New Hampshire.

Promoted to Captain on May 9, 1893, he was commanding Cincinatti by January 1, 1896.

Miantonomoh, an aging monitor, was recommissioned March 10, 1898 under command of Captain Johnson, as war with Spain became imminent after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Miantonomoh fitted out at Charleston, S.C., and joined the Cuban blockading squadron on May 5, remaining with the squadron until the cessation of hostilities. On August 14, the date after, Miantonomoh returned to Charleston on August 29, and Philadelphia on October 1, and was decommissioned March 8, 1899.

After the war, he was Captain of the Boston Navy Yard, from at least January 1, 1899. He was promoted to Rear Admiral on January 29, 1901. In 1902 he was Commandant of the Boston Navy Yard. He was placed on the Retired List on June 1, 1904. Rear Admiral Johnson was a member of the Massachusetts Commandery of MOLLUS.

He died February 14, 1913, aged 70, and was buried in the Proprietors' Cemetery, South of Pond, Portsmouth, NH.

Sources: Callahan; Benedict, 2:795; Caroon, 268; Cogar, 2:149-150; ORN, 11:294, 506, 12:576-578, 731-732, 13:401, 543, 14:8, 588-589, 611-612, 15:184, 187, 218-219, 22:212, 218, 230, 247, 254; Siege of Fort Pulaski, http://www.nps.gov/fopu/historyculture/siege-of-fort-pulaski.htm; Harper's Encyclopedia.

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