From slave to soldier to homesteader
Born a slave in Hawkins County, Tenn., William Johnson was assigned his master’s name. He died a free man Friday, June 13, 1890, three miles northeast of Goodland. He is buried in the Old Veteran’s Plot of Goodland Cemetery.
When his original master died, Johnson was transferred to the old master’s son, John. In its June 13, 1890, edition, the Sherman County Dark Horse wrote that he married “a slave girl” in Georgia, who later became John Johnson’s property. William Johnson was fortunate to remain united with his family, which came to include three children. Many slave families were broken up and sold away from one another.
Johnson joins 1st United States Colored Heavy Artillery
In 1864, the U.S. Army began organizing the 1st United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment in northeastern Tennessee. Enlistments began in January and the first muster was held Feb. 20, 1864. Recruits were required to be between 18 and 45, but often no documentation existed. Ages were only an estimate. The new soldiers were probably never trained to fire cannons, but manned forts that had been erected for the Siege of Knoxville, Tenn. They also expanded fortifications. Regiment was mustered out March 31, 1866. The Dark Horse says Johnson served for two years, so he must have been in some of the original enlistees. At some point, he was promoted to corporal.
Johnson moves to Sherman County
Shortly after his discharge, Johnson and his family came to Sherman County. He was the only African-American Civil War veteran in Sherman County. After Johnson’s death at his son’s home, the Dark Horse said that he “has ever been recognized as one of our most reliable citizens.”
He was buried in the Sappa Cemetery, also called Gandy Cemetery, in the southeast quarter of Township 12. In 1893, that cemetery was abandoned. The graves and their markers were moved to the current Goodland Cemetery in the Old Veterans’ Plot south of the cemetery chapel. Johnson rests between unknown soldiers. They died to make men free. He also fought to make men free — and take freedom for himself.
Goodland Cemetery is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.by