Sailor finally at rest

Fernandina Beach: Prisoner of war’s remains return home

By Amelia A. Hart
Nassau Neighbors staff writer

Edward John Kent Johnston is home.

Johnston, believed to be the last Confederate prisoner of war buried in New England, was laid to rest Monday in Fernandina Beach.

The private ceremony was attended only by the four Sons of Confederate Veterans members who brought Johnston from Fort Devens in Massachusetts. Johnston ceremonially was disinterred Oct. 12 before a gathering of family, government and military officials and hundreds of Civil War re-enactors.

There will be a formal reburial service Oct. 26.

George Hagan Jr., dressed in the uniform of a Confederate Navy lieutenant, expelled a sigh of relief Monday after Johnston’s remains, encased in a small pine box, finally were placed in a grave at the feet of his wife in Bosque Bello Cemetery.

"One hundred thirty-nine years and one day from the day he died, he’s home," Hagan said.

Johnston died of pneumonia Oct. 13, 1863, in Fort Warren, a Union prisoner-of-war camp in Boston Harbor. He was buried at the fort, but because of post closings, Johnston was disinterred and reburied three more times. His last burial was in 1939 at Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass.

Thanks to the Internet, a coalition of SCV and Daughters of the Confederacy members, Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services officials and Civil War enthusiasts linked up with Johnston descendants, who gave permission for his remains to be moved and buried for a fifth and final time.

The SCV, which is overseeing Johnston’s reburial in Florida, originally had planned for Johnston to lie in state at Oxley-Heard Funeral Home prior to a reburial service Oct. 26.

But organizers were unable to find enough members to stand 24-hour guard over Johnston’s remains for 11 days, said John Adams, a spokesman for the SCV’s Florida division. So, the decision was made to bury Johnston the day he arrived in Fernandina Beach.

The determination that Johnston never would be alone led to a long conversation with police in Arlington, Va., said Keith Williamson, a member of the CSS Jackson re-enactor crew who served as Johnston’s honor guard.

The Jackson crew had stopped for the night Oct. 12 in Arlington, a part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that has been terrorized by 11 sniper shootings, including nine killings, in 15 days. Police have been looking for a white minivan that witnesses say left some of the scenes. Johnston’s body was traveling in a white minivan, and the sight of a man armed with a rifle and bayonet standing next a white minivan caught the attention of police.

"We told them they’d never believe what we were doing," Williamson said. "But after we told them, they believed us because they said nobody could have made it up."

A portion of Johnston’s remains were placed in a marble urn. Those remains will be aboard the CSS Belle, a replica of a Confederate ship that will sail up the Amelia River on Oct. 26. The remains then will be transported to Bosque Bello for the formal memorial service. The urn later will be buried at sea by the Belle’s crew. A door-size granite marker, purchased by Johnston’s comrades at Fort Warren, was being shipped to Fernandina Beach this week.

Henry J. Bond, Johnston’s great-great-grandson and a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marines, said the enthusiasm and interest shown by others in his ancestor’s story took him by surprise at first.

"But everybody’s been just magnificent," he said. "There are a lot of people that are doing so doggone much."

For Hagan, who asked to pay for all the expenses incurred in moving Johnston, bringing his remains home to Fernandina Beach simply was a matter of fulfilling a duty to honor the memory and good name of the Confederate veteran.

"This is an honor. Taking care of a Confederate veteran is the highest thing you could ever do," Hagan said.

Original Context: