A Small Town Remembers a Boy It Couldn’t Forget

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DBF

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
On a rainy day in Derby Vermont, September 28, 2019, people gathered under a tent to pay tribute and remember the youngest Medal of Honor recipient that followed his father in December of 1861 and went on into history.

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William “Willie” Johnston was born in Morristown, New York in 1850 and in time his family settled in Montreal, Canada before eventually settling in a small town in Vermont located within minutes from the Canadian border. The town was then known as Salem, but in 1881 it was annexed by the town of Derby and has remained thus.

His story is well known regarding his action during the Union Retreat in the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 when he held on to his drum and continued to play as the Union army ran. When President Lincoln heard about his actions, he requested his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton to give him the boy a medal. Willie earned the moniker “Mr. Lincoln’s Drummer”.

After the war Willie returned to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont settling near St. Johnsbury. He played the drum in the St. Johnsbury Town Band (the nation’s 3rd oldest banded in continuous existence - 1830). Eventually he made his way to the Boston area where little is known about him. He appears to attend several reunions, but there is no record of where he is buried, although it is recorded he died on September 16, 1941. His Medal of Honor/Drum/& Drum Sticks are lost to history. The Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury has a display in Willie's honor and it includes the drum sticks he used when he played in the St. Johnsbury Town Band.

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Despite all the years, a memorial was never placed in his honor in the town he left when he went into the war, but that changed on this rainy Saturday and many gathered to give honor to this young man that served in the 3rd Vermont.

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Willie’s Monument - detailing the history of the youngest holder of the Medal of Honor. After the war when some Medals of Honor winner’s were being reviewed, Willie’s stood.

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His memorial is placed in Derby Monument Park along with the 1866 Civil War obelisk in white granite believed to be among the 1st monument erected after the war.
 
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DBF

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
Thanks for finding additional threads on Willie. It was an interesting day (despite the rain). When the ladies brought the flowers to the memorial - that was a tender touch. The "soldier" (and a friend ours) played the part of the "drummer boy" and demonstrated the various drum rolls. He had a replica drum built (but as this is Vermont was made of maple).

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