Memorial Day – Wiley T. Johnston

Memorial Day – Wiley T. Johnston

Battlefield.1My ancestors are fighters. They are an extremely patriotic bunch and can be found in every war of our country.

One ancestor’s story I find especially compelling is that of my third great grandfather, Wiley T. Johnston.

Wiley, the second of 12 children, was born and lived in Corona, Alabama. In October of 1863, he became a 19-year-old private in Alabama’s 28th Infantry.

Wiley’s first military action came one month later at the Battle of Lookout Mountain. There he was taken as a prisoner of war and sent to Rock Island Prison in Illinois, where he was kept until the end of the war.

The researcher and historian in me became engrossed in learning about this prison, previously unknown to me. Disease, malnutrition, overcrowding, and cold caused the deaths of more than 2,000 prisoners. It was -32° F and snowing when Wiley entered the prison in December 1863 – pretty cold for a southern boy.

Wiley was released at the end of the war to walk the more than 730 miles back home, lending credence to the family lore that Wiley’s feet were so badly damaged that he was taken in by the Ary family and nursed back to health. Wiley later married that farmer’s daughter, Sophia Ary, and they became the parents of seven children.

When I think I’m having a difficult day, I remember Wiley. I think about him enduring the hardships of prison camp, and the long, difficult walk home. I decide that my lot is not quite so hard, and I try to carry on in manner that those who come after me will draw strength from – as I have from Wiley.

Discover details about adversities faced by your U.S. Civil War ancestors. FamilySearch’s Civil War records page offers direct access to Union and Confederate service records and other military collections that can help illuminate ancestors’ lives.

Read more stories by other family historians here.

Reprinted from FamilySearch Blog


  1. What an inspiring story! So cool that he was one of your ancestors!

  2. Hello Valerie, I found this a very moving story. In Australia we have recently celebrated our ANZAC Day and in the lead up to 25/4 discovered some of my own families WW 1 & 2 stories. Just like you, I use them to inspire me on my “off” days.

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