Home Search Index of men A-Z

LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive

Last edited 23.1.14. Minor edits 12.4.14.

1300, Sergeant Thomas George JOHNSON - 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born at Maidstone, Kent, c.1824.

Enlistment

Enlisted into the 4th Light Dragoons at Maidstone Cavalry Depot on the 27th of March 1837, "By Special Authority". Regimental number No. 869.

Age: 13.

Height: 4' 11".

His trade was recorded as "None".

Service

From Private to Trumpeter: 24th of May 1837.

Removed to Private (no reason given) on the 2nd of January 1838.

Attained the age of 15 years and on to "Man's pay" on the 18th of March 1839.

His pay as a Trumpeter was 1/7d. per day, reduced to 10d. as a "Boy" and to 1/ 3d as a Man.

From Private to Trumpeter: 12th of July 1839:

"Absent without leave", 5th-7th of March 1841, tried by a Regimental Court martial on the 9th, and sentenced to solitary confinement until the 18th, but did not forfeit his rank.

Joined the regiment at Canterbury on the 1st of April 1842, following its return from India.

Transferred (as a Private) to the 13th Light Dragoons at Manchester on the 1st of September 1846.

From Private to Corporal: 1st of February 1848.

Corporal to Sergeant: 25th of March 1853.

At Scutari General Hospital from the 16th of September 1854 and sent to rejoin the regiment on the 3rd of October.



Thomas Johnson's letter from the Crimea published in<i>The Morning Post</i>, 29th November 1854. Click to enlarge.

A detailed and evocative letter written by Thomas Johnson from the Crimea just after the Charge at Balaclava was published inThe Morning Post, 29th November 1854. Although its author is not named, it must be Thomas Johnson - a 13th Light Dragoon sergeant who had been injured on board ship before the Alma, but who had re-joined the regiment from Scutari in time to Charge at Balaclava. [RM]

(Click on image to enlarge)


The following letter is from a sergeant in the 13th Light:

Near Sebastopol, 7th November 1854.

My Dearest Brother, - I can say but a few words. When I last wrote to you, we were on the point of embarking for the Crimea. Unfortunately, I met with a severe accident by falling down the main hatchway, and have to thank God I was not killed. I went to the General Hospital at Scutari, consequently was out of Alma, but joined the Regiment as soon as possible, being able to participate in the next honours. Joined at Balaklava where we passed some weeks in the most arduous and harassing duties, both of outposts and pickets, and surrounded by Cossacks, and we were obliged to be continually on the alert. At last we engaged them; but, I suppose, ere this, you have the account.

On the 25th of October the enemy advanced, and stormed our advanced positions on some hills, which were well fortified, and unfortunately occupied by the Turks, but the rascals fled before the Russians came within 150 yards of the forts; our artillery came up, and the Russians recovered the guns, where we were exposed to shot and shell for upwards of two hours, but the positions were lost, we slowly retired a short distance. The Russians advanced direct on to us, on the ground of our camp. Our heavy dragoons were ordered to charge them and they fled, although their numbers were sufficient to overwhelm our handful of cavalry.

At this time, the Light Brigade formed up on the left, on some ground which commanded a long valley about two miles long, at the end of which the enemy retired. By some misunderstanding, we were ordered to advance and charge the guns, which they had formed up full in our front at the extreme end, and here took place a scene which is unparalleled in history. We had scarcely advanced a few yards, before they opened on us with grape, shot and shell. It was a perfect level, the ground only enough for the 17th and 13th to advance, the rest of the brigade following. To our astonishment, they had erected batteries on each side of the hills, which commanded the whole valley; consequently, a dreadful cross-fire opened on us from both sides and in front, but it was too late to do anything but advance, which we did in a style truly wonderful, every man feeling certainly that we must be annihilated. Still we continued on, reached the very guns, charged them, took them; but, there being no support, we were obliged to retire, almost being cut up.

Out of our regiment, we assembled only ten men mounted, and one or two officers. Our Colonel has gone home sick, and major gone home, we were commanded by the senior Captain. Two captains were killed, and one lieutenant. Poor Weston was killed, and two sergeant-majors taken prisoners. The others were either killed, taken prisoners, or dismounted. Of the remainder we retired, and here the firing was hotter than ever, for the infantry aimed at us as we passed them. I escaped - thank God! - without a scratch; but my poor horse got shot through the head and in the hind quarters, and a lance was through my shoe bag.

It was a most unwise and mad act. One thing, there is no blame attached to the Earl of Cardigan, for he was ordered to do it, and he did it most noble. We charged up to the very mouth of the guns, and since then the 17th and ourselves have scarcely been able to make one squadron between us. The 4th Light Dragoons are nearly as bad. The Earl is very cut up contemplating it, and points it out to the officers as the effect of charging batteries. The daring of the thing astounded and frightened the enemy.

The shattered remnants of the Light Brigade moved up here (near Sebastopol) shortly afterwards, and have remained pretty quiet with the exception of the continual bombardment sounding in our ears from morning till night, until the next fighting of 5th of November, when the Russians appeared in force, and we had then a most glorious and awful day. They estimated the loss of the Russians from 13,000 to 16,000; our loss is very great. The Duke of Cambridge had his horses shot under him; General Sir G. Brown was wounded, General Lord Cathcart was killed, and many colonels and other officers are killed or dangerously wounded. The battled last more then seven hours, and the Grenadier Guards were cut to pieces.

We brigaded, for the first time, with the French cavalry; but were not engaged this day, though exposed to shot and shell. We lost some horses, and a fine young fellow - an officer of the 17th Lancers - was killed. A shell burst in the midst of us and he was the only one hurt, and he survived but a few hours afterwards. We only lost a few men.

You will, I know, excuse this rambling scrawl, as I have been disturbed fifty times whilst writing it; but I am sure it will be welcome. Many many thanks for the newspapers - they are a source of great amusement and much gratification. I pray to God that I may be spared to see you some day; but He alone knows what will become of us if they keep us here much longer, as the weather is getting very cold. We are all in ignorance as to the fall of Sebastopol, and there is a great deal of dissatisfaction experienced at this procrastination; but I suppose our chiefs know well what they are about.

[PB: Check the transcription. A slightly different version of this letter is transcribed with notes in Dawson (2014) - notes 98 - 104.]

Promoted to Regimental Sgt. Major on the 5th of November 1854.

Gazetted as Cornet on the 27th of November 1857.

To Lieutenant and Adjutant: 30th of May 1860.

Thomas Johnson corroborated Lord Cardigan's account of his role at the guns in an affidavit which he made on the 15th of April 1863 relating to the law-suit instigated by the latter against Somerset-Calthorpe. He said:

"3 / I passed however with some of the second line through the Guns and on approaching the Enemy's Cavalry which I believe was drawn up some little distance in rear of the battery I and a man named John Keeley found ourselves within a few yards of Lord Cardigan who was also in rear of the Battery and surrounded by and engaged in defending himself against four or five Cossack Lancers.

Both Keeley and myself rushed to his Lordship's assistance, but my horse on the moment received a severe wound which completely disabled him (and from which injuries he afterwards died) and I believe the man Keely had his horse shot under him.

4 / I then saw Lord Cardigan disengage himself from the Cossacks and ride away apparently unhurt, but one of the Cossacks then made a right rear point at him with his lance which I then believed had passed through his Lordship's body.

I then retreated towards the Hill as rapidly as I could and after a few moments I came up with some of Lord Lucan's staff who were saying that Lord Cardigan was killed. Someone present contradicted it, which contradiction I then confirmed by telling them that I had just seen his Lordship's narrow escape and safety.

Captain (and Instructor of Musketry) 9th of May 1866."

In Kingslake's History of the Crimean War, he is quoted as saying:

"As to the opinion that we should have reformed; why, Sir, there were none to re-form had it been possible. We turned out 112 of all ranks and lost 84 horses. In fact, only ten of us assembled on the spot from which we had charged. We had 26 men wounded, 13 taken prisoner and 12 killed, consequently all the Generals in the Crimea would have been puzzled how to re-form us".

In command of the Regimental Troop at the Canterbury Cavalry Depot while the regiment was in Canada from 1866 to 1869.

Retired by the sale of his commission, in the Honorary rank of Major, on the 18th of November 1869.

Appointed Lieutenant and Adjutant of the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry at Wakefield on the 29th of November 1869.

Appointed Temporary Captain: 25th of February 1874.

Retired (with the Honorary rank of Major) and on to half-pay, 21st of February 1880.

Medals

Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol and the Turkish medal.

Awarded the French Legion of Honour, 5th Class.

A Confidential Memo from the Horse Guards dated the 31st of December 1855 stated that:

"It is intended to distribute a certain number of Decorations of the French Legion of Honour to Non-Commissioned Officers and men of the Cavalry Regiments who have been proposed as the most deserving, of the Fifth Class. The Memo ended with the request that seven further names of N.C.O.s or Privates as considered most deserving be transmitted as soon as possible."

In answer to this the Commanding Officer of the regiment sent the following:

"13th Light Dragoons Orderly Room, 29th December 1855.

Sir, - I have the honour to state for the information of the Brigadier Genl. Commg. that Regtl Sergt Major Thos. George Johnson 13th L. Drgs. embarked with his regiment 12th of May 1854, was present with it during the whole of the campaign in Bulgaria including the Reconnaissance under the Earl of Cardigan K.C.B, was present in the Crimea with his Regt from the beginning of Oct. '54 to the beginning of Decr 1855, was present at the Charge of Balaclava 25th Octr 1854, Horse severely wounded, Battle of Inkerman 5th November 1854, the Battle of the Tchernya (The Regiment was under fire) and the Expedition to Eupatoria, has never been on the sick report or absent from any duty except the battle of the Alma, caused by an accident on board ship.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Yr Obt Humble Servant,

Henry Holden

Major, 13th Lt Dgns."

Lummis and Wynn do not credit him with this medal, but he is shown as such in "British War Medals" by Thomas Carter. The citation reads:

"Served during the Eastern campaign, including the reconnaissance on the Danube under the Earl of Cardigan, battles of Balaclava and Inkerman, Siege of Sebastopol and the Expedition to Eupatoria."

Commemorations

Member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society in 1879.

Present at the Officer's Balaclava Dinner in 1897.

When he left the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry by the operation of the age limit, the members and ex-members made him a presentation, and also one to Mrs. Johnson. This took place in 1881 at the Royal Hotel at Scarborough following a luncheon. The following address was read:

"The members and ex-members of the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry have heard with regret that the time has now come when your connection with the regiment is to be severed. We feel sure that when you took the position of Adjutant you fully realised the high aims of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Edwards, C.B., and his officers, namely, that no efforts be spared to maintain the regiment in a high position in her Majesty's Yeomanry forces.

That you have ably seconded our gallant chief is shown not only by the several reports of Her Majesty's Inspecting Officers, but also to the flattering "encomiums" paid to the regiment by officers of high rank. Whilst acknowledging your professional abilities we would also like to bring to mind the genial good-fellowship which has been a marked characteristic of your intercourse with us at all times.

We ask you to accept this tribute of our regard, also the accompanying gold watch and chain and that you will on our behalf present the diamond ring to your wife." The non-commissioned officers and men present at that gathering at the Hotel numbered between 30 and 40, being a special party mustered from Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield.

Life after service

1871 Census

2, Ovenden House, Ovenden, Halifax.

Thomas Johnson, 47, Captain & Adjutant of Yeomanry Cavalry, born Maidstone.

Ellen, 34, born Manchester.

Two Servants are also shown.

1881 Census

Cromwell Cottage, off Elland Road, Southowram, near Halifax, in the parish of St. Anne's.

Thomas Johnson, 57, born in Maidstone, Kent, a Major (and Adjutant) in the West Yorkshire Yeomanry.

Ellen Johnson, wife, 46, born in Manchester.

Two domestic servants were kept: a General Servant and a Cook.

1891 Census

Blenheim House. South Stoneham, Southampton.

Thomas G. Johnson, 65, Major (Retired Officer), born Maidstone.

Ada Louisa Johnson, 35, wife, born Whitby, Yorkshire.

One child shown: Jessie Ellen Johnson, 11, daughter, born Buxton.

Two Servants are also shown.

In February 1899 he wrote a letter from "Aberfoyle", Highfield Road, Portswood, Southampton, but it is not known when he left, or when he returned to Scarborough.

1901 Census

York Lodge, Westbourne Grove, Scarborough.

Thomas G. Johnson, 77, Living on own means, Maidstone.

Ada L. Johnson, 40, Whitby, Yorkshire.

Jessie Ellen Johnson, 22, Buxton.

1911 Census

14, Westbourne Grove, Scarborough.

Ada Louisa Johnson, 50, widow, Private means, Whitby.

Jessie E Johnson, 32, daughter, Buxton.

Death & burial

Reference to Thomas Johnson in Scarborough (unknown source):

"Major Johnson settled down at Scarborough as manager of the Royal Hotel, a position he held successfully for a number of years. He afterwards left Scarborough, but soon returned, and had altogether resided in the Borough a good number of years. He was of a very unassuming disposition, and although not one who took part in any local affairs, he had many friends and was held in the greatest respect."

Extract from theUnited Services Gazette, 31st of May 1908:

Major Thomas George Johnson died at York Lodge, South Cliff, Scarborough, Yorkshire, on the 24th of May, aged 84 years. On retiring from the Army he had succeeded his brother as Adjutant of the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry, the officers of that Corps making him a very handsome present on his own retirement. He served with his regiment (the 13th Light Dragoons) and held the Crimean medal with the clasps for Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol. He was also a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

Extract from theScarborough Mercury, 29th of May 1908:

Death of Major Johnson

Local Balaclava Veteran - The death took place on Sunday at his residence, York Lodge, of Major Thomas George Johnson, late of the 13th Hussars and the 2nd West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry. Major Johnson had acquired the ripe old age of 84 years, saw much active service during his connection with the Army and underwent many of the hardships incidental to campaigning half-a-century ago, when transport, hospital and other organisations for the comfort of a soldier were much less highly developed than they are at the present time.

Major Johnson served during the whole of the Crimean War, as Hart's "Army List" for 1867 referring to the 13th Hussars testifies: He was in the reconnaissance of the Danube under Lord Cardigan and was through the historic battles of Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol. At Balaclava his horse was severely wounded under him. Major Johnson was also with the Expedition to Eupatoria under General d'Allonville. He was the holder of the Crimean medal with clasps for Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol, the Turkish War medal, the French War Medal with the inscription 'For valour and discipline', and a Knight of the Legion of Honour.

From the 13th Hussars he went as Adjutant to the 2nd West York's Yeomanry Cavalry, under which his regiment reached a high standard of merit, borne out by the testimony of Major-General Cameron, who said, "they were the best and fittest of any Yeomanry Cavalry he had ever seen".

Funeral at Scarborough: The funeral took place at Scarborough Cemetery on the 27th. The cortege left the home of the deceased shortly before two o'clock and proceeded to Holy Trinity Church, where a service was held, the officiating clergy being the Revd. C.W.A. Clark, vicar of Holy Trinity and the Revd. H. Merry weather, vicar of St. Matthew's. The hymns sung at the service were 'Now the labourer's task is o'er', and 'Peace, perfect peace', followed by the 39th Psalm.

At the conclusion of the service the Dead March in 'Saul' was played on the organ... [A list of mourners and wreath-senders follows.] The coffin was of plain un-polished oak with brass mountings, and bore the inscription: 'Thomas George Johnson, died May 24th 1908, aged 84 years'."

The records of the Dean Road Cemetery at Scarborough show that he was interred there in Grave-space No. 52 South Terrace Alcove, the plot being purchased (as a vault) on July 10th 1883 a cost of 5/5/0. There is a rustic stone cross erected over the double grave (an Ellen Johnson was interred there in 1883.) The inscription on the stone states that she was the wife of Thomas G. Johnson and reference is made to the fact that he had served in the 13th Hussars.

The inscription on his gravestone reads:

"In memoriam of Ellen, wife of Major Thomas G. Johnson, late Captain 13th Hussars, who died June 5th 1883, aged 48 years. Also of the above Thomas G. Johnson, who died May 24th 1908, aged 84 years".

EJB: His newspaper obituary report refers to a Mrs Johnson (widow) and a Miss Johnson (daughter) as being present at his funeral, so he had obviously been twice-married.

Links to:


New on the site Search Index of men J
For further information, or to express an interest in the project, please email the editors, Philip Boys & Roy Mills, viainfo@chargeofthelightbrigade.com