The names of John Mitchel and John Johnson are as closely associated with Fort Sumter as Major Robert Anderson. Mitchel spent much of his Civil War at Fort Sumter and by July 1864 was the garrison’s commander. Johnson played an important role as the fort’s engineer, and post-war recalling details of the siege. At this time 150 years ago the good work of these two captains attracted the attention of their superiors. On July 16, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley wrote Confederate authorities in Richmond to recommend promotions:
I have the honor respectfully to request that Capt. John C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery (enlisted), be appointed a major of artillery in the Provisional Army; also, that Capt. John Johnson, Engineers, be appointed a major of engineers in the same service.
Captain Mitchel has served with energy and fidelity since the war commenced. He is now and has been for some months commander of Fort Sumter, for which position his experience and qualifications peculiarly fit him, he having been on duty in that fort for most of the time since its capture, in April, 1861. He was second in command for most of the term of service of Lieutenant-Colonel (now Brigadier-General) Elliott as its commanding officer, and throughout his service has so conducted himself as to command the respect and commendation of every officer with whom he has been associated. It is proper that this important position should be commanded by a field officer, and I think that Captain Mitchel, by months of ceaseless vigilance and activity therein, as well as previous service, has fairly earned his promotion.
Ripley went on to also recommend and laud Captain John Johnson for service at Fort Sumter:
Captain Johnson has been the engineer officer of the fort since the 7th of April, 1863, and his activity, energy, and skill have principally contributed to the material preparation and repair which have thus far enabled the garrison to withstand the unprecedented cannonade and bombardment to which the work has been subjected.
His services in this position are eminently entitled to recognition, and his general qualifications are such as would enable him to perform the duties of a higher rank than that for which he is recommended.
Ripley closed noting the importance of Fort Sumter, should those in Richmond be distracted by the current situation miles outside the city:
The possession of Fort Sumter, besides its material necessity, has become a point of honor, and I think there can be no doubt of the propriety of fully recognizing the services of those who are engaged in its gallant defense.
Endorsing these requests, Major-General Samuel Jones added the promotions would “stimulate others to emulate their example.”
There’s a old superstition about promotions in the field. Some consider it a bad omen. In the cases of Mitchel and Johnson, even a recommendation for promotion might be considered a bad omen.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 589-90.)