Title: Army Corporal, Civil War; house painter
Birthdate: August, 1839
Death Date: August 11, 1901
Plot Location: Section 43, Lot 9


Upwards of a million people fled to America from Ireland because of the famine that decimated their country between 1845 and 1852. Thousands of the unskilled men who spoke with a strange dialect decided to join the military, whether from a sense of newfound patriotism or from a desperate need of employment. Alexander was one of those who signed up. He immigrated in 1854 with little education but had gained some good work experience as a house painter.

It was August of 1862 when he joined the 23rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which was already one year into its three-year term of enlistment. There were just a few confrontations, one being in September in Chantilly, Virginia. Over the winter the 23rd guarded the area around the nation’s capital before taking part in the second battle of Fredericksburg in May, 1863. There were just a few losses at Gettysburg that summer, where the regiment was mostly held in reserve. There was minor skirmishing until the next spring during the Overland Campaign. One of the officers of the 23rd, Lt. Col. William J. Wallace, was wounded June 3 at the Battle of Cold Harbor, and his grave is also here at Mount Moriah. Private Johnston was promoted to corporal that summer.

By then the men who served their three years in the 23rd were “mustered out;” the rest being transferred to the 82nd Infantry. With that unit, Corporal Johnston took part in the long siege of Petersburg until March, 1865, followed by the pursuit of the Confederate troops to Appomattox where General Robert E. Lee surrendered.

Returning to Philadelphia, Alexander took up his prior occupation, the only job he had until he died in 1901. He met a girl, and he knew she was Irish as soon as he heard her name, Margaret McPatrick. She became his bride in 1870. The couple took up residence at 1207 Locust Street in 1871, remaining there until Margaret died in 1906. It was where their first child, William, arrived in May of 1872, followed 15 months later by their last child, Alexander Jr.

The family business became “Alex Johnston and Sons” in the 1895 city directory when both boys were listed as painters. Alex Jr. was the first to get married; his wedding day was December 29, 1897 and his bride was Minnie May Swartz. William followed by marrying her sister, Mary Alice Swartz, five months later. 

Alex and Minnie remained arm-in-arm, albeit childless, for over 40 years; William and Mary divorced after 14 years and two children. He promptly married again and had six children, two of whom served in the army, just like their grandfather.

The 1901 death certificate for Alexander Sr. listed the cause of death as paralysis, which, at that time, was often used to describe a stroke. He left $25,000 to his wife, Margaret, which was a tidy estate built by a family painting business.

The Johnston obelisk also memorializes Margaret, both of his parents, both sons, and the two grandsons in the military: Lieutenant Alexander J. Johnston and Corporal Stephen William Johnston have their own “Notable” stories because both lost their lives during World War II.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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