Herrera on Johnson, 'Captured at Kings Mountain: The Journal of Uzal Johnson, a Loyalist Surgeon'

Uzal Johnson
Ricardo A. Herrera

Uzal Johnson. Captured at Kings Mountain: The Journal of Uzal Johnson, a Loyalist Surgeon. Edited by Wade S. Kolb III and Robert M. Weir. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2011. Maps. 248 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57003-961-4.

Reviewed by Ricardo A. Herrera (School of Advanced Military Studies) Published on H-War (April, 2019) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=34358

To say that Dr. Uzal Johnson’s life did not follow the path he may have anticipated would be an understatement. Johnson, a Loyalist from Newark, New Jersey, served as surgeon of the North (First) Battalion, Second Regiment of Essex County, New Jersey Militia in February 1776. His colonial service, however, was short lived. After the Continental Congress declared American independence, Johnson left New Jersey’s service and joined the Loyalist Fifth Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers as its surgeon in March 1777. In April of the following year, the First Battalion carried Johnson on its rolls as surgeon. By 1780, Johnson numbered among the 120 or so “American Volunteers” serving under Major Patrick Ferguson, whose command was part of the larger British campaign to subdue the Carolinas. It was at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, that Johnson’s service to the Crown ended with his surrender to the “over-mountain men” in October 1780 (p. xxxiv).[1]

Whig forces kept Johnson a prisoner for three months in Hillsborough, North Carolina, before releasing him to British custody in Charleston. During his captivity, Johnson roamed Hillsborough freely. He treated local civilians’ ailments and socialized with them. Following the war’s end, Johnson returned home to New Jersey where he established a successful medical practice.

Johnson left behind a journal recounting his observations, travels, and impressions of military life in the Carolinas. Some entries are sparse, merely recording miles marched and the destination. Other entries, however, are fulsome and reflective. Johnson’s recounting of the October 14, 1780, execution of nine fellow Loyalist prisoners by their captors, “for their Loyalty to the Sovereign,” led Johnson to praise his comrades for dying “like Romans” during this “Melancholy scene” (p. 32). Throughout, Johnson reveals himself as a thoughtful observer and participant. Yet, as engaging as Johnson’s account is, it requires editing to give it context and depth. Editors Wade S. Kolb III and Robert M. Weir fill that need.

Kolb, an attorney, and Weir, a professor emeritus of history, have produced a model of editing and scholarship. Their introduction gives the larger context for Johnson’s life and the southern campaign of the war. The introduction includes detailed maps of the Carolinas, which enable the reader to follow Johnson’s trek. Following that comes the journal. Here, the editors have exercised a light touch. Kolb and Weir retain original spellings, strikeouts, and punctuation. Their interjections are limited to bracketed insertions of punctuation, likely omitted words, the month, and the journal’s original pagination. An invaluable set of notes follows the journal. Rather than apply endnotes or footnotes to Johnson’s entries, Kolb and Weir have instead cited the dates in the journal and provided amplifying entries and references. Some entries are but one paragraph, whereas others are several pages. Kolb and Weir have even taken care to point out modern highway and bridge construction to enable readers to trace Johnson’s route.

Loyalists’ accounts are rare. Kolb and Weir have taken a useful source and turned it into an immensely valuable one through their editing. Students of the southern campaign will find Captured at Kings Mountain a welcome addition to the primary accounts detailing the war from a Loyalist’s perspective.


[1]. William S. Stryker, The New Jersey Volunteers (Loyalists) in the Revolutionary War (Trenton, NJ: Naar, Day, & Naar, 1887), 90, 14, 21, 41; and New Jersey Volunteers, List of Officers, 1776-1783, The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies, http://www.royalprovincial.com/military/rhist/njv/njvofficers.htm.

Citation: Ricardo A. Herrera. Review of Johnson, Uzal, Captured at Kings Mountain: The Journal of Uzal Johnson, a Loyalist Surgeon. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2019. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=34358

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.