This Day (A Thousand Winks Edition)

Published:May 8, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1862, Stonewall Jackson‘s troops won the Battle of McDowell in the Shenandoah Valley. During the fighting, Confederate general Edward “Allegheny” Johnson managed to take a Minié ball to the ankle—received, according to legend, while loudly daring the Yankees to flank him—and he soon traveled to Richmond to recuperate. There, his limp forced him to use a cane, earning the Virginia native and Mexican War veteran another nickname: “Old Clubby.”

Not ideal as nicknames go, but it hardly stopped the gruff old bachelor from partaking of the capital’s social scene. Writes the (now rather notorious) historian Thomas Power Lowry:

[Johnson] seems to have commanded attention by his strong personality and loud voice, rather than by physical good looks … he winked without ceasing because of a disorder of one eye, and to literally top it all off, his skull was cone-shaped in layers, described by Mary Chesnut as resembling an antique beehive, or the Pope’s tiara. Between his three-tiered skull and his gimpy leg was a bulky, bearlike body that projected a powerful roar, a voice that penetrated every corner of a room.

In fact, Mrs. Chesnut memorably described trying to talk to William Porcher Miles (he who designed the Confederate battle flag) while Old Clubby was at his business: “While Mr. Miles was talking to me, there the General sat, with a loud voice and a thousand winks making love to Mary Preston. I make no excuse for listening. It was impossible not to hear. I tried not to lose a word of Mr. Miles’s idyl, while the despair of the veteran was thundered in my other ear. I lent an ear to each.”

Despair, indeed. Johnson made it back to the war and fought well—at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, et alia. After he died in 1873, his body even lay in state at the Richmond capitol, but, writes Lowry, “there was no widow to mourn him; the man of 10,000 bellowed sweet nothings and 1,000 proposals had never had a bride.”

IMAGE: Old Clubby