William Johnston enlisted in the 3rd Vermont Infantry December 11th 1861 at the age of 11 as a drummer boy; he would become the youngest person ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
William Johnston, who was known as Willie, was born July 12th 1850 in Morristown, St Lawrence, New York, the son of William Johnston. After the death of his mother, the family moved to Derby, Orleans, Vermont.
When the Civil War started Johnston’s father enlisted to fight for the Union, and Johnston went with his father. He was enlisted on December 11th 1861 at St Johnsbury, Vermont. Johnston was five feet tall and 11 years old. When the 3rd Vermont infantry was mustered into Union service, Johnston’s father was a private in Company B and Johnston left Vermont as a drummer boy in Company D. The first time Johnston saw action was at the Battle of Lee’s Mill on April 16th 1862.
It was during the next campaign, the Seven Days Battles that Johnston would be cited for bravery, and would be subsequently award the Medal of Honor. During the Union retreat to Harrison’s Landing, when other men threw away their equipment in order to travel faster with less weight, Johnston brought his drum safely back with him to Harrison’s Landing. It was there that Johnston was asked to drum the division on parade, he being the only drummer boy to bring his instrument off the field.
Johnston was presented with the Medal of Honor on September 16th 1863 by Union Secretary of War Edwin M Stanton. Johnston was and is the youngest person ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor. He would continue to serve throughout the war, mustering out of service on December 30th 1864.
After the war Johnston attended Norwich University, but did not graduate. He was living in Chelsea, Massachusetts around 1868. It was reported that he was working as a mariner. After this report, there doesn’t seem to any more information about him.