Andrew Johnson: Military Governor of Tennessee

So few nifty stories come up about Andrew Johnson that when they do, they are worth passing along!

Legislator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee

No President (and that includes Lincoln!) had more hardships in his impoverished childhood than Andy Johnson. His laborer father died when Andy was only two, his mother remarried a man even more impoverished, and by ten, Andy and his brother were apprenticed out to a local tailor in Raleigh, NC. Learning a trade was considered a kindness to the children – and it spared the parents the extra mouths to feed.

At seventeen, Andy fled both his apprenticeship and North Carolina and arrived in Tennessee with a price on his head – but apprenticeship laws did not apply in TN. He worked hard, learned to read, write and do sums, and became involved in local politics – all before he was 25.

Then he served Tennessee in local, state and national office for the next thirty years.

By 1861, southern states began to secede from the Union, and congressmen resigned their seats. Only Senator Andrew Johnson (1808-75) of Tennessee remained. He was a steadfast supporter of the Union. But Tennessee, divided in allegiance, became a major battleground.

In March, 1862, when that state appeared likely to re-enter the Union (maybe), Abraham Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as its Military Governor. It was a tough job, but Johnson was a bulldog, and as tough as they came. It is said he even began carrying a brace of pistols for his personal protection.

Colonel Granville Moody:

Born in Portland, ME, Granville Moody (1812-87) moved to Ohio as a young man. Although raised Presbyterian, he began attending Methodist services, and joined its ministry.

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln, needing an army, had authorized State Governors to raise troops and commission officers. Thus with no previous military experience, Moody was duly commissioned Colonel and commander of the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was one of several military ministers and chaplains given the sobriquet of “The Fightin’ Parson.”

The War in Tennessee

Tennessee was caught in a vise between Union and Rebel forces. There were strongholds on both sides, and next to Virginia, Tennessee saw more fighting – and devastation – than any other state. It lasted throughout the war. It was a mess.

Civil War image of Nashville State House (courtesy of Dickinson College)

Gen. Buell wanted to evacuate the city.

In late 1862, Col. Moody, now stationed in Nashville, happened to run into General Don Carlos Buell, who advised him that reinforced Confederate forces were only a two-day march away. Believing his army to be outnumbered, he was in the midst of planning an evacuation.

Gov. Johnson said no.

“Fighting” Parson Moody, well known to Gov. Johnson, hurried to the Governor’s office, where he found Andrew Johnson, flanked by two friends, pacing the floor in obvious distress. When the preacher entered, Johnson’s companions left the room, but the Governor continued to pace up and down, railing and moaning about his traitorous General who wanted to evacuate the city.

According to Moody’s Autobiography, written at the end of his life,” Johnson was beside himself. “Moody, we are sold. Buell has resolved to evacuate the city, and called upon me this morning, requesting me to leave also. He has given me three hours in which to decide… I still believe we can hold the city against the enemy. What do you think, Moody? Will you stay with your command?” I replied: “I will stay with you, and I have faith in God that he will deliver us from falling into the hands of the enemy.”

Johnson was across the room from Moody, when he suddenly turned and asked, “Moody, do you know how to pray?”

The Fightin’ Parson, Col. Granville Moody

“I do,” said the Parson. “I have been preaching the Gospel for nearly thirty years. I believe I know how to pray.”

“Will you pray with me?” exhorted Governor Johnson.

The preacher was delighted, and the two men, standing across the room from each other both fell to their knees, and Moody began a rip-roaring exhortation, and actually swept Johnson into the mood of it. On his knees, the Governor worked his way across the floor, and wound up next to the preacher with his hand on his shoulder, adding heartfelt “amens” where he saw fit. By the final amen, the two men were emotionally exhausted.

Then Johnson admitted that he felt much better for the prayerful experience. “Stand by me,” he urged the minister, as they rose. The parson enthusiastically agreed to cooperate. Then the Governor made a personal confession. “Moody,” he said, “I don’t want to mislead anyone or give them the wrong idea. I am not a religious man. Never was, and never will be. But I do believe in the Almighty. And I do believe in the Bible.”

The preacher nodded. He had come across men like Governor Johnson many times. So he waited a few moments.

Then Johnson added, “…and I will be damned if Nashville is to be surrendered to the enemy!”

The Story and its Source:

Lincoln always loved a good story!

The story of Governor Andrew Johnson and the Fightin’ Parson Moody actually winds up being a “Lincoln” story that appears from time to time – if you seek out some old long-out-of-print Lincoln books.

Not long after the particular incident, Parson Moody had opportunity to visit Washington, and visit another old acquaintance, President Lincoln, who was always accessible to people who had first-hand information and observations of events, people and areas of interest. Like Johnson, the President was not a religious man in the conventional sense, but also believed in the Almighty and the Bible.

Moody told him the story. Lincoln liked it so much that he repeated it to others. A few times.

By the way, Nashville was never surrendered. 


McClure, J.B. (Ed) – Abe Lincoln Stories – Rhodes & McClure Publishing Co. – 1885

Moody, Rev. Granville – A Life’s Retrospect: The Autobiography of Granville Moody, D.D.  – Cranston and Stowe, 1890


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