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CDV image of one of the buildings of the US Army General Hospital in York PA (CDV image by Charles E. Wallin, author's collection)

New ID’ed photo of prominent York woman

In my frequent browsing days on eBay, I purchased a previously unknown image of Louisa Ann (Wirt) Johnston of York, PA. She was the wife of Dr. William F. Johnston, a contract surgeon at the U.S. Army General Hospital in York during the war. Dr. Johnston was one of the staff of more than a dozen physicians who treated more than 14,000 wounded or sick patients (most brought by rail from Virginia or Maryland).

Louisa, seven years his junior, and William both came from long-established families in York County. They married in 1833. Louisa was born on February 14, 1816, one of eight children of Henry and Catherine (Swope) Wirt of Hanover.  Her father, a veteran of the War of 1812, was a prominent merchant and early backer of the Hanover Branch Railroad. Wirt Park in Hanover was named for her only brother Henry Jr., who took over the family’s store and became a prominent citizen. Her cousin Jacob, another prominent businessman in Hanover, was a leading agent in the town’s Underground Railroad movement.

Recent eBay find labeled in pencil as “Mrs. Dr. Johnston.” (Scott Mingus CDV collection)

The 1850 Census shows William (aged 41) and Louisa (34) as living in what was then the South Ward of York borough, with four children (Catherine, Ovid (mispelled as Onett), William Jr., and Martha) aged between 12 and 6. They lived for many years at 109 S. George Street, where Dr. Johnston maintained his office in a downstairs room, after moving from a house on N. Beaver St. The family attended the local German Reformed Church.

Prowell’s History of York County gives the following brief biography of Dr. Johnston:

“Dr. William F. Johnston, who practiced medicine in York between the years 1840 and 1875, was a descendant of Samuel Johnston, who was the first lawyer admitted to the York Bar, soon after the county was erected in 1749. Dr. Johnston obtained his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania, and practiced his profession at York until he retired in 1875. He was one of the surgeons of the United States Hospital in York, during the Civil War. His son, Dr. Ovid M. Johnston, was assistant surgeon of the Fifty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, during the Civil War, and soon after his retirement from the army, moved to Missouri. In order to recuperate his health, he went to California, where he died.” William and Catherine’s other son, William Jr., had previously moved to Missouri, where he owned a large farm.

Louisa died at 10:30 p.m. on November 4, 1877, in York at the age of 62. The funeral services were conducted in her home on November 7. Her husband died in December 1878 at the age of 71.

Sources: Gilbert E. Swope, History of the Swope Family and Descendants of Rockingham County, Virginia (Swope Family History Committee, 1896); George R. Prowell, History of York County, Pennsylvania, volume 1 (J. H. Beers & Co., 1907); York Gazette, November 5 and 6, 1877, and December 20, 1878.