Vertical CSS3 Menus




Edward Johnston

Colonel, 23rd Regiment of Engineers; Chemical Warfare Service

April 20, 1876-June 27, 1936
Paternal Grandfather of Dianne Johnston Garcia, Edward Neele Johnston III, Tracy Johnston Anselmi, and Gail Chapman Reid

Documentary materials provided by

(1) Dianne Johnston Garcia, granddaughter of Edward Neele Johnston,
(2) her cousin Gail Chapman Reid, granddaughter of Edward Neele Johnston

  • Ancestors were among founders of MA Bay Colony ["Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <>]
  • Father, Lt. Col. William Harrington Johnston, served in the Paymaster Department for Union forces during the Civil War; brother Maj. Gen. William Harrington Johnston, commanded 91st Division of the AEF during WWI; brother Huntington Johnston, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1900, served on the U.S.S. San Francisco in the Caribbean during the Spanish American War; during WWI he served as lieutenant, senior grade [Harry E. Jordan, "Obituary of Edward Neele Johnston, Class of 1901," p. 1 ts., in Harry E. Jordan, letter to Mrs. Leland L. Chapman, 24 March]
    • Note—Harry B. Jordan, for two years Edward Neele Johnston's roommate at West Point, wrote in 1941, five years after Johnston's death, "no family in the services . . . is more entitled to claim the title 'Service Family' than the Johnstons." [Jordan, "Obituary"]
  • Edward Neele Johnston grew up in Portland, Oregon, and enrolled at Washington College in Tacoma, WA, and then Bishop Scott Military Academy in Portland, OR; from 1894-1896 he studied engineering at Stanford before enrolling at West Point, from which he graduated first in his class in 1901.
  • Graduated from West Point on June 11, 1901
  • One day later, on June 12, 1901, Lt. Edward Neele Johnston married Cornelia Blakelee Drake, daughter of Dr. Harlow B. Drake, in Detroit, Michigan. Edward and Cornelia had met and fallen in love in Portland, OR [Gail Chapman Reid, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009]
    • Note—they would be divorced in 1920
  • In 1901 he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers
  • In 1901 he was assigned to 2nd Battalion and stationed at Fort Totten, NY; in charge of road and bridge construction ["Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <>]
  • From 1901-1902 he served with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of engineers in Manila, Philippine Islands ["Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <>]
    • Note—While in the Philippines Cornelia, pregnant, was bitten by a dog suspected of having rabies. She went through the Pasteur treatment, receiving painful injections into the abdomen, which resulted in the loss of her child at birth [Gail Chapman Reid, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009]
  • In 1902 Johnston was assigned to Washington, D.C. At that time he and Cornelia resided on H Street. Daughter Elizabeth, named for Edward Neele Johnston's older sister, was born there on March 2, 1906. Margaretta, was born on September 26, 1907
    • Note—At about ten years of age Betty died from pneumonia. The death was overwhelming for Cornelia.
  • In 1908 Johnston became an instructor at U. S. Military Academy in Department of Civil and Military Engineering ["Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <> ]
  • Assigned to 2nd Battalion and stationed at Fort Totten, NY; in charge of road and bridge construction [Arlington National Cemetery website]; prior to U.S. entry into WWI he had various engineering assignments in the Philippines, on the Panama Canal project, and at numerous locales in the United States
    • Note—When he visited the Panama Canal in 1908, then still under construction, he offered advice on construction methods for the Gatun Locks, the largest such structures in the world. As reported by his friend Harry B. Jordan, Johnston "invented a device for movable, distant control of electrically operated construction cableways, which was adopted for the lock construction plant. Later, the device was patented and rights sold to the General Electric Co. . . ." [Jordan, "Obituary," p. 2]
World War I
  • Following the American declaration of war in April 1917, Lt. Col. Johnston (Col. Johnston beginning September 4, 1917) organized and was made Commander of the 23rd Regiment of Engineers, for service in France. With the help of the journal Engineering News-Record, Johnston enlisted 5000 experienced engineers in only three months. After training at Camp Meade, MD, this regiment departed for France on March 28, 1918 [Jordan, "Obituary," pp. 1 and 3; "Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <> ]
    • Note—Many of those who joined the 23rd Regiment of Engineers were also musicians, allowing the regiment its own brass band ["Experienced Highway Construction Men for Service in France," Engineering News Record, nd]
    • Note—Among those who volunteered for the 23rd Regiment of Engineers was Henry E. Elliott, a seventy-year-old Civil War veteran who had served for four years in two Indiana regiments and was wounded, captured, and held prisoner for eight months. ["Civil War Veteran Seeks Admission to 23rd Engineers," Engineering News-Record, nd]
  • He was Section engineering Officer in Nevers, France until May 22, 1918, after which he became Assistant Chief and then Deputy Chief, and then Acting Chief, Chemical Warfare Service AEF, stationed in Tours, France [Jordan, "Obituary," p. 3; Harry B. Jordan, letter to Mrs. Leland L. Chapman, 24 March 1941] His responsibilities included, as indicated in his Distinguished Service Medal, "the general supervision of operations of all gas troops." [Jordan, "Obituary," p. 6]
  • Awarded the U. S. Distinguished Service Citation, the Distinguished Service Medal, the British Distinguished Service Order, and was made an officer of the French Legion of Honor and commander of the Order of the Black Star
  • Honorably discharged as Colonel, Engineers, National Army only, reverting to rank of Major, August 31, 1919
Post-War Military Service and a Second Marriage
  • Returned to U. S. in August 1919 and served as Assistant to Director of Chemical Warfare Service, in Washington, D.C. [Jordan, "Obituary," p. 4]
  • Served in the Army Corps of Engineers on various projects
  • He married a second time on December 7, 1921; his second marriage was to Blanche Hall Soper in Baltimore, MD; they had met when Johnston was recruiting and training the 23rd Regiment of Engineers at Camp Meade, MD [Gail Chapman Reid, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009]; they would have two children, Blanche Patricia and Edward Neele Johnston, Jr.
  • Due to disability he retired from active service as lieutenant colonel in 1924; he received the Distinguished Service Citation, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Order, and Legion of Merit ["Edward Neele Johnston," Arlington National Cemetery, updated 12 September 2006 <> ]
    • Note—Family records to not indicate his disability, though Johnston did suffer from heart disease, which may have been the cause of his retirement. [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009]
Consulting Engineer
  • Following his military retirement he was employed as a consulting engineer in various projects, overseas and in the United States. For example, he designed and supervised construction of the Long Beach, CA, Harbor from 1925-1928. [Jordan, "Obituary," p. 5]
  • Johnston and his daughter Margaretta spent a year in Colombia dredging the Calca River for gold. Margaretta's daughter recalls, "Mother told stories that were very 'Romancing the Stone' –ish about how together they roamed the mountains, on mules, with gold ore and guns. She was in her 20s and beautiful; he was 60-ish and adventurous." [Gail Reid, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 25 May 2009]
Illness and Death
Edward and Blanche separated during the last years of his life
  • In July 1935 he became ill in New York City and was hospitalized at the Station Hospital at Fort Jay. One month later he suffered a paralytic stroke, and he never recovered.
  • The last months of his life were spent in San Francisco. He lived at the Hotel El Drisco; she lived at the Stanford Court Hotel
  • Their son Edward Neele Johnston, Jr., was a boarding student at the San Rafael Military Academy; his daughter Blanche Patricia was a student at the Dominican Convent in San Rafael. [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009]
    • Note—Blanche Patricia was always called Patricia, not Blanche [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 27 May 2009]
    • Note—Johnston had become acquainted with San Francisco when he was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. In 1913 he and Cornelia and their daughter Margaretta had sailed from San Francisco by Army transport to Adelaide, Australia, where Edward consulted on the construction of a dam on the Murray River.
  • He died in San Francisco, California, on June 28, 1936 at the age of 60 due to a stroke, the result of heart disease. His health had deteriorated in his later years, during which time he had grown excessively heavy and smoked cigars and drank more than he should have. [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 24 April 2009 and 25 April, 2009] He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
    • Note—Johnston's granddaughter Dianne Garcia remembers that when anyone spoke about her grandfather, whether as a remembrance at a holiday dinner or as an anecdotal comment by her grandmother or by his acquaintances, "he was always referred to as 'the Colonel'." [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 27 May 2009]
    • Note—Into the 1940s Blanche continued to reside in a very large and grand apartment at the Stanford Court Hotel in what her granddaughter describes as "a very lavish lifestyle," complete with butler and chauffeur. She adds, "I remember my father telling stories about the butler/chauffeur, who was for many years the only 'man around the house'. During WWII my mother went to live with Blanche at the Stanford Court while my father was away serving with the U. S. Army." [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 26 May 2009]
Edward Neele Johnston, Jr.
  • Edward Neele Johnston, Jr., was an exceptionally talented athlete and was offered a football scholarship to Stanford. An injury sidelined him during his first season so he "red-shirted" for a season and enrolled at Menlo Junior College. When the U. S. entered WWII in December 1941 he enlisted in the Army.
  • Johnston was honorably discharged in 1944 but re-enlisted and later retired at the rank of lieutenant.
  • He eventually graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in Business.
  • He had a long successful career as a commodities broker, but, according to his daughter Dianne Garcia, "was most proud of the volunteer work he did for over twenty-five years coaching and inspiring young men on the football field. [Dianne Garcia, e-mail to Frank Mazzi, 26 May 2009]
  • A stroke was the cause of Johnston's death in 1993. He was 71 years of age.
Blanche Patricia Johnston
  • Blanche Patricia Johnston (Bibbons) became a prima ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet Company in the 1950s. When she retired she worked in the ballet company's wardrobe department and eventually purchased her own dance wear store in Marin County
  • Breast cancer was the cause of Blanche's death in 1991. She was 67 years of age.