Copyright notice

This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Printer-friendly page
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Johnston, Rufus Zenas

by Warren L. Bingham, 1988

7 June 1874–4 July 1959

"Photo #: NH 48719 Captain Rufus Z. Johnston, USN." Photograph. Circa 1929. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. United States Navy.Rufus Zenas Johnston, naval officer, was born in Lincolnton, the son of Robert Zenas, a Presbyterian minister, and Catherine Caldwell Johnston. He was educated in the Lincolnton public schools and was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1895. Three years later Johnston served on the battleship Oregon during the Spanish-American War. Afterwards he saw service in the Philippine insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion in China. For distinguished conduct in 1914 at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (the Vera Cruz engagement was the result of strained relations between a revolutionary Mexican government and the United States).

Johnston commanded the Newport Naval Training Station from 1915 until the country entered World War I. During the war he served as commander of the USS Minneapolis and received the Navy Cross for escorting 107 merchant supply vessels to France.

In 1925, Johnston was graduated from the Naval War College and made chief of staff at that institution. He was chief of staff of the First Naval District in Boston from 1928 until his retirement in 1930. Although Johnston retired as a captain, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, retired, in 1948. This was made possible by a law that allowed men on the retired list to be promoted provided they had been decorated for bravery.

After his retirement, Johnston resided in Newport, R.I. Becoming active in civic affairs, he served as chairman of the park commission and as a member of the board of managers of the Armed Services YMCA. He was a member of the U.S. Naval Institute and of the Army and Navy Club of Washington, D.C.

In 1903 Johnston married Emma Pegram of Richmond, Va. They had three children: Rufus Zenas, Jr., Elizabeth, and Catherine. Johnston died in Newport at age eighty-five.


Nat. Cyc. Am. Biog., vol. 48 (1965 [portrait]).

New York Times, 5 July 1959.

Additional Resources:

"Rear Admiral Rufus Z. Johnston, USN (Retired), (1874-1959)." Naval History and Heritage Command. United States Navy. (accessed May 22, 2014).

"Mexican Campaign (Vera Cruz) Medal of Honor Recipients." U.S. ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY. United States Army.  (accessed May 22, 2014).

Image Credits:

"Photo #: NH 48719 Captain Rufus Z. Johnston, USN." Photograph. Circa 1929. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. United States Navy. (accessed May 22, 2014).

Origin - location: 

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at