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Joseph E. Johnston
[[Image:File:Joseph Johnston.jpg|center|200px|border]]Joseph Eggleston Johnston
photo taken between 1861 and 1865
Personal Information
Born: February 3, 1807(1807-02-03)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: March 21, 1891 (aged 84)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: United States Army
Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Brigadier General (USA),
General (CSA)
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Commands: Army of the Shenandoah (1861),
Army of Northern Virginia (1861–1862),
Department of the West (1863–65),
Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and also the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia (1865)
Battles: Mexican-American War
  • Battle of Cerro Gordo
  • Battle of Chapultepec

Seminole Wars
American Civil War

Relations: {{{relations}}}
Other work: {{{otherwork}}}

Template:Infobox Congressman Joseph Eggleston Johnston (February 3, 1807 – March 21, 1891) was a career U.S. Army officer, serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars, and was also one of the most senior general officers in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.

Johnston's effectiveness in the Civil War was undercut by tensions with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, but he also suffered from a lack of aggressiveness and victory eluded him in every campaign he personally commanded.

Early years[]

Johnston was born at Longwood House in "Cherry Grove", near Farmville, Virginia. (Longwood House later burned down. The rebuilt house is now the home of the president of Longwood University.) His father, Judge Peter Johnston, was of Scottish descent and his mother, Mary (née Wood), Scottish and English. Johnston was named for Major Joseph Eggleston, under whom his father served in the American Revolutionary War. Johnston attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1829, ranking 13th of 46 cadets, and was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery.[1] He would become the first West Point graduate to be promoted to a general officer in the regular army, reaching a higher rank in the U.S. Army than did his 1829 classmate, Robert E. Lee (2nd of 46).[2]

Johnston resigned from the Army in March 1837 and studied civil engineering.[1] During the Second Seminole War, he was a civilian topographic engineer aboard a ship led by William Pope McArthur. On January 12, 1838, at Jupiter, Florida, the sailors who had gone ashore were attacked and Johnston was to claim there were "no less than 30 bullet holes" in his clothing and one bullet creased his scalp, leaving a scar he had for the rest of his life. Having encountered more combat activities in Florida as a civilian than he had had previously as an artillery officer, Johnston decided to rejoin the Army. He departed for Washington, D.C., in April 1838 and was appointed a first lieutenant of topographic engineers on July 7; on that same day, he received a brevet promotion to captain for the actions at Jupiter Inlet and his explorations of the Florida Everglades.[3]

During the Mexican-American War, Johnston won two brevets and was wounded at both Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec. He had also been brevetted for earlier service in the Seminole Wars. Johnston was engineer on the Texas-United States boundary survey in 1841 and was chief topographical engineer of the Department of Texas from 1848 to 1853.[4] He served in California and was appointed brigadier general and Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army on June 28, 1860.[1]

Johnston married Lydia McLane, the daughter of Louis McLane, a congressman from Delaware, and a member of President Andrew Jackson's cabinet. They had no children. She died in February 1887. His brother Charles Clement Johnston also served as a U.S. Representative, and his nephew John Warfield Johnston was a United States Senator; both represented Virginia.

Civil War[]

When his native state seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnston resigned his commission as a brigadier general in the regular army, the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to do so. Initially commissioned as a major general in the Virginia militia on May 4, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate Army on May 14. Johnston relieved Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson of command at Harpers Ferry in May and organized the Army of the Shenandoah in July.[1]

In the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), July 1861, Johnston brought forces from the Shenandoah Valley to combine with those of Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, but he ceded direction of the battle to the more junior Beauregard since he lacked familiarity with the terrain. He did manage to claim a share of public credit for the Southern victory, however. After Bull Run, Johnston assisted Beauregard and William Porcher Miles in the design and production of the Confederate Battle Flag. It was Johnston's idea to make the flag square.[5]

In August, Johnston was promoted to full general—what is called a four-star general in the modern U.S. Army—but was not pleased that three other men he had outranked in the "old army" now outranked him, even though Davis backdated his promotion to July 4. Johnston felt that since he was the senior officer to leave the U.S. Army and join the Confederacy he should not be ranked behind Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee. Only Beauregard was placed behind Johnston on the list of five new generals. This led to much bad blood between Johnston and Jefferson Davis, which would last throughout the war.[6]

Peninsula Campaign[]

Johnston was placed in command of the Confederate Army of the Potomac, which would later be rechristened the Army of Northern Virginia and led it in the start of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Defending the capital of Richmond against Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, Johnston employed a strategy of gradual withdrawals before any general engagement, until his army was only five miles in front of the city, where McClellan intended to besiege it. Finally cornered, Johnston attacked on May 31, 1862, south of the Chickahominy River, in the Battle of Seven Pines. The battle was tactically inconclusive, but it stopped McClellan's advance on the city and would turn out to be the high-water mark of his invasion. More significant, however, was that Johnston was wounded on the second day of the battle, hit in his right shoulder and chest.[1] This led to Davis turning over command to the more aggressive Robert E. Lee, who would lead the Army of Northern Virginia for the rest of the war.

Western Theater[]

After recovering from his wounds, Johnston was given command of the Department of the West, the principal command of the Western Theater, which gave him titular control of Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee and Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Pemberton faced Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant from inside the besieged city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Johnston urged him to abandon the city temporarily, join forces with Johnston's troops, and outnumber Grant, but Davis ordered Pemberton to stay in Vicksburg, causing great consternation in the South when its last stronghold on the Mississippi River fell on July 4, 1863. Pemberton also had very little confidence in the words or plans of Joseph Johnston. Although Jackson, Mississippi, was a key supply link for Vickburg, as well as a major rail and industrial center, Johnston abandoned the city and retreated. The burning of Jackson crushed the fighting spirit of all the Confederate forces in the region. Later that year, Bragg was defeated in the Battles for Chattanooga and Davis reluctantly relieved his old friend Bragg and replaced him with Johnston.

Atlanta Campaign[]

Faced with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's advance from Chattanooga to Atlanta in the spring of 1864, Johnston reverted to his strategy of withdrawal. He conducted a series of actions in which he prepared strong defensive positions, only to see Sherman maneuver around them, causing him to fall back in the general direction of Atlanta. Johnston saw the preservation of his army as the most important consideration, and hence conducted a very cautious campaign. He handled his army well, slowing the Union advance and inflicting heavier losses than he sustained.

In May 1864 Sherman began the offensive against Atlanta. Johnston's Army of Tennessee fought defensive battles against the Federals at the approaches to Dalton, which was evacuated on May 13, then retreated 12 miles south to Resaca, and constructed defensive positions. However, after a brief battle, Johnston again yielded to Sherman, and retreated from Resaca on May 15. Johnston assembled the Confederate forces for a battle at Cassville, but on May 20 again retreated 8 miles further south to Cartersville. The month of May 1864 ended with Sherman's forces continuing their successful march toward Atlanta at the Battle of New Hope Church on May 25, the Battle of Pickett's Mill on May 27, and the Battle of Dallas on May 28.

In June Sherman's forces continued maneuvers around the northern approaches to Atlanta, and battles ensued at Kolb's Farm on June 22, and the Confederates successfully repulsed Union forces at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27. However, by this time Federal forces were within 17 miles of Atlanta, threatening the city from the west and north.

Kennesaw Mountain was no more than a check for Sherman. He tested the Confederate mountain positions in strength based on the infamous Confederate collapse at Missionary Ridge. Johnston had yielded over 110 miles of mountainous, and thus more easily defensible, territory in just two months, while the Confederate government became increasingly more frustrated and alarmed. Johnston had kept his army intact, yet in the process, all he did was watch Sherman outflank him time and again as he retreated.

In early July General Braxton Bragg was sent to Atlanta by President Jefferson Davis to ascertain the situation with respect to Atlanta. After several meetings with local civilian leaders and Army of Tennessee commanders, Bragg returned to Richmond and urged President Davis to replace Johnston. Davis removed Johnston from command on July 17, 1864, shortly before the Battle of Peachtree Creek, just outside of Atlanta. (His replacement, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, was overly aggressive, but ineffective, losing Atlanta in September and a large portion of his army in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that winter.) Davis's decision to remove Johnston was one of the most controversial of the war.

Final campaigns in North Carolina and Surrender at Bennett Place[]

As the Confederacy became increasingly concerned about Sherman's March to the Sea across Georgia and then north through the Carolinas, the public clamored for Johnston's return. Through a request by Robert E. Lee, Davis reinstated him to a command called collectively the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and also the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. These commands theoretically included three Confederate armies, the primary being the remnants of the once formidable Army of Tennessee, but they had been severely depleted during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, and were lacking supplies and ammunition, and had not been paid for months.

On March 19, 1865, Johnston was able to catch a portion of Sherman's army by surprise at the Battle of Bentonville and briefly gained some tactical successes before superior numbers forced him to retreat to Raleigh, North Carolina. Unable to secure the capital, Johnston's army withdrew to Greensboro, North Carolina, where it made its final stand.

After learning of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Johnston decided to meet with General Sherman between the lines at a small farm known as Bennett Place near present day Durham, North Carolina. After three separate days (April 17, 18, and 26, 1865) of negotiations, Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest surrender of the war, totaling 89,270 soldiers.

After the surrender, Sherman issued ten days' rations to the hungry Rebels, an act of generosity that Johnston would never forget; he wrote to Sherman that his attitude "reconciles me to what I have previously regarded as the misfortune of my life, that of having you to encounter in the field."

Postbellum life[]


Joseph E. Johnston & Robert E. Lee (1869)

File:Joseph E Johnston monument in Dalton GA.jpg

Johnston statue in Dalton, Georgia, where he took command of the Army of Tennessee

After the war Johnston settled in Savannah, Georgia, was president of a railroad company in Arkansas, and became engaged in the general insurance business in 1868 and 1869.

He returned to Virginia and settled in Richmond in 1877 and became president of an express company. Johnston served in the 46th Congress from 1879 to 1881 as Democratic Congressman; he was not a candidate for renomination in 1880.

He was a commissioner of railroads in the administration of United States President Grover Cleveland.

His analysis of his activities in the Civil War, Narrative of Military Operations, published in 1874, was highly critical of Davis and many of his fellow generals.

Johnston, like Lee, never forgot the magnanimity of the man to whom he surrendered, and would not allow an unkind word to be said about Sherman in his presence. When Sherman died, Johnston served as a pallbearer at his funeral; during the procession in New York City on February 19, 1891, he kept his hat off as a sign of respect in the cold, rainy weather. Someone had some concern for the old general's health and asked him to put on his hat, to which Johnston replied "If I were in his place and he standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat." He caught pneumonia and died several weeks later. He was buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

There is a public monument to Johnston erected in Dalton, Georgia, in 1912. On March 20, 2010, a bronze statue of Johnston was dedicated at the site of the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina. During World War II, the United States Navy named a Liberty Ship in honor of Johnston.

In fiction[]

The 1988 alternate history novel Gray Victory by Robert Skimin takes a very clear position in favor of Johnston in the debate on the Atlanta Campaign, arguing that had he been left in command, Johnston would have continued to engage the Union forces in a long-drawn out war of attrition until the time of the Northern elections in November 1864, whereupon the war-weary Northern voters would have replaced Abraham Lincoln with George B. McClellan as President, ending the war by diplomatically recognizing the Confederacy.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Eicher, pp. 322-23.
  2. Symonds, p. 3; Warner, p. 161; Eicher, p. 344.
  3. Symonds, pp. 40-43; Eicher, p. 322.
  4. Frank E. Vandiver. "Joseph Eggleston Johnston" The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 22, 2009.
  5. Coski, p. 9.
  6. Eicher, p. 69.


Further reading[]

  • Govan, Gilbert E., and Livingood, James W., A Different Valor: The Story of General Joseph E. Johnston C.S.A., Indianapolis, 1956.
  • Johnson, Bradley T., A Memoir of the Life and Public Service of Joseph E. Johnston, Baltimore, 1891.
  • Johnston, Joseph E., Narrative of Military Operations, New York, 1874.

External links[]

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