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Albert Sidney Johnston
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Confederate Military
Albert Sidney Johnston
At the start of The Civil War only Winfield Scott was more respected and more widely known than Albert Sidney Johnston. He was born in Kentucky to a family who had migrated west from New England.
After graduating from West Point (1826) he served as a brevet 2nd Lieutenant at Sackett's Harbor, New York (near the Canadian frontier on Lake Erie). Sidney Johnston and Jefferson Davis's post-school paths first crossed at Johnston's second assignment. Both West Pointers were stationed at Jefferson Barracks south of St. Louis under Edwin Vose Sumner, where Johnston met and married his first wife, Henrietta Preston.
It would be an uprising of Sauk and Fox Indians under Black Hawk (commonly combined as Blackhawk) in 1832 that would introduce Johnston to war. For weeks he campaigned in present-day Illinois, returning to St. Louis to see his wife and new daughter before the action was over. After completing his tour of duty, Johnston resigned his commission and moved to St. Louis. In an incredible string of bad luck, his wife became ill with tuberculosis and a daughter with influenza. His father died in October, 1832 and his brother died in the explosion of a steamship on the Mississippi River in 1833.
His wife seemed to improve, becoming pregnant early in 1833, but in September she was forced to return to doctors in her hometown of Louisville. Here she gave birth to the Johnston's second daughter before leaving the infant in the care of her mother and traveling south with Johnston. When they returned the infant was dead and his wife dying.
Sidney Johnston, as he was almost universally known, was attracted to the Republic of Texas in 1836 because it was fighting a war of independence with Mexico. Stephen Austin came to Louisville to make a personal appeal for support. It was an appeal that touched Johnston and brought him to the Republic. After meeting with Sam Houston in Nacogdoches, Johnston joined the Texas army. Within the year the U. S. Army 2nd Lieutenant was a general and ordered to take command of an army in the field. When he reported for the assignment General Felix Huston, whom Johnston had relieved of duty, demanded a duel. Johnston took a shot in the hip, damaging his sciatic nerve, numbing his leg for the rest of his life and making the recovery painful as well. Sam Houston rebuked Johnston for his part in the duel. Following a long recuperation, Johnston returned to active command, but Mexico had serious internal problems and withdrew from Texas and the war.
Johnston became Secretary of War for the Republic of Texas in 1838, returning to civilian life in 1843. This was perhaps his most trying time in the Republic. Dealing successfully with both Comanche and Cherokee Indians, he left his office without securing the one thing he most desired: an admission from Mexico that Texas was an independent state.
He was notably unsuccessful as a planter, and advocated war with Mexico as the Republic moved towards statehood. During the Mexican War, Johnston tried to secure a command in the regular Army but failed. He served instead as commander of a volunteer unit from Texas. At the battle of Monterrey Johnston rallied an Ohio division after their line had been breached by Mexican lancers. Captain Joseph Hooker, who was with Johnston at the time, considered it to be the bravest action he ever saw on a battlefield.
While accompanying Jefferson Davis to negotiate the surrender of Mexican commander Pedro de Ampudia, Johnston and Davis were surrounded by Mexican soldiers. Johnston took one as hostage and forced them to take him and Davis to Ampudia.
During the 1850's he served in various duties as a colonel in the U. S. Army, most noted as commander of the famed Second Cavalry. Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee was his second in command, and among his officers were George Thomas, William Hardee, Earl Van Dorn, Kirby Smith and John Bell Hood.
During the summer of 1857, Johnston left the Second Cavalry with Lt. Colonel Lee in charge and headed west to the Utah Territory, established during the Compromise of 1850. The followers of Brigham Young needed the resources of the United States to protect their boundaries and police the large, mostly desolate areas of the state. They wanted to run the state as a theocracy, where the church determines the outcome of everything, including secular matters such as trials. At first, this was either accepted or overlooked by the U. S. Government, but in 1857 a federal judge ruled that the territorial court system was stacked against non-Mormons. Polygamy was compared to slavery by Republicans in the Election of 1856, making James Buchanan not want to appear to endorse the practice when Brigham Young and his followers ousted the federal judges. Furthermore, Buchanan didn't want Young's territorial forces to take control of federal affairs - it might establish a precedent for the Southern states to follow.
William Harney was originally dispatched to handle the problem, but when he said he would hang Brigham Young and others, Buchanan wisely sought a calmer presence. Albert Sidney Johnston was the obvious choice. In command of an army spread across 1500 miles, including infantry under E. P. Alexander, an artillery battery under Jesse Reno, Johnston and dragoons under Philip St. George Cooke, Johnston headed west in late summer. The Mormons activated the Nauvoo Legion (as the Utah militia) to defend Utah from the army.
With October came winter, and Johnston decided to occupy Fort Bridger, northeast of Salt Lake City on the Oregon Trail. When the men arrived at the fort, however, it was ruble, destroyed by the Mormons. In the bitter cold of the high mountains, Johnston made camp and survived until spring. In early April, with his force lessened by a single man over the winter, Johnston prepared to move against the Mormons. Word came that the Mormons accepted the authority of the United States, but that was not enough for Johnston. In early June he began to march on the capital of Salt Lake City.
Young sent an invitation to Johnston to enter the valley even as the Mormons were withdrawing from Salt Lake City. On June 26, the U. S. Army entered a deserted capital. The Mormons had fled south to Provo. As Johnston headed south from Salt Lake City a parade of Mormons headed north to the capital. Near Provo, Johnston established Camp Floyd, named in honor of John Floyd, Secretary of War and took a wait and see approach to the situation.
Since the Mormons did not resist, Johnston never engaged in combat, but in the Spring of 1859 he sent Hans Heth to Provo to enforce the power of the federal judges who were preparing indictments against some of the church elders for actions not directly related to the war. To no one's surprise, the grand jury refused to return an indictment. Johnston remained in Utah until 1860. It was after this successful mission that Johnston's name was brought up as a possible Democratic contender for the U. S. Presidency.
As commander of the Department of the Pacific (sometimes called the Pacific Department), Johnston watched the widening rift developing between North and South from the West. Although the governor of California and many Southern sympathizers considered him to be loyal to the Union, Johnston was the target of Unionist's patter.
On March 23, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln removed Sidney Johnston from command, replacing him with Edwin Vose Sumner. Rather than send the orders by Pony Express (the transcontinental telegraph was still six months away), Lincoln sent the orders with Sumner by boat as a precaution. When news reached California on April 9, that Texas seceded, Albert Sidney Johnston resigned his commission. He was officially relieved of duty by Sumner in San Francisco on April 25, 1861. On May 6 the War Department approved Johnston's resignation.
Johnston considered staying in California, perhaps watching the conflict from the West Coast, but his sense of duty swept him up when he heard of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. He was making plans to return by boat to New York, then travel south to Richmond when word reached him that his arrest had been ordered on June 3, 1861. It would no longer be possible for him to sail to New York. His children and pregnant wife would have to remain in California while Johnston headed east to Texas. Johnston joined a group of soldiers returning to Texas via a dangerous 800-mile southern route, including a 400-mile section of the Mojave Desert.
The arduous route headed southeast from Los Angeles to Warner's, a ranch that was considered to be the start of the desert. From here the Confederates headed to Fort Yuma at the confluence of the Gila River and the mighty Colorado. The men decided to avoid Fort Breckenridge and Fort Buchanan, carefully moving from a Pima Indian village (near present-day Phoenix, Arizona) to Tucson, which was between the two forts. From Tucson the men headed east through the Chiricahua Mountains at Apache Pass and into Texas, reaching Picacho on July 27. From here he headed south to El Paso then overland to New Orleans, catching the railroad to Richmond, Virginia.
Unfortunately, Johnston could not communicate his planned delay to the command structure in the South. When Jefferson Davis made him a full general in August, 1861, he had not fought in a single battle.
A week after Leonidas Polk ended Kentucky's neutrality by seizing Columbus, Johnston appeared at Davis's front door. Polk, a mutual friend of Johnston and Davis, had been asking the President to assign Johnston as commander in the West. Davis wanted Johnston to accept the position of Confederate Secretary of War, a move supported by his cabinet, but it was Polk himself that gave Davis reason to send Johnston west. Seizing Kentucky was a dreadfully bad idea, one most Confederate politicians assumed Johnston wouldn't make.
Albert Sidney Johnston did not do as well as everybody had hoped, and he was not helped by his old friend Jefferson Davis. Sidney began by stringing his men across halfway across Kentucky in order to protect Nashville, the capital of Tennessee. On his right he ordered a small army from Knoxville under Felix Zollicoffer to advance to Somerset, Kentucky, and hold the Cumberland River. To the left, Polk held Columbus and in between were various garrisons anchored at Bowling Green.
Opposing Johnston were two Union forces, the Department of Kentucky under Robert Anderson and John C. Fremont in command of the Department of the West. Probably of little concern was the brigadier general in charge of the forces west of Columbus, Kentucky, Ulysses S. Grant. Anderson felt that Johnston's goal was Louisville and the Ohio River Valley, but Johnston lacked the manpower for such an offensive.
With Zollicoffer's loss at Mill Springs, Davis shipped P. G. T. Beauregard west to get the Creole general out of the way but would not back Johnston up any further with men, munitions or supplies. The loss also hastened Grant's move against Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Beauregard had encourage Johnston to concentrate his force at Donelson and strike Grant. Johnston went with Beauregard's plan but they ended up with 3 generals at Donelson, John Floyd, Gideon Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner, two too many. The surrender of Donelson ensured the fall of Nashville a week later.
Retreating to Murfreesboro, Johnston struggled to form a secondary line. With his army in two distinct segments, Johnston ordered Beauregard west to command the group in Corinth. As March turned into April it was apparent to everybody in the South that a massive battle on the Western Frontier was shaping up. Johnston withdrew from Murfreesboro to the south, then headed west to join the growing Army of Mississippi at Corinth.
Warner's - Johnston's first stop on his journey back to Texas in 1861 is now a resort known as Warner Springs
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Albert Sidney Johnston was last changed on - August 2, 2009
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