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Joseph E. Johnston
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Confederate Military
Joseph Eggleston Johnston (Joe Johnston)
Synopsis:One of the highest ranking generals in the Confederate Army, Joe Johnston (nobody called him Joseph) assumed command of the main body of the Confederate Army following the victory at Manassas in July, 1861, and continued in that capacity until wounded during the battle of Fair Oaks in May, 1862. After recuperating until December of that year, he assumed command of the Department of the West, a somewhat titular title overseeing Braxton Bragg and John Pemberton.
Following the loss at Chattanooga, Johnston was appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee, replacing Bragg. In the spring of 1864, Johnston oversaw the Atlanta Campaign for the Confederates, withdrawing to the gates of Atlanta. So concerned about losing Atlanta, Jefferson Davis replaced him with John Bell Hood. At the end of the war he was placed in command of the Confederate Army in North Carolina.
When Joe Johnston graduated from high school, it was not easy to become a general, but that was a goal of the young Virginian. After graduating 13th from West Point in 1829, Johnston was brevetted a Second Lieutenant. Over the next 30 years Johnston struggled to attain the rank of general, including service in artillery, topographical engineers, and finally, as quartermaster. He served with distinction with classmate Robert E. Lee under Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War, where he was wounded during the battle of Cerra Gordo, and during the Second Seminole War. At the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, he was 54 years old and the highest ranking officer in the U. S. Army to resign his commission to join the Confederacy.
Johnston was immediately made a Major General in the Virginia militia and put in command of Richmond defenses. Following an appointment to brigadier general in the CSA when Virginia joined the Confederacy, his first command in the Confederate Army was the troops in Harper's Ferry and the surrounding area.
Johnston doubted he could hold Harper's Ferry, so he withdrew. When word reached him that Irvin McDowell was moving on The Alexandria Line, he completely fooled General Robert Patterson[US] and General George Thomas[US], escaping to turn the tide at First Manassas. Arriving via the Manassas Gap Railroad, Johnston outranked General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Alexandria Line (later the Army of Northern Virginia), but let him take tactical command. Both he and Beauregard advanced to Henry Hill during the fighting, finally turning back the Union juggernaut. When Jefferson Davis arrived on at the battlefield towards the end of the fighting Davis would not allow Johnston to pursue the fleeing Yankees.
When the smoke cleared at Manassas, Johnston was in charge of the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac and Beauregard had moved west to the Shenandoah. Johnston, however, was dealt a major blow on August 31, 1861, when Jefferson Davis issued a list of generals to be promoted to full (4-star) general . In order, the list contained the names Samuel A. Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Joseph Eggleston Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard. Johnston was furious because the order meant that Cooper, A. S. Johnston and Lee outranked him, and as he pointed out in a strongly worded letter to Davis, Lee and A. S. Johnston had not won a battle and Cooper was a Yankee. This incident, combined with the order not to pursue the Union Army at Manassas, appears to be the source of the bitter dispute between Johnston and Davis for the remainder of the war.
Over the next 8 months Joseph E. Johnston trained his army to battle the "Young Napoleon," George McClellan. When McClellan moved towards Johnston's line in March, 1862, Johnston withdrew from the Manassas Line to a line behind the Rappahannock River. McClellan, however, was simply creating a diversion while he was preparing for an amphibious landing at Fortress Monroe on the York/James Peninsula. Leaving a small contingent of men to the north, Johnston sped south to meet the Yankees at Yorktown, only to find out that Prince John Magruder had completely baffled the cautious McClellan, who prepared to lay siege to the small town in spite of outnumbering the Rebels 6-to-1.
Johnston had defenses around Richmond prepared as he fought delaying actions up the peninsula. Finally, luck was with Johnston when McClellan, just 13 miles from Richmond, only had part of his force across the Chickahominy River when spring rains washed out the bridges. Johnston attacked the divided Union forces at Fair Oaks (Seven Pines). The plan of attack was good on paper, but for various reasons, including a lack of communication, Johnston's plan remain just that - a plan. As the sun set, Johnston rode forward to the front lines to rally his men, where he was wounded. Robert E. Lee took over for the fallen general.
Having recovered in November, 1862, Lee was firmly in command of what was now the Army of Northern Virginia. Jefferson Davis looked west, assigning Johnston a nearly titular post as commander of the Department of the West. With less than 9,000 men under his direct command, Johnston also oversaw Braxton Bragg (Army of Tennessee) and John Pemberton (Army of Mississippi). He advanced to Jackson, Mississippi in an attempt to stave off disaster at Vicksburg, but was himself attacked by Ulysses S. Grant.
As Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga to prevent a flanking strike by William S. Rosecrans, Johnston reassigned two division commanders, Simon Bolivar Buckner and John Breckinridge to the Army of Tennessee. After Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Bragg resigned his command and Johnston took over, his army of 50,000 men on the east side of Rocky Face Ridge. To the west was George Thomas and his 55,000 man Army of the Cumberland. Two other Union Armies, Army of the Ohio (20,000) and Army of the Tennessee (25,000) brought Union strength under his old friend William Tecumseh Sherman up to 100,000 effectives.
Sherman moved James McPherson south to Resaca in a flanking movement. When Johnston found out because of an abortive attempt to take a railroad bridge, he withdrew from Dalton and joined Leonidas Polk, bringing his army to a total of 65,000 men. After problems mounting assaults at Adairsville and Cassville, Johnston formed the Dallas Line south of Sherman's position in Kingston. After the Battle of New Hope Church, Sherman shifted his attack left to Pickett's Mill, a failed attempt to turn the Confederate right. As Sherman withdrew, he easily repulsed a Rebel attack at Dallas.
In Marietta, Kennesaw Mountain blocked Sherman's advance. The red-headed Ohioan threw almost all his resources into a failed frontal assault against Big Kennesaw, Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. First fighting from the Smyrna Line, then the Chattahoochee Line (sometimes simply called the River Line), Johnston withdrew in the face of overwhelming numerical superiority of the opposing forces. Johnston planned on defending Atlanta at the river, but Sherman spread his men east looking for a weak point. Joe Hooker found it near Pace's Ferry. Jefferson Davis repeatedly demanded a plan of action from the Confederate commander, but none was forthcoming. On July 17, 1864, Davis wired him to turn his command over to John Bell Hood, which he did the following morning.
On February 16, 1865, Joseph E. Johnston was given overall command of the Carolinas, assuming command later that month. Although vastly outnumbered by William Tecumseh Sherman, Johnston managed to put up a fight, including the Battle of Bentonville in mid-March. Following Lee's Surrender at Appomattox Johnston met with Sherman on a number of occasions. A negotiated settlement was signed on April 18, but this was rejected by President Andrew Johnson on April 24. Sherman was ordered to reengage Johnston, but for no need. Johnston surrendered under essentially the same terms that Grant had given Lee on April 26, 1865.
Until the rise of the "Virginia School" in the 1940's Johnston was widely regarded as one of the top commanders of the Confederacy. Today it has become popular to blame Johnston for many of the failures of the Confederacy. He "allowed" McClellan to advance to the gates of Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. He did not order the evacuation of Vicksburg quickly enough. He lost the state of Georgia.
Joseph E. Johnston
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(Confederate) Army of the Potomac
Joseph E. Johnston was last changed on - April 28, 2006
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