Joseph E. Johnston

Joseph E. Johnston

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. He was unrelated to Albert Sidney Johnston, another high-ranking Confederate general.

Johnston was trained as a civil engineer at the U.S. Military Academy. He served in Florida, Texas, and Kansas, and fought with distinction in the Mexican-American War and by 1860 achieved the rank of brigadier general as Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army. When his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union, Johnston resigned his commission, the highest-ranking officer to join the Confederacy. To his dismay, however, he was appointed only the fourth ranking full general in the Confederate Army.

Johnston's effectiveness in the Civil War was undercut by tensions with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who often criticized him for a lack of aggressiveness, and victory eluded him in most campaigns he personally commanded. However, he was the senior Confederate commander at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, and his recognition of the important necessary actions, and prompt application of leadership in that victory is usually credited to his subordinate, P. G. T. Beauregard. He defended the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, withdrawing under the pressure of a superior force under Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. In his only offensive action during the campaign, he suffered a severe wound at the Battle of Seven Pines, after which he was replaced in command by his classmate at West Point, Robert E. Lee. In 1863, in command of the Department of the West, he was criticized for his actions and failures in the Vicksburg Campaign. In 1864, he fought against Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in the Atlanta Campaign, but was relieved of command after withdrawing from northwest Georgia to the outskirts of the city. In the final days of the war, he was returned to command of the small remaining forces in the Carolinas Campaign and surrendered his armies to Sherman on April 26, 1865. Two of his major opponents, Grant and Sherman, made comments highly respectful of his actions in the war, and they became close friends with Johnston in subsequent years.

After the war Johnston was an executive in the railroad and insurance businesses. He served a term in Congress and was commissioner of railroads under Grover Cleveland. He died of pneumonia after serving in inclement weather as a pallbearer at the funeral of his former adversary, and later friend, William T. Sherman.

Read more about Joseph E. Johnston:  Early Years, U.S. Army Service, Postbellum Life, In Memoriam, In Fiction

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