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Albert Sidney Johnston

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Albert Sidney Johnston
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Albert Sidney Johnston

Albert Sidney Johnston (February 2, 1803April 6, 1862) was a career U.S. Army officer and a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Considered by some to be the finest general in the Confederacy, he was killed early in the war at the Battle of Shiloh.

Contents

Early life

Johnston was born in Washington, Kentucky, but lived much of his life in Texas and considered that his home. In 1826 he graduated from the United States Military Academy with a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He was assigned to posts in New York and Missouri and served in the Black Hawk War in 1832. After resigning his commission in 1834, he returned to Kentucky to care for his dying wife.

Texas Army

In April of 1834, Johnston took up farming in Texas, but enlisted as a private in the Texas Army during the Texas War of Independence against Mexico in 1836. One month later, Johnston was promoted to major and the position of aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston. He was named Adjutant General as a colonel in the Republic of Texas Army on August 5, 1836. On January 31, 1837, he became Senior Brigadier General in command of the Texas Army.

On February 7, 1837, he fought in a duel with Brig. Gen. Felix Huston, challenging each other for the command of the Texas Army; Johnston refused to fire on Huston and lost the position after he was wounded in the pelvis. The second president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar, appointed him Secretary of War on December 22, 1838. In February of 1840, he resigned and returned to Kentucky, where he married Eliza Griffin in 1843. They settled on a large plantation he named China Grove in Brazoria County, Texas.

U.S. Army

Johnston returned to the Texas Army during the Mexican-American War under General Zachary Taylor as a colonel of the 1st Texas Rifle Volunteers, fighting at the Battle of Monterrey on September 2024, 1846. Johnson returned to the U.S. Army as a major and was made a U.S. Army Paymaster in December of 1849. He served on the Texas frontier and elsewhere in the West. As a key figure in the Utah War, he led U.S. troops who established a non-Mormon government in the formerly Mormon territory. He received a brevet promotion to brigadier general in 1857 for his service in Utah.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Johnston was the commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in the California. He was approached by some Californians who urged him to take his forces east to join them against the Confederacy. He declined and instead resigned from the U.S. Army and was appointed a general by his friend, President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. On may 30, 1861, Johnston became the second highest ranking Confederate General (after the little-known Samuel Cooper) as commander of the Western Department. He raised the Army of Mississippi to defend Confederate lines from the Mississippi River to Kentucky and the Allegheny Mountains.

Although the Confederate Army won a morale-boosting victory at First Bull Run in the East in 1861, matters in the West turned ugly by early 1862. Johnston's subordinate generals lost Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, and Fort Donelson on February 14, 1862, to Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. And Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell captured the vital city of Nashville, Tennessee. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was sent west to join Johnston and they organized their forces at Corinth, Mississippi, planning to ambush Grant's forces at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.

Shiloh

Johnston conducted a massive surprise attack against Grant at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. As the Confederate forces overran the Union camps, Johnston seemed to be everywhere, personally leading and rallying troops up and down the line. While leading one of those charges, he was wounded, taking a bullet behind his right knee. He did not think the wound serious at the time, and sent his personal physician to attend to some wounded Union soldiers instead. The bullet had in fact clipped his popliteal artery and his boot was filling up with blood. Within a few minutes Johnston was observed by his staff to be nearly fainting off of his horse, and asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied "Yes, and I fear seriously." Johnston's duel in 1837 had caused nerve damage to that leg and it is possible that he did not feel the wound to his leg as a result. Johnston was taken to a small ravine, where efforts to find the wound did not succeed. Only after he died did the staff notice a 6–8 foot stream of blood coming out of his right boot.

Ironically, it is probable that a Confederate soldier fired the fatal round. No Union soldiers were observed to have ever gotten behind Johnston during the fatal charge, while it is known that many Confederates were firing at the Union lines while Johnston charged well in advance of his soldiers. He was the highest-ranking casualty of the war and his death was a strong blow to the morale of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis considered him the best general in the country; this was two months before the emergence of Robert E. Lee as their pre-eminent general.

Epitaph

Johnston was buried in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, a joint resolution of the Texas Legislature was passed to have his body reinterred to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin (the re-interment occurred in 1867). Four decades later, the state appointed Elisbet Ney to design a monument and sculpture of him to be erected at his gravesite.

The Texas Historical Commission has erected a historical marker near the entrance of what was once his plantation. An adjacent marker was erected by the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of The Republic of Texas and the Lee, Roberts, and Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederate States of America.

References

  • Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J.: Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.

Further Reading

  • Johnson, William Preston, The Life of Albert Sidney Johnston, New York, 1878
  • Roland, Charles P., Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics, Austin, 1964de:Albert S. Johnston

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