Joseph E Johnston 06281
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was born in 1807 and graduated from West Point with Robert E. Lee in 1829. Johnston holds the distinction of being the first West Point graduate to achieve the rank of General in the U.S. Army. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861 Johnston became the highest ranking officer to resign his commission.
He accepted a commission as Brigadier General in the Confederate army and in August of 1861 was one of five promoted to full general. Johnston felt that since he had been the highest ranking Union officer to resign that he should be the highest ranking Confederate officer. Confederate President Davis however placed him fourth on the list. Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston (no relation) and Samuel Cooper all had seniority to him. This caused stress between Davis and Johnston that would last through the war.
Never the less Johnston was given command of the Army of Northern Virginia and was the senior general opposing McClellan during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. During the battle of Seven Pines in May of 1862 Johnston was severely wounded. Following the battle the Army of Northern Virginia was given to Robert E. Lee for the remainder of the war.
Johnston recovered from his wounds and returned to duty in November being assigned to the Western Theater. Tasked with the defense of Vicksburg Johnston would face the same in Grant the same opponent that Lee would face later in the war. With the loss of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 Johnston’s relationship with Davis further deteriorated. Davis blamed Johnston for failing to fight against Grant and thereby losing Vicksburg and the control of the entire Mississippi. This loss also effectively split the Confederacy in two.
Johnston, who had strong political connections in the Confederate government remained popular and was able to keep his command. Soon he was opposing Sherman during his Atlanta campaign. In a series of retreats Johnston gave up much of the territory between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Other Confederate Generals began to complain about Johnston’s lack of fighting spirit and in July of 1864 Davis removed Johnston from command.
By early 1865 the Confederacy was once again desperate and there was much call to have Johnston reinstated. Davis at first refused but finally recalled him to active duty at the end of February. His new command opposed Sherman who by this time had left Savannah and was marching through the Carolina’s. With few men in his new command there was little that he could do to change the outcome of the war. He offered to combine his forces with Lee’s, in an attempt to best Sherman, but Lee refused. A month later when Richmond fell, Lee now attempted to reach Johnston, but by this time it was too late. With Lee’s surrender on April 9th, Johnston had little choice but to seek terms with Sherman. The surrender of his men was the largest surrender of the war with more than 89,000. Jefferson Davis considered this to be an act of treachery.
Following the war Johnston struggled for several years to make a living. His fortunes turned when he established an insurance company in 1868. He was elected to Congress and served from 1879-1881. Johnston served as a pallbearer at the funeral of Sherman in 1891, who he had considered a gracious victor after his surrender. He caught a cold during the funeral and soon developed pneumonia and died a few weeks later.