Joseph Eggleston Johnston served as an Army officer in both the U. S. and C. S. A. Armies. His brilliant defensive tactics went virtually unappreciated, his strategy lost to many, including his commander-in-chief, Jefferson Davis. Today, in retrospect, Johnston may have had a clearer understanding of the situation facing the Confederacy than any other politician or ranking military officer.
Johnston received his early military training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1829, ranked 13th in a class of 47. Among his classmates was Robert E. Lee (2nd). Following his graduation he served as the commander of an artillery unit, joining the U. S. Army Topographic Engineers in 1838 after a year in public life as a civil engineer. In addition to his service in the Blackhawk Wars and the Second Seminole War in Florida, Johnston was wounded before the battle at Cerro Gordo, during Winfield Scott's advance on Mexico City. He was later wounded at Chapultepec (Mexico City). He ended his career in the U. S. Army in the prestigious role of Quartermaster General, which he held for less than a year.
When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnston resigned his commission. Initially commissioned as a brigadier general in the Virginia militia, Johnston was promoted to Major General and assigned the Army of the Shenandoah when he became a Confederate officer. It was First Manassas (Bull Run) that brought Johnston acclaim. Informed that a Yankee column was advancing from Washington D. C., Johnston withdrew from the Shenandoah Valley and advanced in support of P. G. T. Beauregard. When he arrived, via the Manassas Gap Railroad, he permitted Beauregard to continue in his role as commander and assumed a subordinate role because he had not scouted the area. Davis liked Johnston's actions so much that when the smoke cleared, Beauregard was gone, Stonewall Jackson assumed command of the Army of the Shenandoah and Johnston was put in charge of the Confederate Army of the Potomac. The rest of 1861 was used by the Union Army to build and train in preparation for a major offensive the following year.
Johnston correctly appraised the situation the South was in - short on material and manpower when compared to the North, he wanted to protect these assets more than the land. He understood the fragile nature of a campaign deep in enemy territory, and territory was something the Confederates had a lot of. Most of the anti-Johnston sentiment came during the Peninsula Campaign, when George McClellan advanced towards Richmond, Virginia. Johnston began a standard, structured withdrawal, defending his ground when he had a good position, then withdrawing to prevent a flanking maneuver.
The end to Johnston's plans came during the Battle of Fair Oaks - Seven Pines (Seven Pines). Johnston felt that McClellan had made a tactical error splitting his forces after the Battle of Williamsburg (VA) and prepared to attack. When a portion of the IV Corps moved south of the Chickahominy River near Richmond, Johnston brought most of his command against the Union position. Had the plan worked as issued it probably would have been more effective, but confusion over where and when to attack left Johnston riding up and down his lines in twilight trying to salvage the day. It was at this point he was seriously wounded on May 31, 1862. The battle lasted another day, with men from both sides pouring into the engagement. The result was inconclusive.
By the time Johnston recovered from his wound Robert E. Lee was the commander of his old army and Johnston was put in charge of the Western Theater including Georgia, although at the time little was occurring here. When Johnston arrived at Jackson, Mississippi, John Pemberton was almost surrounded and Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were plotting his downfall. Johnston ordered the evacuation of the Mississippi state capital and once informed that federal forces were attacking in number, he told Brig. General John Gregg to withdraw. This was the last chance to break the noose forming around Pemberton in Vicksburg. The day after Gettysburg, the Confederacy was split in two when Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg.
Following the defeat at Chattanooga, Braxton Bragg requested he be replaced as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Jefferson Davis hoped that Joe Johnston was up to the job, but with 60,000 older men and young boys up against William Tecumseh Sherman and more than 100,000 well-trained and well-equipped men, it seemed as through the odds were against the Confederate commander. Davis was encouraging Johnston to plan an attack against Chattanooga, but the new commander had more pressing problems like desertion, food and clothing.
Joseph Johnston built an excellent defensive position at Dalton, Georgia, preparing for the inevitable assault coming in the Spring of 1864. Sherman called the position, stretching from the north of Buzzard's Roost to Dug Gap, "the doors of death." On May 4th the Armies of the Cumberland and Ohio moved from the west and north towards Joe Johnston's line. Sherman, though, was already thinking about victory-he had James McPherson leading Sherman's old Army of the Mississippi south west of Taylor's Ridge to keep it out of view of the Confederate forces.
Johnston had learned to rely on his railroads, so when word reached the Confederate commander that a large force of Union soldiers was to his rear he withdrew, forming a line at Resaca to absorb the federal attack.
In the middle of May Sherman turned south from Kingston rather that battle for the Western and Atlantic Railroad through Allatoona Pass. Johnston scrambled to form a line in the rolling hills west of Atlanta, but form a line he did, and it was strong enough to withstand three major attacks - the battles of New Hope (Church), Pickett's Mill and Dallas. Faced with mounting supply problems Sherman returned to the railroad south of the pass. As Confederate forces defended positions in north Cobb County (Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain and Gilgal Church), Johnston established fortifications on Kennesaw Mountain west of Marietta. (For detailed information on the fighting in Cobb County in June, 1864, please see Cobb County and the Kennesaw Mountain Battles). After an attempted flanking maneuver was caught by General John Bell Hood at Kolb's Farm, Sherman tried a direct frontal assault on the Confederate line on the mountain. Although Johnston's men repulsed the attack, they were forced to retreat a few days later. Jefferson Davis, who realized the political importance of Atlanta to Lincoln, relieved him of command of the Army of Tennessee on July 17, 1864.
He returned to Georgia in September, at Jefferson Davis' side during a speech in Macon. He returned to Macon to command what few troops remained there as Sherman's Right Wing swept north of the city. In North Carolina, Joseph Johnston almost defeated the Union Army with a rag-tag group of soldiers and militia, but in the end he was forced to retreat. He surrendered the last major group of Confederates on April 26, 1865 to his old friend William Sherman. After the war Johnston served a term as Congressman from Virginia and was a commissioner of railroads for Grover Cleveland. His Narrative of Military Operations was published in 1874. He caught pneumonia following the funeral of William Sherman and died on March 21, 1891. He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland. The city of Dalton, Georgia erected a monument to him in 1912.
Biographies Biographies of famous, not so famous and infamous people from the North Georgia area or who had an effect on North Georgia