Johnston, Joseph E.
Johnston joined the Confederacy as a brigadier in May and became a full general in August 1861. He stood fourth in general's rank, and that led to a caustic breach with PresidentJefferson Davis that affected Johnston's, and the Confederacy's, career.
First assigned to the Shenandoah Valley, he eluded a Union force and marched his troops to aid Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at First Manassas. In 1862, Johnston, in command of the army, moved his force south to oppose Gen. George B. McClellan's advance toward Richmond. He attacked at Seven Pines on the York peninsula in May 1862, failed to achieve a decisive victory, was severely wounded, and was replaced by Robert E. Lee.
In November 1862, Davis, overcoming doubt and dislike, gave Johnston one of the great opportunities of the war as commander of the new Department of the West. Failing to understand a unique experiment in theater command or that he had been handed a satrap's wide powers, Johnston missed his chance to combine the military, social, and economic resources of a vast area against various enemy armies in a grand scheme to save the western flank of the Confederacy. He lapsed, instead, into the role of a local army commander in trying to relieve the siege of Vicksburg. Understanding the crisis there, he worked earnestly to build an army with which to attack Ulysses S. Grant's siege lines from behind. But he could not gather enough men or supplies quickly enough to save that important Mississippi River bastion.
In November 1863, Johnston took command of the Army of Tennessee, which languished in the doldrums after the loss of Chattanooga, Tennessee. His masterly strategic retreat down the Western & Atlantic Railroad from Dalton to Atlanta, Georgia, ahead of William Tecumseh Sherman's larger army ranks as a model strategic retreat. His withdrawal into Atlanta's defenses displeased Davis, however, who replaced him with the more aggressive Gen. John B. Hood in July 1864. Recalled to duty in February 1865 to command the remnants of his old army, after Hood's shattering defeats, he could not halt Sherman's march. Johnston surrendered at Durham Station, North Carolina, 26 April 1865.
In 1874, Johnston published Narrative of Military Operations. Subsequently a congressman from Virginia (1879–81), he became U.S. Commissioner of Railroads, 1885–91. He died in Washington, D.C., in March 1891 from a cold apparently caught while marching bareheaded in General Sherman's funeral procession.
Was Johnston a defensive genius or a nonfighter? The question persists. His quarrel with Davis limited his usefulness, but his Atlanta campaign shows him to have been a brilliant defensive tactician. Critics say he lacked aggressiveness and brand him too harshly as “Retreating Joe.” Audacity is often urged on the weaker side, but Johnston's method of staging fighting retreats, which inflicted more casualties than he took, might have prolonged the Confederacy's existence.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Gilbert E. Govan and and James W. Livingood , A Different Valor: The Story of General Joseph E. Johnston, 1956.
Joseph E. Johnston , Narrative of Military Operations, Directed, During the Late War Between the States, 1874; repr. 1959.
Craig L. Symonds , Joseph E. Johnston, 1992.
Frank E. Vandiver
"Johnston, Joseph E.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnston-joseph-e
"Johnston, Joseph E.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved March 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/johnston-joseph-e
Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.
Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
- Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
- In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.