Joseph E. Johnston "The Soldiers General"

Early years
Johnston was born on February 3, 1807 at Longwood House near Farmville, Virginia. (Longwood House later burned down. The rebuilt house is now the home of the president of Longwood University.) His father, Judge Peter Johnston, was of Scottish descent and his mother, Mary Valentine Wood (Patrick Henry’s niece), was Scottish and English. During the American Revolutionary War, his father served in the Brigade of “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of Robert E. Lee. Johnston was named Joseph Eggleston Johnston after his father’s squad commander, Major Joseph Eggleston. Johnston was the seventh son and was presented his father’s Revolutionary War sword when he was eight years old. In 1811 the Johnston family moved to Abingdon, Virginia where he grew up on the frontier in Southwest Virginia. Johnston graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1829, ranking 13th of 46 cadets, and was appointed a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery. He would become the first West Point graduate to be promoted to a general officer in the regular army, reaching a higher rank in the U.S. Army than did his classmate, Robert E. Lee. He was the first graduate of the Academy to be promoted to general in the United States Army.

Johnston resigned from the Army in March 1837 and studied civil engineering. During the Second Seminole War, he was a civilian topographic engineer aboard a ship led by William Pope McArthur. On January 12, 1838, at Jupiter, Florida, the sailors who had gone ashore were attacked and Johnston was to claim there were "no less than 30 bullet holes" in his clothing and one bullet creased his scalp, leaving a scar he had for the rest of his life. Having encountered more combat activities in Florida as a civilian than he had previously as an artillery officer, Johnston decided to rejoin the Army. He departed for Washington, D.C., in April 1838 and was appointed a first lieutenant of topographic engineers on July 7; on that same day, he received a brevet promotion to captain for the actions at Jupiter Inlet and his explorations of the Florida Everglades.

During the Mexican-American War, Johnston won two brevets and was wounded at both Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec. He had also been brevetted for earlier service in the Seminole Wars. He served in California and was appointed brigadier general and Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army on June 28, 1860.

Johnston married Lydia McLane, the daughter of Louis McLane, a congressman from Delaware, and a member of President Andrew Jackson's cabinet. They had no children. She died in February 1887. His brother Charles Clement Johnston also served as a U.S. Representative, and his nephew John Warfield Johnston was a United States Senator; both represented Virginia.

The War for Southern Independence
When his native state seceded from the Union in 1861, Johnston resigned his commission as a brigadier general in the regular army, the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to do so. Initially commissioned as a major general in the Virginia militia on May 4, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate Army on May 14. Johnston relieved Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in command at Harpers Ferry in May and organized the Army of the Shenandoah in July.

At the Battle of First Manassas (1st Bull Run), July 1861, Johnston brought forces from the Shenandoah Valley to combine with those of Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, but he ceded direction of the battle to the more junior Beauregard since he lacked familiarity with the terrain. He did manage to claim a share of public credit for the Southern victory, however. After First Manassas, Johnston assisted Beauregard and William Porcher Miles in the design and production of the Confederate Battle Flag. It was Johnston's idea to make the battle flag a square.

In August 1861, Johnston was promoted to full general—what is called a four-star general in the modern U.S. Army—but was not pleased that three other men he had outranked in the "old army" now outranked him, even though Davis backdated his promotion to July 4. Johnston felt that since he was the senior officer to leave the U.S. Army and join the Confederacy he should not be ranked behind Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee. Only Beauregard was placed behind Johnston on the list of five new generals. This led to much bad blood between Johnston and Jefferson Davis, which would last throughout the war.

Seven Pines Battle
During this battle in 1862 Johnston received three wounds which caused his removal from the battlefield and his loss of command. He was replaced by General Robert E. Lee.

Atlanta Campaign
Faced with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's advance from Chattanooga to Atlanta in the spring of 1864, Johnston reverted to his strategy of withdrawal. He conducted a series of actions in which he prepared strong defensive positions, only to see Sherman maneuver around them, causing him to fall back in the general direction of Atlanta. Johnston saw the preservation of his army as the most important consideration, and hence conducted a very cautious campaign. He handled his army well, slowing the Union advance and inflicting heavier losses than he sustained. On June 27, Johnston defeated Sherman at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, but the purely defensive victory did not prevent Sherman from continuing his offensive. Critics have claimed that Johnston's strategy was entirely defensive and that his unwillingness to risk an offensive made the chance of a Confederate victory impossible.

Jefferson Davis became increasingly irritated by this strategy and removed Johnston from command on July 17, 1864, shortly before the Battle of Peachtree Creek, just outside of Atlanta. (His replacement, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, was overly aggressive, but ineffective, losing Atlanta in September and a large portion of his army in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that winter.) Davis's decision to remove Johnston was one of the most controversial of the war.

Final campaigns in North Carolina
As the Confederacy became increasingly concerned about Sherman's March to the Sea across Georgia and then north through the Carolinas, the public clamored for Johnston's return. Through a request by Robert E. Lee, Davis reinstated him to a command called collectively the Army of Tennessee and all troops in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. These commands theoretically included three Confederate armies, but they were armies in name only, undermanned and under-provisioned, Johnston could do little to blunt Sherman's advance. Johnston knew he was taking command of an army he would have to surrender. Duty called and he would strive to lead his army to gain for the South in the end “fair terms of peace.”

On March19, 1865 Johnston was able to catch a portion of Sherman's army by surprise at the three days Battle of Bentonville and briefly gained some tactical successes before superior numbers forced him to retreat to Smithfield, North Carolina.

After learning of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Johnston decided to meet with General Sherman between the lines at James Bennett’s farm near present day Durham, North Carolina. After three separate days of negotiations in April 1865, Johnston surrendered the Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest surrender of the war, totaling 89,270 soldiers.

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general joseph e johnston