Albert Sidney Johnston (February 2, 1803 – April 6, 1862) was a career United States Army officer, a Texas Army general, and a Confederate States general. He saw extensive combat during his military career, fighting actions in the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican-American War, the Utah War, as well as the American Civil War.
Considered by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to be the finest general officer in the Confederacy before the emergence of Robert E. Lee, he was killed early in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh and was the highest ranking officer, Union or Confederate, killed during the conflict. Davis believed the loss of Johnston "was the turning point of our fate
Johnston was born in Washington
, the youngest son of Dr. John and Abigail Harris Johnston. His father was a native of Salisbury, Connecticut
. Although Albert Johnston was born in Kentucky, he lived much of his life in Texas
, which he considered his home. He was first educated at Transylvania University
, where he met fellow student Jefferson Davis. Both were appointed to the United States Military Academy
, Jefferson two years behind Johnston. In 1826 Johnston graduated eighth of 41 cadets in his class from West Point with a commission as a brevet second lieutenant
in the 2nd U.S. Infantry
. He was assigned to posts in New York
and served in the Black Hawk War
in 1832 as chief of staff to General Henry Atkinson
. In 1829 he married Henrietta Preston. He resigned his commission in 1834 to return to Kentucky to care for his dying wife, who succumbed two years later to tuberculosis
. They had one son, Col. William Preston Johnston
, who would also serve in the Confederate Army.
In April 1834, Johnston took up farming in Texas
, but enlisted as a private
in the Texas Army during the Texas War of Independence against the Republic of 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 Texas 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. Johnston was to provide the defense of the Texas border against Mexican invasion, and in 1839 conducted a campaign against Indians in northern Texas. In February 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.
Johnston returned to the Texas Army during the Mexican-American War under General Zachary Taylor
as a colonel
of the 1st Texas Rifle Volunteers. The enlistments of his volunteers ran out just before the Battle of Monterrey
. Johnston managed to convince a few volunteers to stay and fight as he himself served as the inspector general of volunteers and fought at the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista
. Johnston remained on his plantation after the war until he was appointed by President
Taylor to the U.S. Army as a major
and was made a paymaster
in December 1849. He served in that role for more than five years, making six tours, and traveling more than 4,000 miles annually on the Indian frontier of Texas. He served on the Texas frontier and elsewhere in the West. In 1855 President Franklin Pierce
appointed him colonel of the new 2nd U.S. Cavalry (the unit that preceded the modern 5th U.S.
), a new regiment, which he organized. 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. He spent 1860 in Kentucky until December 21, when he sailed for California to take command of the Department of the Pacific.
At the outbreak of the Civil War
, Johnston was the commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific
. He was approached by some Californians who urged him to take his forces east to join the Union
against the Confederacy
. He resigned his commission, April 9, 1861, as soon as he heard of the secession
of Texas. He remained in California until June. After a rapid march through the deserts of Arizona and Texas, he reached Richmond, Virginia
, on or about September 1, 1861. There Johnston was appointed a full general
by his friend, 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
and the Allegheny Mountains
Although the Confederate States Army won a morale-boosting victory at First Battle of 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 16, 1862, to Union Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Johnston has been faulted for poor judgment in selecting Brig. Gens. Tilghman and Floyd for those crucial positions and for not supervising adequate construction of the forts. 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.
Johnston concentrated many of his forces from around the theater and launched 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. At about 2:30 p.m., 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 his horse, and asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied "Yes, and I fear seriously." It is possible that Johnston's duel in 1837 had caused nerve damage or numbness to that leg and that he did not feel the wound to his leg as a result. Johnston was taken to a small ravine, where he bled to death in minutes.
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 on either side, 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 the pre-eminent general of the Confederacy.
The date of Johnston's death, Sunday, April 6, 1862, was coincidentally the 32nd anniversary of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), against whom he led United States forces in 1856 during the Utah War, in which cause the Mormons were deemed by the Buchanan Administration to be in rebellion against the United States. At his death, it was Johnston who was similarly deemed to be in rebellion against the United States as a commanding officer in the Confederate Army, this time by the Lincoln Administration.
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. Forty years later, the state appointed Elisabet 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.
- Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed., ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
- Eicher, John H.; Eicher, David J. (2001). Civil War High Commands. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
- Woodworth, Steven E. (1990). Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.
- Cunningham, O. Edward; Gary D. Joiner, Timothy B. Smith, editors (2007). Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862. New York: Savas Beatie.
- Gott, Kendall D. (2003). Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books.
- Johnston, William Preston (1879). The life of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, embracing his services in the armies of the United States, the republic of Texas, and the Confederate States. New York: D. Appleton.
- Nofi, Albert A. (2001). The Alamo and the Texas War for Independence. New York: Da Capo Press.
- Roland, Charles Pierce (1964). Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Sword, Wiley (1992). Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas.