Saturday, February 2, 2013

Albert Sidney Johnston, born February 2, 1803

Albert Sidney Johnson
Albert Sidney Johnston was born in the village of Washington, Mason County, Kentucky. He was the youngest son of Doctor John Johnston, a physician and one of the early settlers of that town. His mother was Abigail Harris Johnston.

Mason County, which then included all the northern and eastern portion of Kentucky,
Mason County, Kentucky
in 1790 contained only 2,729 inhabitants, while the whole population of the territory of Kentucky was less than 74,000. The territory still suffered from Indian incursions and was a frontier of civilization. 

He was first educated at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he met fellow student Jefferson Davis. Both were appointed to the United States Military Academy; Albert entered two years earlier than Jefferson.  

Johnston was 58 years old when the Civil War began; he was the commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California.  He resigned his commission as soon as he heard that the state of Texas had seceded.  

In 1826, at the age of 23, 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 Missouri, and served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 as chief of staff to General Henry Atkinson.

In 1829 he married Henrietta Preston, sister of Kentucky politician and future civil war general William Preston.  He resigned his commission in 1834 to return to Kentucky to care for his wife, who was dying of tuberculosis.  She passed away two years later. They had one son, William Preston Johnston, and a daughter, Henrietta.  

In 1834, Johnston took up farming in Texas. In 1836, he 
enlisted as a private in the Texas Army during the Texas War of Independence against the Republic of Mexcio. One month after his enlistment, Johnston was promoted to major and the position of aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston.  On January 31, 1837, he became senior brigadier general in command of the Texas Army.
Felix Huston

On February 7, 1837, he fought a duel with Texas General 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 Lamar, appointed Johnston Secretary of War on December 22, 1838. In 1839, Johnston conducted a campaign against Indians in northern Texas.

In February 1840, Johnston resigned and returned to Kentucky, where he married Eliza Griffin, his late wife's first cousin, in 1843. They moved to a large plantation he named China Grove in Brazoria, Texas. They raised Johnston's two children from his first marriage, and three children born to him and Eliza. (A sixth child was born later when they lived in Los Angeles, California).

Johnston returned to the Texas Army during the Mexican-American War under General Zachary Taylor, as a colonel of the 1st Texas Rifle Volunteers. He served as the inspector general of volunteers and fought at the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista.

After the Mexican-American war, Johnston remained on his plantation until he was appointed by President Zachary Taylor to the U.S. Army as a major,  He was made a paymaster in December 1849, and 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. 

In 1855, President Franklin Pierce appointed him colonel of the new regiment, the 2nd U.S.
Franklin Pierce
Cavalry. 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 the year of 1860 in Kentucky until December 21, when he sailed for California to take command of the Department of the Pacific.

The Civil War began a few months after his arrival in California.  Like many regular army officers from the South, he was opposed to secession, but resigned his commission soon after he heard of the secession of his adopted state Texas. It was accepted by the War Department on May 6, 1861, effective May 3.  H
e joined the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles as a private, and that month they left California to travel across the southwestern deserts to the Confederacy. Johnston arrived in the Confederacy's capital, Richmond, Virginia, in September.  On September 10, 1861, Johnston was assigned to command the area of the Confederacy west of the Allegheny Mountains, except for coastal areas. He became commander of the Confederacy's western armies in the area called the Western Military Department. 

 He was permitted to call on governors of Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi for new troops, although this authority was largely stifled by politics, especially with respect to Mississippi. On September 13, 1861, Johnston ordered General Felix Zollicoffer with 4,000 men to occupy Cumberland Gap in Kentucky in order to block Union troops from coming into eastern Tennessee. 

Johnston had less than 40,000 men spread throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. Of these, 10,000 were in Missouri under Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price.  Johnston's initial call upon the governors for more men did not result in many immediate recruits.  Johnston had a bigger problem: his force was seriously short of arms and ammunition even for the troops he had. As the Confederate government concentrated efforts on the units in the East, they gave Johnston only small numbers of reinforcements and minimal amounts of arms and material. Johnston could only keep up his defense by raids and other measures to make it appear he had larger forces than he did, a strategy that worked for several months.

Johnston launched a surprise attack with his concentrated forces against General Ulysses Grant at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. As the Confederate forces overran the Union camps, Johnston personally led and rallied troops up and down the line on his horse. 

The Battle of Shiloh

At about 2:30 p.m., while leading a charge against a Union camp near the "Peach Orchard", he was wounded, taking a bullet behind his right knee. He apparently did not think the wound was serious. The bullet had in fact clipped a part of 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. Among his staff was Isham Harris, the Governor of Tennessee. Seeing Johnston slumping in his saddle and his face turning pale , Harris asked: "General, are you wounded?" Johnston glanced down at his leg wound, then faced Harris and replied with his last words: "Yes, and I fear seriously." 

Johnston soon lost consciousness and bled to death a few minutes later. Harris and the other officers wrapped General Johnston's body in a blanket so as not to damage the troops' morale with the sight of the dead general. Johnston and his wounded horse, named Fire Eater, were taken to his field headquarters on the Corinth road, where his body remained in his tent until the Confederate Army withdrew to Corinth the next day, April 7, 1862. From there, his body was taken to the home of Colonel William Inge, which had been his headquarters in Corinth. It was covered in the Confederate flag and laid in state for several hours.

Johnston's death was a blow to the morale of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis considered him the best general in the country at the time.

Johnston was survived by his wife, Eliza, and six children. His wife and the three youngest children, including one born after he went to war, chose to live in Los Angeles with Eliza's brother, Dr John Strother Griffin.

Eliza's eldest son, Albert Sidney Jr., had joined the Confederate States Army. In 1863, after taking home leave in Los Angeles, Albert Jr. was on his way out of San Pedro harbor on a ferry. While a steamer was taking on passengers from the ferry, a wave swamped the smaller boat, causing its boilers to explode. Johnston, Jr. was killed in the accident.

William Preston Johnston
Johnston's oldest son, William Preston Johnston, had been practicing law in Louisville, Kentucky.  When the Civil War began, he entered the Confederate Army as Major of the 1st Kentucky Infantry. In May 1862 became an Aide-De-Camp with the rank of Colonel to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. He served in that position until the end of the war and was captured with President Davus near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865. Released after several months confinement in the Prison at Fort Delaware, he resided in Canada for nearly a year following his release before returning to his law practice in Louisville. In 1867 he was invited by Robert E. Lee, then president of Washington University in Lexington, Virginia to become a professor of history and English literature. He accepted and remained at what became Washington and Lee University until 1877. During that time he wrote a biography of his late father, Life of Albert Sidney Johnston (1878). 

Albert Sidney Johnston was initially buried in New Orleans, Louisiana.  In 1866, a joint resolution of the Texas Legislature was passed to have his body reinterred in 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.

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