Albert Sidney Johnston


Albert Sidney Johnston : biography

February 2, 1803 – April 6, 1862

The University of Texas at Austin has also recognized Johnston with a statue on the South Mall.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnston was the commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific 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.Johnston, p. 273. On April 28 he moved to Los Angeles where he had family and remained there until May when, suspected by local Union authorities, he evaded arrest and joined the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles as a private, leaving Warner’s Ranch May 27.Johnston, pp. 268, 275-91. He participated in their trek across the southwestern deserts to Texas, crossing the Colorado River into the Confederate Territory of Arizona on July 4, 1861.

Early in the Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis decided that the Confederacy would attempt to hold as much of its territory as possible and he distributed its military forces around its borders and coasts.Woodworth, pp. 18–19. In the summer of 1861, Davis appointed several generals to defend Confederate lines from the Mississippi River east to the Allegheny Mountains.Woodworth, pp. 17–33. The most sensitive, and in many ways the most crucial areas, along the Mississippi River and in western Tennessee along the Tennessee River and the Cumberland RiverWoodworth, pp. 20–22 were placed under the command of Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Brig. Gen. Gideon J. Pillow, who had been initially in command in Tennessee as that State’s top general.Woodworth, pp. 30–32. Their impolitic occupation of Columbus, Kentucky on September 3, 1861, two days before Johnston arrived in the Confederacy’s capital, Richmond, Virginia, after his cross–country journey, drove Kentucky from its stated neutralityWoodworth, pp. 35, 45.Long, p. 114. and the majority of Kentuckians into the Union camp.Woodworth, pp. 39, 50. Their action gave Union Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant an excuse to take control of the even more important and strategically located town of Paducah, Kentucky without raising the ire of most Kentuckians and the pro-Union majority in the State legislature.Woodworth, p. 39.Long, p. 115.

Confederate command in Western Theater

On September 10, 1861, Johnston was assigned to command the huge area of the Confederacy west of the Allegheny Mountains, except for coastal areas.Woodworth, p. 51.Long, p. 116. He became commander of the Confederacy’s western armies in the area often called the Western Department or Western Military Department.Johnston’s appointment as a full general by his friend and admirer Jefferson Davis already had been confirmed by the Confederate Senate on August 31, 1861. The appointment had been backdated to rank from May 30, 1861, making him the second highest ranking general in the Confederate States Army. Only Adjutant General and Inspector General Samuel Cooper ranked ahead of him. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. p. 807. From General Command Line List. Weigley, p. 110. McPherson, p. 394. After his appointment, Johnston immediately headed for his new territory.Woodworth, p. 52. 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, in view of the decision of the Kentucky legislature to side with the Union after the occupation of Columbus by Polk, Johnston ordered Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer with 4,000 men to occupy Cumberland Gap in Kentucky in order to block Union troops from coming into eastern Tennessee. By September 18, Johnston had Brig. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner with another 4,000 men blocking the railroad route to Tennessee at Bowling Green, Kentucky.Long, p. 119.

Johnston had less than 40,000 men spread throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.Woodworth, p. 53. Of these, 10,000 were in Missouri under Missouri State Guard Maj. Gen. Sterling Price. Johnston’s initial call upon the governors for more men did not result in many immediate recruits but Johnston had another, even bigger, problem since 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.Woodworth, p. 55. 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’s tactics had so annoyed and confused Union Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman that he became somewhat unnerved, overestimated Johnston’s forces, and had to be relieved by Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell on November 9, 1861.Woodworth, pp. 55–56Long, p. 138.McPherson, p. 394 says Johnston had 70,000 troops to defend his territory between the Appalachians and the Ozarks by the end of 1861.