Albert Sidney Johnston

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Albert Sidney Johnston : biography

February 2, 1803 – April 6, 1862

Johnston now planned to defeat the Union forces piecemeal before the various Union units in Kentucky and Tennessee under Grant with 40,000 men at nearby Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, and the now Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell on his way from Nashville with 35,000 men, could unite against him. Johnston started his army in motion on April 3, 1862, intent on surprising Grant’s force as soon as the next day, but they moved slowly due to their inexperience, bad roads and lack of adequate staff planning.Woodworth, pp. 96–97.Long, p. 192 Johnston’s army was finally in position within a mile or two of Grant’s force, and undetected, by the evening of April 5, 1862.Woodworth, p. 97.Long, pp. 193–194.Weigley, p. 113.McPherson, pp. 406–407.Johnston did not achieve total surprise as some Union pickets were alerted to the Confederate presence and provided warning to some Union units before the attack began.

Battle of Shiloh and death

Johnston launched a massive surprise attack with his concentrated forces 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 on his horse. At about 2:30 p.m., while leading one of those charges 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 at the time, and so he sent his personal physician to attend to some wounded captured Union soldiers instead. It is possible that Johnston’s duel in 1837 had caused nerve damage or numbness to his right leg and that he did not feel the wound to his leg as a result. 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 G. Harris, the Governor of Tennessee, who had ceased to make any real effort to function as governor after learning that Abraham Lincoln had appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee. Seeing Johnston slumping in his saddle and his face turning deathly 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." Harris and other staff officers removed Johnston from his horse and carried him to a small ravine near the "Hornets Nest" and desperately tried to aid the general by trying to make a tourniquet for his leg wound, but little could be done by this point since he had already lost so much blood. He 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.Sword, pp. 270-73, 443-46; Cunningham, pp. 273-76; Smith, pp. 26-34. Sword offers evidence that Johnston lived as long as an hour after receiving his fatal wound.

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.Sword, p. 444.

Johnston was the highest-ranking casualty of the war on either side,Johnston is the only four-star (full) American general ever killed in battle. Muir, p. 84. 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.

Early life

Johnston was born in Washington, Kentucky, 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 in Lexington, where he met fellow student Jefferson Davis. Both were appointed to the United States Military Academy, Davis two years behind Johnston.Woodworth, p. 46. 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.Eicher, p. 322.

Johnston was assigned to posts in New York and Missouri and served in the Black Hawk War in 1832 as chief of staff to Bvt. Brig. Gen. 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 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.