Bushrod Johnson

October 7, 1817–September 12, 1880

Bushrod Rust Johnson was a major general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Johnson commanded troops during many of the major battles in the eastern and western theaters of the war.

Bushrod Rust Johnson, Portrait, Civil War General

Confederate General Bushrod Johnson achieved his greatest military success at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863). Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who Was Bushrod Johnson?

Bushrod Johnson was an American soldier and educator who lived from 1817 to 1880. He is notable for his service in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Johnson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. After being dismissed from the army in 1847, for illegally selling government property while serving as a commissary officer, Johnson received a teaching position at the Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1851. He eventually became the headmaster and part-owner of the school. When the Civil War began, Johnson joined the Confederate Army and served in many notable battles, including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Chickamauga, and the Battle of the Crater. Promoted to the rank of major general in 1864, Johnson was relieved of his divisional command with the Army of Northern Virginia during the Appomattox Campaign toward the end of the war.

Bushrod Johnson Facts

  • Full Name: Bushrod Rust Johnson
  • Birth Date: October 7, 1817
  • Birth Location: Belmont County, Ohio
  • Parents: Noah and Rachel (Spencer) Johnson
  • Education: United States Military Academy
  • Occupation: Military officer, educator
  • Career Summary: 1st Lieutenant (USA), Major General (CSA)
  • Spouse: Mary Hatch
  • Place of Death: Brighton, Illinois
  • Date of Death: September 12, 1880
  • Place of Burial: Old Nashville City Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee

Early Life

Bushrod Rust Johnson was born in Belmont County, Ohio on October 7, 1817. He was the son of Noah and Rachel (Spencer) Johnson. Johnson and his family were Quakers and abolitionists who actively took part in the Underground Railroad.

U.S. Military Academy Cadet

Despite his family’s pacifist beliefs, Johnson secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he was a classmate of future Union generals William T. Sherman and George Thomas. Johnson graduated from the academy in 1840, twenty-third in his class of forty-two cadets.

U.S. Army Officer

After graduating from West Point, the army commissioned Johnson as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry and sent him to Florida, where he took part in the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842). Later, he also served in Kansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri. In 1844, army officials promoted Johnson to first lieutenant.

Like many future Civil War officers, Johnson gained valuable combat experience in the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848). He served under General Zachary Taylor at the Battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey. He also served under General Winfield Scott as acting assistant commissary during the Veracruz campaign.

Forced Resignation

While serving as a commissary officer, Johnson hatched a scheme to sell government property for his personal gain. When officials discovered his plan, Johnson resigned from the army in 1847.

Educator

With his army career ruined, Johnson received a teaching position at the Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1851. He eventually became the headmaster and part-owner of the school.

Marriage

In 1852, Johnson married Mary Hatch. One year later, the couple had a mentally and physically challenged son named Charles, who remained an invalid throughout his life. That same year, WMI closed because an epidemic claimed the lives of two students. In 1854, Johnson moved to Nashville and merged WMI with the University of Nashville. Bad luck followed him, however, as his wife died in 1858.

Civil War

Confederate Officer

When the Civil War began, Johnson received a commission as a colonel in the Provisional Army of Tennessee on June 28, 1861. One week later, officials commissioned him as an engineer in the Confederate Army.

Fort Donelson

Confederate leaders assigned Johnson to northern Tennessee, where he was instrumental in the construction of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. On January 24, 1862, Johnson received a promotion to brigadier general. Two weeks later, on February 7, officials placed him in charge of Fort Donelson until Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow took command two days later. During the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11-16, 1862), Johnson led a successful assault on the Union right flank. When Union forces took the fort, Johnson was captured, but he escaped.

Battle of Fort Donelson, Painting
Battle of Fort Donelson. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Injured at the Battle of Shiloh

A few weeks after his escape, officials placed Johnson in command of a brigade in the Army of the Mississippi, comprising the 17th, 23rd, 25th, 37th, and 44th Tennessee Infantry Regiments, and the Jefferson Artillery from Mississippi. While leading his brigade during the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), a concussion caused by an artillery shell severely wounded Johnson.

Army of Tennessee Service

After Johnson recovered from his injury, officials assigned him to the Army of Tennessee, serving under General Braxton Bragg. He led his brigade at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) and the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863). Johnson also took part in the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24-July 3, 1863), during which Union Major General William S. RosecransArmy of the Cumberland drove Bragg’s army out of middle Tennessee.

Battle of Chickamauga

Johnson achieved his greatest military success at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863). Six days prior to the battle, officials placed Johnson in command of a provisional division in the Left Wing of the Army of Tennessee. On the second day of fighting, Johnson’s division spearheaded a Rebel assault that smashed through the Union right just as it was withdrawing. The panic-stricken Yankees fled in disorder, creating a quarter-mile-wide gap in the federal lines. Johnson’s men took hundreds of prisoners and captured nineteen guns and a federal store train.

Battle of Chickamauga, Rosecrans and Bragg in the Field
Battle of Chickamauga. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Knoxville Campaign

After the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Confederate officials disbanded Johnson’s provisional division. They returned Johnson to the command of his Tennessee brigade. During the autumn of 1863, Johnson led his brigade during General James Longstreet‘s unsuccessful Knoxville Campaign.

Bermuda Hundred Campaign

When Longstreet returned to the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1864, Johnson was detached to command a division in the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia under P. G. T. Beauregard. During the Bermuda Hundred Campaign (May 1864), Johnson’s division blocked a Federal advance at the Battle of Swift Creek prompting Southerners to hail his men as the saviors of Petersburg. Cited for his performance, Confederate officials promoted Johnson to major general, effective May 21.

Battle of the Crater

As the Union Army of the Potomac closed in on the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864, Johnson’s division served in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, Virginia. On July 30, 1864, federal troops detonated an underground mine beneath Johnson’s section of the Rebel defenses. The explosion created a huge crater and a temporary hole in the Confederate line. Following some immediate confusion, Johnson’s men quickly recovered, killing and capturing hundreds of northern soldiers while filling the gap in the Rebel lines. Following the Battle of the Crater, Confederate officials transferred Beauregard to command the Military Division of the West on October 7, 1864 and reassigned Johnson to Anderson’s 4th Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. Johnson and his men spent the next seven months manning the trenches during the Siege of Petersburg.

Relieved of Command

When the Confederate defenses around Petersburg and Richmond began to crumble in 1865, Johnson led his division during the Rebel defeats at the Battle of White Oak Road (March 31, 1865) and the Battle of Five Forks (April 1, 1865). Five days later, federal forces mauled the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek (April 6, 1865), prompting Robert E. Lee to exclaim, “My God! Has the army been dissolved?” The Rebel army suffered over 7,500 casualties, including the capture of nine generals. Johnson and several other Confederate generals who took part in the battle managed to save themselves. Displeased with Johnson’s performance during the action, Lee relieved Johnson of his command on April 8, one day before Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Post-war Life

Following the war, Johnson returned to Nashville and resumed his career in education. He and fellow Confederate General Kirby Smith secured a contract to operate Montgomery Bell Academy and the collegiate department of the University of Nashville. He became co-chancellor of the University of Nashville in 1870. Johnson’s failing health, coupled with the university’s financial problems, prompted him to retire to an Illinois farm in 1875.

Death

Johnson died on September 12, 1880, and he was buried at Miles Station Cemetery in Macoupin County, Illinois. In 1975, his remains were re-interred beside the grave of his wife at the Old Nashville City Cemetery in Tennessee.

Bushrod Johnson Significance

Bushrod Johnson was significant because he was an American soldier and educator who was notable for his service in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Johnson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and later served in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. He was dismissed from the U.S. Army in 1847, for illegally selling government property while serving as a commissary officer. In 1851, Johnson received a teaching position at the Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky. He eventually became the headmaster and part-owner of the school. When the Civil War began, Johnson joined the Confederate Army and served in the Eastern and Western Theaters, eventually reaching the grade of major general in 1864. Following the war, Johnson returned to Nashville and resumed his career in education, and became a co-chancellor of the University of Nashville in 1870.

Bushrod Johnson — Facts About His Life and Accomplishments

  • Even though he later fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Johnson and his family were Quakers and abolitionists who actively participated in the Underground Railroad.
  • Despite his family’s pacifist beliefs, Johnson secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
  • Johnson graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1840, 23rd in his class of 42 cadets.
  • After graduating from West Point, Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry.
  • Johnson participated in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842).
  • Johnson participated in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848).
  • While serving as a commissary officer, Johnson hatched a scheme to sell government property for his personal gain. When his plan was discovered, Johnson was forced to resign from the army in 1847.
  • Johnson obtained a teaching position at the Western Military Institute, in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1851. He eventually became headmaster and part-owner of the school.
  • Johnson married Mary Hatch in 1852.
  • In 1853, Johnson’s wife gave birth to a mentally and physically challenged son named Charles, who remained an invalid throughout his life.
  • Johnson’s wife died in 1858.
  • When the Civil War began, Johnson was commissioned as a colonel in the Provisional Army of Tennessee on June 28, 1861. A week later, he was commissioned as an engineer in the Confederate Army.
  • Johnson was instrumental in the construction of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.
  • Johnson was promoted to brigadier general on January 24, 1862.
  • Johnson was captured during the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11–16, 1862), but managed to escape.
  • Johnson was severely wounded by the concussion of an artillery shell on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh (April 6, 1862–April 7, 1862).
  • Johnson served as a brigade commander in the Army of Tennessee, under General Braxton Bragg during the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), and the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863) in Kentucky, and during the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24–July 3, 1863) in Tennessee.
  • Johnson achieved his greatest military success at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863).
  • Johnson served under General James Longstreet during the Knoxville Campaign in the autumn of 1863.
  • Johnson commanded a division in the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
  • During the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Johnson’s division blocked a Federal advance at the Battle of Swift Creek prompting Southerners to hail his men as the saviors of Petersburg.
  • Johnson was promoted to major general, effective May 21, 1864.
  • Johnson served as a divisional commander with the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864 and 1865.
  • Johnson led his division during the Battle of the Crater.
  • Toward the end of the Civil War, Johnson led his division during the Confederate defeats at the Battle of White Oak Road (March 31, 1865), the Battle of Five Forks (April 1, 1865), and the Battle of Sailor’s Creek (April 6, 1865).
  • Robert E Lee relieved Johnson of his command after the Battle of Sailor’s Creek (April 6, 1865).
  • Following the Civil War, Johnson returned to Nashville and resumed his career in education.
  • Johnson became co-chancellor of the University of Nashville in 1870.
  • Johnson retired to an Illinois farm in 1875, where he continued to care for his invalid son.
  • Johnson died on September 12, 1880, in Brighton, Illinois, and was buried at Miles Station Cemetery in Macoupin County, Illinois.
  • In 1975 Johnson’s remains were re-interred next to the grave of his wife at the Old Nashville City Cemetery in Tennessee.
  • Johnson was one of six generals in the Confederate Army who was born in Ohio.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Bushrod Johnson
  • Date October 7, 1817–September 12, 1880
  • Author
  • Keywords bushrod johnson
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 19, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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