Joseph E. Johnston — Facts and APUSH Notes

February 3, 1807–March 21, 1891

APUSH Definition — Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891) was an officer in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was the highest-ranking officer U.S. Army officer to join the Confederate Army and was the only Confederate general to command forces in both the Eastern Theater and Western Theater. He is most well known for his surrender to William T. Sherman, which came two weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant.

Joseph Johnston, Civil War General

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was both criticized and praised for his defensive tactics during the Peninsula and Atlanta Campaigns. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Who was Civil War officer Joseph E. Johnston?

Joseph E. Johnston resigned his commission in the United States Army on April 22, 1861, five days after his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union. Johnston was the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to resign his commission when the American Civil War began. After resigning, Johnston served briefly in the Virginia militia. On May 14, 1861, he received a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. On August 31, 1861, at the request of President Jefferson Davis, the Confederate Congress promoted Johnston to the rank of full general, making him the fourth-highest officer in the Confederate chain of command.

Johnston led troops in both the eastern and western theaters of the Civil War, seeing action in the Peninsula Campaign, the Vicksburg Campaign, and the Carolinas Campaign. On April 26, 1865, two weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Johnston surrendered his forces to William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, near Hillsborough, North Carolina, virtually ending major organized combat in the Civil War.

After the war, Johnston accepted a position as president of a small railroad company that failed in 1867. One year later, he established a successful insurance agency in Savannah, Georgia. In 1874, he attempted to salvage his military reputation by publishing his Narrative of Military Operations Directed During the Late War Between the States. The book was highly critical of Jefferson Davis’s leadership during the conflict and accomplished little beyond refueling his quarrel with the former Confederate president. In 1877, Johnston moved to Richmond, Virginia, and one year later, voters elected him to Congress where he served from 1879 to 1881. After one term in Congress, Johnston chose not to run for re-election. He later served as the U.S. Railroad Commissioner during the first administration of President Grover Cleveland.

Johnston outlived most of the Civil War’s general officers. After the war, he developed a friendship with William T. Sherman that lasted until their final days. On February 19, 1891, Johnston stood bare-headed, while he served as an honorary pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral. He contracted a severe cold soon thereafter and died at his home in Washington, D.C. on March 21, 1891. Johnston was buried next to his wife, who had died four years earlier, at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Siege of Vicksburg, Painting
Siege of Vicksburg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Joseph E. Johnston Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was Joseph Eggleston Johnston.
  • Parents: His parents were Judge Peter Johnston and Mary Valentine (Wood) Johnston.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on February 3, 1807.
  • Birthplace: He was born near Farmville, in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

Family Tree

  • Spouse: His spouse was Lydia McLane. They were married on July 10, 1845.

Death

  • Death: He died on March 21, 1891.
  • Place of Death: He died in Washington, D.C.
  • Burial: He is buried at Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Education

He attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1829.

Career

He worked as a Military officer and politician.

Career Summary

He was a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel, Confederate Army General, and U.S. Congressman.

Nickname

He was known as “Joe” or “Retreatin’ Joe”.

Joseph E. Johnston — Summary of His Life and Accomplishments for APUSH

  • Joseph Johnston was the seventh son of Judge Peter Johnston and Mary Valentine (Wood) Johnston.
  • Joseph Johnston was named after his father’s Revolutionary War commander Joseph Eggleston.
  • Joseph Johnston’s mother was a niece of American patriot Patrick Henry.
  • As a youth, Joseph Johnston attended Abingdon Academy, a military school in southwestern Virginia.
  • In 1825, Joseph Johnston secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
  • Joseph Johnston graduated from the United States Military Academy on July 1, 1829, ranked thirteenth in the class of forty-six cadets and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery.
  • Joseph Johnston served in the army for nearly eight years before resigning in the spring of 1837 to study civil engineering.
  • Joseph Johnston participated in the Black Hawk War (1832) in Illinois, and in the Second Seminole War (1835 – 1842) in Florida.
  • Joseph Johnston was slightly wounded during an attack in Jupiter, Florida on January 12, 1838, while serving as a civilian engineer for the army during the Second Seminole War (1835 – 1842).
  • On July 7, 1838, Joseph Johnston rejoined the army as a first lieutenant, with a brevet captaincy for gallantry in Florida.
  • On July 10, 1845, in Baltimore, Joseph Johnston married Lydia McLane the daughter of Louis McLane, a prominent political figure who had served in the U.S. Senate and as secretary of treasury and secretary of state in the cabinet of President Andrew Jackson.
  • Four months after the outbreak of the Mexican – American War (1846 – 1848), Joseph Johnston was promoted to the rank of captain on September 21, 1846.
  • During the Mexican – American War (1846 – 1848), Joseph Johnston saw considerable action and he was wounded twice.
  • In April 1847, Joseph Johnston received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel. Five months later, in September, he was brevetted to the rank of colonel.
  • When the Mexican – American War (1846 – 1848) ended, Joseph Johnston was returned to his previous rank of captain with the topographical engineers.
  • On March 1, 1855, Joseph Johnston was reassigned to the 1st U.S. Cavalry at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and promoted to lieutenant colonel.
  • On July 11, 1855, U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis ruled against Joseph Johnston’s appeal for a higher rank, initiating a contentious relationship between the two men that lasted throughout their service with the Confederacy during the Civil War.
  • On June 28, 1860, U.S. Secretary of War John B. Floyd appointed Joseph Johnston as Quartermaster General of the Army, carrying with it a promotion to brigadier general.
  • Joseph Johnston resigned his army commission on April 22, 1861, five days after his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union.
  • Joseph Johnston was the highest-ranking U.S. army officer to resign from his commission when the Civil War began.
  • On May 14, 1861, Joseph Johnston was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and sent to Harpers Ferry, where he relieved Colonel Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson of command.
  • Joseph Johnston’s decision to evacuate Harpers Ferry was the first of several tactical retreats that would earn Johnston the nicknames of “the great retreater” and “retreatin’ Joe” during the Civil War.
  • Joseph Johnston was joint commander of the Confederate troops at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861).
  • Following the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Joseph Johnston was placed in command of the Department of the Potomac and the Army of the Potomac on July 21, 1861.
  • On August 31, 1861, at President Jefferson Davis’s request, the Confederate Congress promoted Joseph Johnston, P.G.T Beauregard, Samuel Cooper, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Robert E. Lee to the rank of full general. The effective dates of the promotions of Cooper, A.S. Johnston, and Lee, predated the effective date of Johnston’s promotion (July 4, 1861), making Johnston the fourth-highest officer in the Confederate chain of command. Because Johnston ranked higher in the old federal army than the other three men when they resigned from their commissions, he felt slighted by Davis’s decision.
  • On October 22, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis placed Joseph Johnston in command of the Department of Northern Virginia charging him with the defense of Richmond.
  • During Union General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in 1862, Joseph Johnston chose to employ defensive tactics, gradually retreating up the peninsula to the outskirts of Richmond.
  • Joseph Johnston was severely wounded on the first day of the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31 – June 1, 1862) and command of the Army of Northern Virginia eventually devolved to Robert E. Lee. Johnston never regained his command.
  • On November 12, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis reassigned Joseph Johnston to head the Department of the West. Johnston’s new assignment placed him in command of most Confederate forces between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
  • Union generals William T. Sherman and James McPherson forced Joseph Johnston to abandon the Mississippi state capital after the Battle of Jackson on (May 14, 1863).
  • Confederate President Jefferson Davis publicly held Joseph Johnston accountable for the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863.
  • Confederate President Davis placed Joseph Johnston in charge of the Army of Tennessee in December 1863, after General Braxton Bragg resigned his command.
  • In 1864, during Major General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, Joseph Johnston employed a defensive strategy similar to that which he used during the Peninsula Campaign.
  • On July 17, 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Joseph Johnston of command of the Army of Tennessee.
  • In January 1865, the Confederate Congress urged President Davis to reinstate Joseph Johnston, hoping to salvage the situation in the Carolinas, but Davis refused.
  • In late February 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis succumbed to political pressure and reinstated Joseph Johnston, placing him in command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and the Department of North Carolina. On March 6, 1865, the Department of Southern Virginia was added.
  • On March 19, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman’s army defeated Joseph Johnston’s rag-tag forces at the Battle of Bentonville.
  • On April 26, 1865, two weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Joseph Johnston surrendered his forces to William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, effectively ending major organized combat in the American Civil War.
  • In 1874, Joseph Johnston attempted to salvage his military reputation by publishing his Narrative of Military Operations Directed During the Late War Between the States. The book was highly critical of Jefferson Davis’s leadership during the conflict and accomplished little beyond refueling his quarrel with the former Confederate president.
  • In 1877, Joseph Johnston moved to Richmond. A year later he was elected to Congress, where he served from 1879 to 1881.
  • Joseph Johnston served as the U.S. Railroad Commissioner during President Grover Cleveland’s first administration.
  • After the Civil War, Joseph Johnston developed a friendship with William T. Sherman that lasted until their final days. On February 19, 1891, Johnston served as an honorary pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral.
  • Joseph Johnston was buried next to his wife, who had died four years earlier, at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Citation Information

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

  • Article Title Joseph E. Johnston — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date February 3, 1807–March 21, 1891
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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