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General Joseph E. Johnston.

An Address delivered before the Association of ex-confederate soldiers and sailors of Washington, D. C., by Leigh Robinson, May 12th, 1891.


‘Death makes the brave my friends,’ was the great word of the great Crusader; and though the outward empire of the chivalry he led has crumbled to dust, and ‘their swords are rust,’ the intrinsic nobleness thereof survives the first crusade and the last. Wherever nobleness has a house, there shall this gospel also be preached. Nor can it be said to be strictly bounded by the noble. The emulation of brave lives, and the preservation of their images, is the wise instinct of mankind. The path to immortality is fortitude. In every noble arena this is the crucial test. The corner-stone of every fortress of man's power and man's honor is man's fortitude. Our inmost shrines are altars to this tutelary god. Deep in the heart is the sense of that ineradicable royalty which makes the crown of thorns more than the crown of gold—martyr more than victor. It is the true-fixed, the constant quality that hath no fellow in the firmament. Constancy is the pole on which the heavens turn. [338]

As one who wore this armor against fate and walked erect beneath it till forescore had been passed; as one who in all relations evinced the enduring fibre which sets the seal on every excellence—Joseph E. Johnston is our theme. We are to consider the example of a life which by birth was martial. To the son of one of Lee's Legion, nourished by the breath of heroes in the heroic prime, a soldier's life seemed the natural office of a soldier's son. A cadetship at West Point was the signal that the parade-ground of his life was chosen, the tuition of his destiny begun, the Olympian battle joined. ‘Better,’ sings an ancient bard, ‘better is the grave than the life of him who sighs when the horns summon him to the squares of battle.’ So, sighed not the young second lieutenant, who, graduating with honor in 1829, first won his spurs in the Florida war.

The war itself must be acknowledged to be a part of that sad chapter which registers the uncontained avidity of a victor race. When, in July, 1821, Spain ceded the Floridas to the United States, the Indians were roaming unmolested over the peninsula, and were the recognized possessors of broad and fertile acres in the heart of the country. The white man's remedy for this is the tangle of treaties, from whose net-work the Indian emerges a desolating savage. It is ever a perilous moment when weakness is the guard of fertility and rapacity is strong. But it is when, in the sequel, devastation and havoc have been loosed, and tottering age, and infantile weakness, and woman's sorrow are alike devoured by infuriated murder, that the army appears upon the scene. Whatever was the primary right or wrong, our young second lieutenant was in the field, not for outrage, but to quell it. He was there to act a soldier's part in the school of a soldier's strife and duty. Right worthily he did it. For it fell to him to extricate from jeopardy the command in which he was himself but a subordinate—a jeopardy so great that it left him with the marks of five bullets on his person and clothing. On the anvil of an indomitable will he was already beating into polished brightness the fearlesss mettle of his soul. Henceforth, his ‘baptism of fire’ stands sponsor for him. His knighthood has been laid upon his shoulder.

It is the track of the accomplished knight which we follow in the war with Mexico—that ardent nurse of heroes—where our second lieutenant has grown to be captain of the engineers on the staff of Winfield Scott. When Vera Cruz yielded to bombardment, Captains Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, of the General's staff, [339] were appointed to arrange the terms of its surrender. Worthier ambassadors of victory could not have been chosen.

The army then moved along the great national road, made by the old Spaniards, to the ancient capital of Mexico. On April 12, 1847, cannon shots from Cerro Gordo checked the cavalry advance, and made it certain Santa Anna would give battle there. At the head of a pass, winding its ascending way through a narrow defile of mountains, the enemy had fortified himself by a series of breastworks, armed with cannon, which commanded the road and each other. It was easy to see that on the left the position could not be taken. Skillful reconnoisances, in which Johnston bore a conspicuous part, decided the plan of battle, which was an attack upon the right. At the beginning of the assault Johnston was ordered to make one more reconnoisance. The rattle of the musketry had been heard but a few minutes when he fell, severely wounded, at the head of his daring movement. Of such is the kingdom of victory! There is the dangerous pass; there the difficult height; there the hero's place: there he falls! An army rushes over him to triumph. So the steep cone was carried—‘the lofty and difficult height of Cerro Gordo,’ as the commanding general called it.

A soldier's wounds are the rounds in his ladder. His letter of credit is written in his blood. His noble traffic is the safety of others in return for blows to himself. Johnston's wounds pointed to him as the fit man to be lieutenant-colonel of the fine regiment of Voltiguers. At their head he led the assault upon Chapultepec, and at their head he was again shot down. But his wounds could not impede him from entering the City of Mexico, as commandant of the regiment he had so gallantly led.

After the war he was for a time acting inspector-general. Still later he was made lieutenant-colonel of cavalry. Finally he was appointed quartermaster, with the rank of brigadier—the highest prize which was then accessible.

Such was the prologue to the more stupendous drama upon which the curtain was now to rise. On one side of that curtain hung every ambitious hope, the fruition whereof might now be counted sure; on the other the strain of an unequal and untried power against the odds of number and organized resource. To choose the latter was to plunge into an angry flood which might prove the dark abyss. It was the leap from sure eminence into the storm and roar of the elements. To Johnston there was no alternative. His choice was [340] the hero's choice—where the sacrifice was all that was certain. The forlorn hope had ever been his hope. He forsook the assured eminence for the earthquake of revolution; to stand or fall with the soil it rocked. It was the peril of everything, only to be justified if principle was at stake. Johnston's justification can be given in no words better than his own. ‘I believed,’ he says, ‘that apart from any right of secession, the revolution begun was justified by the maxims so often repeated by Americans, that free government is founded on the consent of the governed; and that every community strong enough to establish and maintain its independence has a right to assert it. Having been educated in such opinions, I naturally determined to return to the State of which I was a native, join the people among whom I was born, and live with my kindred, and, if necessary, fight in their defense.’

It was but little more than a decade since Johnston had freely shed his blood in a war, which grew out of our very willing vindication of the right of Texas to secede from Mexico, and accede to the Union. The United States, somewhat loudly, proclaimed to the world that this was right. A President had been elected for triumphing in that cause. It was natural for Johnston to believe, that a right, which had been so exultingly attributed to a province of Mexico, colonized under her laws, was necessarily annexed to that commonwealth of Virginia, which was the first free State of this New World. Indeed, it will be always difficult to explain why Texas herself did not have at least as much legal right to go as to come.

But for Johnston, as for destiny, there was but one tribunal to which the issue was referred, and that was visibly confronting him. It was for the sword to write the record. The gage of battle was thrown down, and by Johnston lifted with a knight's good conscience. What followed is written in letters of flame, and in this crude summary is only referred to as illustrative of character. For the first word and act of Johnston when he drew his sword, on the side he so unreservedly espoused, prefigures his quality—the judgment as unswerving as it was intrepid, the faculty to be bold or cautious as the emergency demanded. His sure eye quickly saw that the triangle, formed by the Potomac, the Shenandoah, and Furnace Ridge, was untenable by any force not strong enough to hold Maryland Heights, which swept every part of it by enfilade and reverse fires; and that, moreover, it was twenty miles out of position to defend against Patterson's expected advance, or to prevent McClellan's junction with [341] him. His soldierly sense informed him that Winchester was the strategic point for every purpose. There the practicable roads from west and northwest, as well as from Manassas, meet the route from Pennsylvania and Maryland. Thither, on the 15th of June, he moved his meagre force from the funnel of Harper's Ferry. On the next day Patterson crossed the Potomac. The skill with which, one month later, he eluded Patterson's army of more than thirty thousand, and hurled his own from the mountains upon McDowell, was the master-stroke of Manassas—Johnston's rear column, under Kirby Smith, coming upon the field, just as Barnard Bee was falling, and Jackson's Stonewall the last Gibraltar. Just when the South Carolina Brigade was hardest pressed, an aide or courier of Bee, meeting Johnston, asked, ‘Where are your Virginians?’ ‘In the thickest of the fight,’ was the Spartan answer. It was a victory won by an army which itself barely grazed defeat, and one, therefore, difficult to pursue. But in this cursory glance one thing cannot be omitted—the full credit which Johnston everywhere gives Beauregard.

The bold design submitted by the military officers, in a council of war, at Manassas in September, 1861, to concentrate at that point the strength of the Confederacy, even at the cost of leaving bare of defense points more remote, so that there might be taken an aggressive which would be decisive, is a matter of history. It is expressive of a brave but well balanced judgment, heedful and comprehensive, which sought to exchange risk where victory was not vital for where it was. It is true weighty reasons were given for overruling it. An army of sixty thousand soldiers was the force deemed essential to such a movement. Troops to increase the army to this number could only be furnished by taking them from other positions then threatened. This seemed to the Executive unreasonable. New troops could not be furnished because there were no arms save those which were borne by the troops then in the field. Arms were expected from abroad, but had not come, and the manufacture was still undeveloped. By this council of war, a light is thrown on the military conditions, which, for succeeding months, were defensive only. In the penury of men and arms thereby revealed excessive forwardness was not obligatory. But the defensive was one which, whenever assaulted, as at Leesburg, displayed an undismayed and impenetrable front.

At the close of the winter and opening of the spring of 1862, the time had come for Johnston to embrace in his vision and preparation, [342] the four routes whereby McClellan might advance—the one chosen the previous July; another by Fredericksburg; the third and fourth by the lower Rappahannock, or the Peninsula between the York and James. The choice of the second route (joined to movements which, by the aid of the river, it was easy to conceal), would place McClellan at least two days nearer Richmond than was Johnston at Bull Run. Face to face with these conditions, the Confederate General, between the 5th and 11th of March, placed his entire army on the south bank of the Rappahannock, where with equal readiness he could resist his antagonist advancing from Manassas, or met him at Fredericksburg, and at the same time be in a position to unite with others, should he move from Fortress Monroe, or by the lower Rappahannock. On the latter date McClellan occupied the works at Centreville and Manassas, which, except by Quaker guns, had been deserted since the evening of the 9th. Fortress Monroe was then chosen as the base of operations against Richmond. Soon perceiving the evidence of this, Johnston moved to the south of the Rapidan, whence he could still more effectually unite the forces of opposition to the meditated movement. McClellan's plan was to capture the force on the Peninsula, open the James and press on to Richmond before reinforcements could arrive. Two things baffled his purpose—first, Magruder's inflexible intrenchments; second, Johnston's alertness. On the day McClellan began his movement from Fortress Monroe, Johnston began the movement to swell Magruder's handful. It was on the 5th of April that McClellan was brought to a halt, in front of Yorktown and the supporting fortifications. As the conclusion from the artillery duel of this day, which was protracted until dusk, it was deemed inexpedient to carry these positions by assault. It was an army of a hundred thousand against twelve. With such forces against such forts, it had been ascertained, that the ground, in front of those frowning heights and forbidding swamps, was swept by guns, which could not be silenced. Accordingly, parallels were started to bring Yorktown to terms by a more gradual procedure. There is, however, no parallel to the confession extorted from McClellan by Magruder.

From the final parellel, it was thought siege batteries would be ready to open on the 6th of May. Johnston's computation, coinciding with McClellan's, Yorktown was evacuated on the night of the 3d. On the morning of the 4th, empty works again capitulated to the conqueror. [343]

It was at the junction of the Yorktown and Hampton Roads, at about half-past 5 on the morning of the 5th, that Hooker's sharp shooters, leading the pursuit, drove in the Confederate picket. It was in front of Fort Magruder, one of a cordon of redoubts, thirteen in number, which Magruder's forethought had constructed. It was just two miles from the venerable shades and spires of Williamsburg. Within two miles of Hooker, at the time, were thirty thousand troops; within twelve miles the bulk of the Army of the Potomac. He, therefore, made his dispositions to attack, so that if he did not capture the army before him, he would at least hold it until others could. Williamsburg was a well fought field, where Hancock leaped to fame, and where none can be reproached with want of valor. But the army in front of Hooker was neither captured nor held. The well calculated blow of Johnston was fierce and stunning, and his very deliberate retreat was no more interrupted. What most interests us to-night is the magnanimous grace with which Johnston refers to the officer in command of the troops engaged. ‘About three o'clock,’ he says, ‘I rode upon the field, but found myself compelled to be a mere spectator, for General Longstreet's clear head and brave heart left me no apology for interference.’

Meantime McClellan was bending every energy to the active shipment of troops, by water, to the west bank of the Pamunkey, opposite West Point. In vain did he seek there the unguarded spot. Just how to strike when blows were exigent, and how to hold up his buckler against surprise; in one instant to be shield and spear, was Johnston's secret. He had retired before overwhelming numbers with the step and gesture of a master.

It was Johnston's theory of war, that the time for blows to be efficient was not when his enemy was near his base, and he distant from his own; but under exactly reverse conditions. As early as April 15th, Johnston proposed that McClellan's army should be attacked in front of Richmond by one as numerous, formed by uniting all the available forces of the Confederacy in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, with those at Norfolk, on the Peninsula, and then near Richmond. Such an army surprising McClellan by an attack, when he was looking to the seige of Richmond, might be expected to defeat him; and defeat, a hundred miles from his then base of supplies, would mean destruction. On the 22d and 27th he reiterates this view. A month later, the new vigor of twenty-five thousand soldiers, drawn from North Carolina and the South, added to the [344] ‘red right arm’ of Jackson, and launched by the genius of Lee, was the thunderbolt to rive asunder McClellan's oak. Johnston's plan would have forestalled preparation by the unexpected, before a change of base was feasible.

Reasons having been presented in opposition to his original plan, Johnston's next design was to encourage an increasing interval between McClellan's troops as the latter approached the Chickahominy, and, when he was fairly astride the little river, to attack him. He must do this before McDowell, moving southward from Fredericksburg, could swell the tide of battle against Richmond. On the morning of May 30th reconnoissances showed that one entire corps and a part, if not the whole, of another were on the south side of the river. In point of fact, the corps of Heintzelman and Keyes were across, the latter in advance. Heintzelman was at White Oak and Bottom's bridges, with the nearest support to him some six miles distant on the opposite side of the stream. The Chickahominy ran between the two wings of the army. Johnston now saw his opportunity, and to see it was to seize it. A violent rain-storm, which fell soon after, swelling the stream and perhaps making it impassable, convinced him that the hoped — for hour had struck. His orders were at once given. Written orders were dispatched to Hill, Huger, and G. W. Smith, and in writing acknowledged. Longstreet being near headquarters received his orders verbally. G. W. Smith was to take position on the left to support the attack which the other divisions were to make upon the right. All were to move at daybreak.

Seven Pines, which was to be the chief scene of encounter, is at the junction of the Nine-Mile and Williamsburg roads. Casey's redoubt was a half mile nearer to Richmond. His division and artillery formed the first line to be attacked, the left resting upon White Oak Swamp, the right extending across the York River railroad. White Oak Swamp, the Williamsburg road, and the railroad are nearly parallel. Johnston expected the blow by his own right to be delivered before 8 A. M., and was confident that the effect of it would be a complete victory on the south side of the swollen Chickahominy. This opinion is fully shared by General Keyes, and published by him in his ‘Fifty Years Observations.’

Wherever the responsibility may be lodged for the failure to attack not only at 8 A. M., but even as early as noon, the defect was not in Johnston's orders and timely preparations. For some reason, never [345] sufficiently explained and still a matter of controvery, the attack on the right did not begin until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. But even after the delay of all these hours, the rush of Hill and Longstreet had stormed and carried the entrenchments opposed to them, with the camp equipments, ordnance, and stores belonging to the troops assailed, driving Casey in utter route back upon Couch, and Couch upon Heintzleman, when their onward movement was stopped by the falling night. Johnston had stationed himself on the left to take part in the co-operating movement—where the force in front of Smith had been rescued from defeat by Sumner's opportune arrival—and had just ordered each regiment to sleep where it fought, to be ready to renew the battle at dawn, when he received a musket shot in the shoulder, and a moment after was unhorsed by a fragment of shell which struck him in the breast. The reins of his steed and of his victory fell from his hands. The brightness of his sword shone for an instant, and then the darkness swallowed it. The sharpness of it slept when the night became its sheath. A hero was borne upon his shield fallen but undismayed. Beneath the smitten breast there lived a heart unsmitten.

When Johnston was stricken down at Seven Pines, he left an army which had been animated by him to a new consciousness of valor; the Army of Virginia, whose organization was the work of his hand. Doubtless, one object of the blow was accomplished, in the check to McClellan's advance on the south side of the swamp. Nevertheless, as a strategy in the valley and the leap to Manassas was the shining image of the boldness and caution so happily mixed in him; so Seven Pines might be construed to be the malignant prophecy of that dark fate, which seemed thereafter to rise in meeting against him, and be the incessant wound of victory. Rarely has the countenance of fate worn a look and spoken from a lip so cynical, as in that chapter, wherein as it were, war's master was made his victim, his own edge turned against him. It was the superlative satire of events. Johnston's eminence was tried in the most fiery furnace in which such energies could be constrained to walk. The field of victory spread before him to be organized was, with recurring bitterness, snatched from him on the day the prizes were bestowed. We feel as if we were witnessing less the encounter of man with human circumstance, than the supernatural warfare of a Titan whose fight is with the skies.

Johnston reported for duty on the 12th of November, and on the 24th, received orders of that date, assigning him to the command of [346] the Department of the West; a geographical department, including the States of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina. Had the reality of this command been delivered to Johnston, it would have been the very arena for the employment of his large gifts. The vision which is competent to survey and manage the whole landscape of war, and direct the grand movements and general arrangements of campaigns is known as strategy. Of this great faculty Johnston was the master.

The world's mad game is not played blind fold. The genius of war, like other genius, is not the mere gift of luck, but the consummation of a profound attention to details and all the forces of supremacy. The game, in which the greatest intellects are matched for the greatest stakes, must be an intellectual game. The successful general, who succeeds against disproportionate numbers and resources, is not a military gambler, but the closest of all close calculators. His greatness is that when he does stand upon reality he knows it, and is not to be terrified out of it or the daring which it justifies. This is the application of the great saying of the Roman orator, ‘A man of courage is also full of faith.’ Genius has its own way of dealing with the impossible, but it is not a senseless way, nor ever really reckless.

Johnston went to the West, not to do brilliant things for their own sake, but to win the cause of which he was the soldier. Accustomed as he ever was to ride in the van of danger, his bruises of battle shining like stars upon him, he was the man of all others to be heeded, when he counselled caution. His whole life was that glorious thing—fair combat through strife to victory. With an unshrinking devotion equal to any task, he proposed to his own courageous intellect that system of the offensive-defensive, which once before in the world's annals was the salvation, and the sole salvation, of the bravest and most determined people on its face. The greatest of all warlike races rescued itself from destruction, and the world's future empire from a rival, by slowly learning that victories may be won by avoiding no less than by seeking battle; that a march or manoeuvre at the right time, is more potent than a battle at the wrong time; that to seize a position which will threaten the adverse army the instant it does move, may far exceed the value of an attack upon it, if it does not; that the circuit of a large and politic strategy is wider and higher, and makes its demands upon an intellectual grasp more subtle and more vivid, than the mere rapture of pitched battle. This [347] was the instruction of which Fabius and Marcellus were the apt pupils, and Hannibal the school-master.

It is idle now to speculate as to what might have happened, had Johnston been allowed to be the real main spring of movements he was so fitted to direct; if the substance of his important command had been delivered to him. Fortune opposed him with an iron heart, which no excellence could touch. He opposed fortune with an iron will, which, unconquered and undismayed, has outlived fortune's worst and triumphed over it. His strife seems to be waged less with visible, than with some inscrutable power, which baffled, but never met him in authentic shape. It is his peculiar fame, that no disappointment and no calamity has been able to deny and to dethrone his real supremacy. All noble strength partakes of the wrestler's agony. The thing which we honor is the unshrinking dedication of thews and sinews by man to his fellows, in the face of the frown of power and in the teeth of temporal scorn. That which makes the brave man, struggling in the storms of fate, a sight for gods and men, is the magnanimity to rise from strain and overthrow, with a rectitude of will untainted and unspent; the uprightness, which, bows with bended knee before God's footstool, but not with bended neck under man's yoke, nor subjugated brow under life's oppression. The struggle of fate seemed to be to write the death-warrant of all which to Johnston was most precious; but the final victory was with Johnston. The moral self which was his charge to keep, the post of which he was God's sentry, was never once surprised, never once surrendered. What was then his lonely outpost is to-night his citadel.

The ink was hardly dry upon the special order assigning Johnston to the Department of the West, when he promptly made known the plan of campaign which commended itself to him. Inasmuch as the army of the Trans-Mississippi was relatively strong, and the army now proposed to be placed under him was relatively weak, and the latter, subject to the further disadvantage of being divided by the Tennessee River, he urged that the united force of both departments be thrown at once on Grant. As the troops in Arkansas and those under Pemberton had the same great object—the defence of the Mississippi Valley—and both opposed to troops having one object—the possession of the Mississippi—the main force of the latter operating on the east side of the river; the more direct and immediate cooperation of the former was the thing advised. He significantly adds, ‘As our troops are now distributed, Vicksburg is in danger.’ He [348] proposed, therefore, the union of the forces of Holmes and Pemberton; those of Bragg to co-operate if practicable. By the junction he could, as he believed, overwhelm Grant, then between the Tallahatchie and Holly Springs, far from his base—the place for victory.

No notice having been taken of this plan, and suggestions made by him respecting the commands of Bragg and Pemberton, as well as objections interposed by him to the diminution of the former force to augment the latter, failing also of approval, Johnston acquired the feeling that his wide command was little more than nominal. To be answerable for issues without authority to order, or potently advise, is ‘a barren sceptre’ which none can grasp with use or honor. Upon the ground that armies with different objects, like those of Mississippi and Tennessee, were too far apart for mutual dependence, and, therefore, could not be commanded properly by the same general Johnston asked to have a different command assigned him. Ultimately a special order did so re-assign him. Intermediately he received specific orders directing him where to go.

It was on the 22d of January, 1863, while he was inspecting the defences of Mobile, that he was ordered to go to the headquarters of Bragg, for the purpose of determining whether the latter had so far lost the confidence of his army, as to make it expedient to supersede him. If such was found to be the fact, Johnston was to be his successor. It was hardly fair, thus to make a generous mind at once competitor and judge; to place him in a position, where his merest word would exalt himself at the expense of the party judged. Johnston threw every doubt in favor of his companion in arms, and advised against Bragg's removal. His letter to the Confederate President upon this subject deserves to be known more widely than it is. ‘I respectfully suggest,’ he wrote, ‘that should it then appear to you necessary to remove General Bragg, none in this army or engaged in this investigation ought to be his successor.’ This is the voice of a true knight. It is the reflex of that grace of mind which is ever the noblest ornament to its greatness. When death has silenced him who wrote, it speaks to the hearts which survive, like a trumpet in the stillness of the night. He had returned to Mobile when, on the 12th of February, he was ordered to assume charge of the army of middle Tennessee. At the time the general of that army was bowed and broken by the illness of his wife, supposed to be at the point of death. With a natural chivalry, Johnston postponed [349] the communication of the order, reporting to Richmond the reasons for so doing. Once more an act of noble grace! These are the acts which write their bright light on the human sky. When the particular crisis had passed, Johnston's own debility was such that he could not assume command, and the order was indefinitely postponed. He had reported for duty all too soon, and too severely taxed the adamant which knew so little how to yield. It was not until the 12th of March that he was able to resume his duties in the field.

Johnston had inspected Vicksburg during Christmas week, and even so early had decided, as he shortly afterwards stated to General Maury, that it was a mistake to keep in an intrenched camp so large an army, whose true place was in the field; that a heavy work should be constructed to command the river just above Vicksburg, ‘at the turn,’ with a year's supply for a good garrison of three thousand men. Until April 14th Pemberton's telegrams indicated an effort against Bragg, in whose vicinity Johnston was, and not against Vicksburg. On the 16th of April the Union fleet passed the batteries of Vicksburg. To the mind of Johnston it was clear that, when this could happen Vicksburg ceased to be of any more importance than any other place on the river. On the 29th of April and 1st of May, Pemberton announced a movement upon Grand Gulf, with a view to Vicksburg. Johnston replied on the instant, telling Pemberton to unite all his troops from every quarter for the repulse of Grant, while the latter was crossing the river, and to move at once for the purpose, adding, ‘success will give you back what was abandoned to win it.’ On the 9th of May a dispatch was received by Johnston, at Tullahoma, in middle Tennessee, directing him to ‘proceed at once to Mississippi to take chief command of the forces there.’ He replied, ‘I shall go immediately, although unfit for field service.’ From the shell which had unhorsed him at Seven Pines he had not yet so far rallied as to be able to ride into the field. But the orders he forthwith gave reflect the warrior grasp which nothing could relax. Three things were clear to Johnston: First, that the time to attack was when the enemy was divided in the passage of the river; second, that the invading army must be defeated in the field, and that Vicksburg must fall if besieged; third, that Vicksburg ceased to be of exceptional importance, after the junction of the upper and lower fleet. In coincidence with these views were his orders to the officer [350] in command at Vicksburg to leave the intrenchments there, and unite with himself in an attack upon the separate detachments of the opposing forces but, in any event, to evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies and save the army, which could not escape if Vicksburg were besieged.

When, from a failure to execute these instructions, Sherman, on the 13th of May, was able to interpose four divisions at Clinton, on the Southern railroad, Johnston, then hurrying forward with his little army, at once ordered Pemberton to come up, with all the strength he could assemble, in Sherman's rear, promising his own co-operation. Clinton was seventeen miles east of Pemberton. As is well known, and, doubtless, because of the importance ascribed to Vicksburg, Pemberton moved south instead of east, with a part only of his force, and out of reach of the little band waiting to participate at Clinton. He marched to the disasters of Champion Hill and Baker's Creek. On being so informed, in terms which admitted of no mistake, Johnston ordered the immediate evacuation of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

It is not desirable to discuss the considerations, which caused a sincerely patriotic soldier to so deviate from these orders, as to invert and, in effect, to annul them. Johnston's orders meant to him as he states ‘the fall of Port Hudson, the surrender of the Mississippi river, and the severance of the Confederacy.’ Saving that it was already severed, this was true. If, however, instead of deviation, there had been execution, whether or not it would have made the difference between the disaster which was sustained by Pemberton at Baker's Creek, and the victory at Clinton, it would certainly have made the difference between an army captured in Vicksburg and an unconquered one outside of it. The investment of Vicksburg was completed of the 19th, and its surrender was then but a matter of time. Mr. A. H. Stephens states, that on the 23d of June, he was informed, at the War Department, that the surrender of Vicksburg was inevitable. If the beseiged could not escape the beseigers at the beginning of the seige, still less at the end; if the force within did not possess the power to unite with the force without before the seige began, how much less could it expect to effect such junction after forty days and forty nights of exhaustion were added to it. If the stronger force within the citadel could not cut its way out, how much less could the weaker force without be expected to cut its way in! At the time Johnston had but two brigades. The race of collecting [351] troops, wherewith to relieve the beseiged, was run against those who could easily outstrip him. After five weeks of indefatigable exertion, he could only say, on the 20th of June, ‘when all reinforcements arrive, I shall have about twenty-three thousand.’ A twice beaten army, enclosed in Vicksburg, could not be saved by one not equal in strength to a third of the covering force. To have attempted it, against strong circumvallations, would have been to complete the capture of the army within, by the wanton massacre of the army without—to fling a second catastrophe after the first. The fate of Vicksburg and Port Hudson was sealed, unless an army strong enough to carry Grant's intrenchments could be brought to the assault.

‘He should have struck a blow,’ it is said. To strike a blow unwisely is one of the simplest of human actions. It is done daily with the smallest possible profit to mankind. It will ever be a narrow cockpit in which the tactics of Donnybrook Fair score their success. The shout of victory or death is irrelevant where death alone is possible. It is not even to court the hazard of a die to rush to sure destruction. Should the general then set his cause upon the cast and rush into battle merely to die there? The rush of despair proclaims as much fear as courage. Johnston was right. The place to defend Vicksburg was in the field. As a beleaguered city its defence was hopeless. Isolation was destruction. Vicksburg ceased to be of value when its bluffs could no longer close navigation to a hostile force, nor keep it open to a friendly one. The army within was invaluable and could not be replaced. To immure was to sacrifice. To shut in strength was to shut out strength. In the great game of danger he wins the day who really risks the least, however he may seem to hazard all. Courage and skill are shown in disregarding the imminent appearance in the confidence of victory seen through the deadly imminence. But when to the unblenching eye of war's leader the peril is the only reality and the victory beyond is the illusion it is fatuity to strike. The perilous movement is victorious only when it places an adversary at a real disadvantage. Instead of a concentration of the weaker army as ordered by Johnston, so as to be able to fall upon the stronger one in detail, by the deviations from his orders the weaker army was so distributed as to be taken in detail by the concentrated stronger one.

There are times in life's experience when the winds of fortune seem to sport with human actions; when those we would unite with [352] frustrate us to their own cost and by their sacrifice; times when it would look as if some sardonic deity had been unbound to baffle calculation; to poison the springs of action; to shake from their centre faith and duty; to perplex reason and conscience, and to the death-call of a true endeavor be the mocking Mephistopheles.

Something akin to this must have been present to Johnston when he saw the strength of the West hewed in two by movements which seemed to solicit the fortified line of the enemy to enter like a wedge of steel between Vicksburg and his own exterior force, when he saw the relatively strong force retire behind works because of inability to meet the enemy in the open field, and then from their walls call upon the relatively weak force to storm that same enemy in his fortifications. In such catastrophe all that man can do is to oppose duty to dejection, make clear the record of responsibility, and follow with unfaltering step the light left in the sky. This done, the result is with the great Captain of events, who makes and unmakes life and its aims. It was the destiny of Johnston to be the unhearkened Cassandra of his time, the sageness of whose counsel history will measure by the fatality of not receiving it.

It is marvellous that after such a calamity as that at Vicksburg the small army which had been gathered by Johnston was pursued by no worse disaster. While Vicksburg and Port Hudson stood and there was hope that either might be succored Jackson was essential to the manoeuvering army—the key to the position. When they fell the military value of Jackson ended. Nevertheless, Johnston drew up in front of it, inviting an assault, and only when his adversary showed he again intended to resort to the sure course of investment did he withdraw. I believe there is no dispute that Johnston's management here was one of signal ability. One of his officers, who in the later history of the war took sides with Hood, in speaking of Johnston's masterly management at this point, added this commentary: ‘I may say I never saw Johnston do anything which did not seem to me better done than anyone else could do it. My only criticism is that there was not more of it.’ The faculty to do whatever is done better than anyone else can do it is one which is never redundant, and therefore one which a community struggling in the death grips for existence can ill-afford to part with and invite to do nothing.

During the remainder of the year the operations of the Union army in Mississippi were limited to predatory expeditions. Nothing [353] was captured which was in Johnston's custody; nothing defeated which he led.

During this summer Johnston received a letter from the Confederate President, criticising his conduct and conclusions, in terms, which were hardly those to win a hero's assent. To this Johnston replied with that invincible clearness of which, as of the art of war, he was the master. There would seem to be ground for the dilemma, afterwards interposed by Johnston, that, if the criticisms of him were deserved, the further retention of him in command was indefensible. And his services were to be retained. Unhappily thereafter upon terms of mutual distrust between him and the authority to which he reported.

It was on the 18th of December, 1863, that Johnston was ordered to assume command of the Army of Tennessee. The instructions which awaited him at Dalton advised him, that he would probably find the army there disheartened by late events, and deprived of ordnance and materials; that it was hoped his presence would do much to re-establish hope, restore discipline, and inspire confidence.

Johnston succeeded to Bragg upon an unenviable throne. Whether justly or unjustly, the experiences of the preceding year had alienated the allegiance without which it was incoherent and discredited. The battle of Missionary Ridge was the greatest disaster sustained by the Confederate arms in pitched battle during the whole war. Nearly one-half the guns, caissons and munitions of the defeated army had been abandoned. Dalton had not been selected because of its defensive strength, but simply because the retreat from Missionary Ridge had ceased at that point. Johnston was sent to repair disaster. The army he now commanded was the same which, under Bragg, had been routed at Missionary Ridge. Sherman's army was the one which had routed it. The defeated army had been depleted since the battle. The successful one had been augmented. Johnston so reorganized and reassured his dispirited force, that, when the campaign opened in the spring, the poorest regiment he had was superior in effectiveness and drill to the best when he took command. The change was swift and permanent. Thenceforth, no army in the Confederacy excelled, if any equaled it, in drill and discipline. The whole army felt that a lofty gentleman was in command, animated by a noble and pervading justice, which no favor could bias and no incompetence mislead. The genius for rapid organization could not be more splendidly evinced. Wherever his hand was laid, a life of discipline [354] sprang up. It was the same organizing skill which had laid the foundation of the army of the East. It was a wonderful personal influence and mastery, which thus drew to him an army acquainted chiefly with disaster. If nothing else existed to reflect his excellence, the miracle which he wrought in this transformation, from complete rout to complete confidence, from fatal chaos and dismemberment into compact order, would, of itself, preserve for us the image of great mind's authority and magnetism. As Johnston looked upon this work of his creative week, he saw that it was good.

When on the 6th of May, 1864, the duel between the two armies began, two things must be borne in mind: first, that on the preceding fourth of July, one-third of the strength of the Confederacy had fallen, in the east and in the west, at Gettysburg and Vicksburg: second, that when the policy of wearing out by attrition was inagurated, it was desirable for the weaker party to be economical of wear and tear. The time had surely come when the Confederacy could not be prodigal of life; when it should take no step which was not calculated with disciplined precaution. It must make no mistake. The man for this supreme emergency was then at Dalton—a man with that great attribute of a leader in convulsion the capacity to see things as they are. As with a merchant, so with a general, his first business is to know when to spend and when to spare. Johnston took into consideration the natural features of the country in front; the susceptibility for defence, natural and artificial; the importance of time without disaster to his own side; the slight result of inconclusive defeat to his opponent. Only brilliant success could now be compensation for serious loss. All these were realties which he was not permitted to forget. He was now where previous adversity might be the background for the revelation of his skill—if only he was trusted! Even the Divine Hero did not do his mighty work where faith was wanting.

The chief criticisms of Johnston's conduct of this campaign rests on his failure to attack Sherman at Rocky Face, three miles north of Dalton, when McPherson was detached to intercept Johnston's communications, by the movement through Snake Creek Gap. I believe no intelligent criticism imputes blame to him for his failure to attack at any other point. The disposition of the Confederate army about Dalton had been made in the hope that Sherman would attack with his whole force. Therefore, Johnston's entire strength was concentrated there. For the moment his communications were unprotected A [355] mountain divided the opposing forces. The difficulty of the passes was as great to one side as the other. In these conditions to change from the defensive and yield the advantages of ground was a certain risk. On May 1st, the effective strength of Johnston's army, infantry, artillery, and cavalry was forty-two thousand eight hundred and fifty-six. On April 10th, 1864, Sherman reported as present for duty one hundred and eighty thousand men. Out of this force he proposed to form a compact army of exactly one hundred thousand men for the purpose of his advance. The number above given is to be distinguished from the number borne on his rolls, which amounted to upwards of three hundred and forty thousand men. Supposing the utmost, a victory by Johnston over the one hundred thousand picked men, Sherman had behind him the fortified gap at Ringgold, and behind that the fortress of Chattanooga. Nevertheless, a divisof his adversary's force—that moment of division, which is always the moment of weakness—was just the moment which Johnston was wont to seize, and he was about to seize this, when his reconnoissance assured him that it was the bulk of Sherman's army, which, covered from exposure by the curtain of Rocky Face, was marching towards Resaca by Snake Creek Gap, and could, without serious resistance, cut his connection while he was engaged by the force in front. It was the infirmity of Johnston that he would not incur great risk with out reconnoissance. He would not leap in the dark. He had the gift, as it proved to him, the fatal gift, of always knowing what he was about. Unless he at once intercepted Sherman the ruin to him was certain. Months afterwards one of his officers ventured to ask why he did not attack at Rocky Face. The sententious reply was, ‘Napoleon once said, the General who suffers his communication to be cut deserves to be shot.’

‘He should have fought,’ his critics say, ‘as Lee and Jackson fought at Chancellorsville; he should have thrown everything upon the hazard of a die; complete victory in front would have been followed by the rout of the force in the rear.’ Such critics forget that the victorious army at Chancellorsville was not one which, after complete defeat at Fredericksburg, had been delivered to a new commander, with a friendly caution as to the probable effect of such late tragedy upon spirit and organization. Chancellorsville had been prepared by all the host of victories, which fought for it like another army. That army was one which believed defeat to be impossible. The army at Dalton had never known what real victory meant. It [356] was of incalculable importance that the engagement of the latter army, under their new leader, should be sharply discriminated from all which had preceded it. In mere bravery, the past could not be exceeded. It was the wise, discerning stroke of the new regime which it was essential to infallibly impart.

Under any military conditions, one might ask, is it wholly reasonable to exact, as a matter of strict military right, that a general, on taking command of an army, shall at once, without more words, become a Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson at the highest pinnacle of their earthly achievement? One might conclude, from the inclination expressed by some, to inaugurate the triumphs of Lee and Jackson at the portal of the Georgia campaign, that such inauguration was a matter of election and pure preference by ambitious minds; that one whose heart was in the right place might make a habit of the military marvel of the war. Alas! the rarest and most fortunate displays of greatness, Chancellorsvilles and Centrevilles, are not creatures of suffrage; and all who go forward on such disastrous hypothesis, in Georgia campaigns and elsewhere, are destined to discover that desire, aspiration even, is not synonymous with faculty.

It was in the same month, after the terrible repulse at Spotsylvania Courthouse, that Grant made a flank movement to the North Anna, not unlike that of Sherman to Resaca. The object of Grant was by a detour eastward, around the point where the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad crosses the North Anna, to cut Lee's communications. Did Lee strike the force left behind? No; nor did he attempt to strike the force sent forward before reinforcements could arrive; but, by the most expeditious interior line, he moved his own army to Hanover Junction, where Hancock met it. Here the two parts of the Army of the Potomac were not only separated, but a river so ran between them that, to get from one of Grant's wings to the other, that river would have to be crossed twice. On the other hand, Lee had concentrated his army between the Little River and the North Anna, not only in a strong position, but so situated that it could easily act in unity, and concentrate upon either of the opposing wings. Some say Lee should have left a small part of his force to hold the intrenchments of his left, and attacked Hancock with the rest of his army.

Hancock's force did not exceed twenty-four thousand infantry. Leaving seven thousand to hold the west face of his intrenchments, [357] and the apex on the river, Lee might have attacked Hancock with possible thirty-six thousand infantry. But, as an able officer suggests,1 Hancock was intrenched, and Lee well knew the advantage that gave, and that he could not afford to suffer the inevitable loss. Those who would make the Atlanta campaign exactly like Chancellorsville should remember that, from the last day's fight at the Wilderness to Appomattox, Lee attacked no more; that from this time on Lee fought only behind entrenchments; that what could be done in 1863, could not necessarily be done in 1864.

The whole criticism of Johnston strangely forgets, that the victorious results at Second Manassas and Chancellorsville were the consequences of Jackson's spring upon the rear of Pope and Hooker; and not because Jackson suffered himself to be in their predicament. The question presented to Johnston at Rocky Face was, not whether he would do like Stonewall Jackson, but whether he would deliberately do like the generals whom Stonewall Jackson defeated.

Every man in authority is the shepherd of a trust; but what so sacred as the general's-lives that will step to death at his bidding. Of all fiduciaries none has such account to render as he who is commissioned to wage the fight of a people. Human life is the talent laid in his hand, to be poured out like water, if unto him it seemeth good. Of all trusts and talents this is the one to be wisely used, and in no wise abused. The policy of Johnston was not the step forward which would slide three steps back, but the step back which would find the strength to stride trebly forward. It was the drawing back of the ram's foot to strike with the horns.

The movement from Dalton began on the 12th of May. Polk's advance under Loring, and Polk himself, reached Resaca from Demopolis, Ala., on the same day. French's division of the same army joined near Kingston several days later, and Quarles's brigade at New Hope church on the 26th. One may be permitted to believe that Johnston incurred as large risk as could be exacted of a soldier and a patriot when he left the whole protection of his rear to the expected arrival of this much-hurried reinforcement. The position taken at Resaca to meet the movement through Snake Creek Gap was made untenable in consequence of a similar movement by Sherman towards Calhoun — the last movement being covered by a river, as the former was by a mountain. But the ground in the neighborhood of Cassville seemed to Johnston favorable for attack, and as [358] there were two roads leading southward to it the probability was that Sherman would divide—a column following each road—and give Johnston his opportunity to defeat one column before it could receive aid from the other. He gave his orders accordingly for battle on the 19th of May. The order announcing that battle was about to be delivered had been read to each regiment and received with exultation. The Roman signal—the general's purple mantle lifted in front of the general's tent—may be said to have been given. But General Hood, owing to information received from one of his staff, deemed himself justified in not executing the order to himself, and the intended attack was for this cause abandoned. General W. W. Mackall was sent to Hood to ask why he did not attack as ordered. Hood sent word in reply that the enemy was then advancing upon him by two roads, and he could only defend. Johnston then drew up his army on a ridge immediately south of Cassville to receive the attack of the now united columns; but the conviction of both Polk and Hood of their inability to hold their positions against attack caused Johnston to yield his own. He did this upon the ground that he could not make the fight when two of the three corps commanders of his army were opposed to it. Hood said that in the position in which he then was he was willing to attack, but not willing to defend. Johnston's view was that the time to attack was when his enemy was divided, and the time to draw together and defend was when his enemy was united. But unless we are to reason that when Johnston was unwilling to fight and some of his generals willing, Johnston must be wrong; and when Johnston was willing to fight and his generals unwilling, the latter must be right; it is hard to see why he should be blamed for Rocky Face, and they uncriticised for Cassville. Assuredly in both instances the hesitation was the honest doubt of courageous men. Again, at New Hope church, after Sherman's determined but vain assault, Johnston made his own dispositions to attack. Hood was to assail Sherman's left at dawn on the 29th of May, and Polk and Hardee to join in the battle successively. At 10 A. M. Hood reported that he found the enemy entrenched and deemed it inexpedient to attack without fresh instructions. The opportunity had passed. The proposition had originally come from Hood and received the sanction of Johnston. Hood says the opportunity had passed, not because his views had changed, but because the situation of the enemy had changed. Doubtless this was so. And might not the commander-in-chief of [359] that army be permitted to assign the identical reason for his own change of plan at Rocky Face?

At New Hope Church, at Kennesaw Mountain, all that fierce attack could do was tried and found wanting. As the attack was resolute, so the repulse was bitter. If there was no such repulse as at Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, it must have been owing to the fact that there was no such attack—persistent as Sherman's undoubtedly were. In Johnston's view, between Dalton and the Chattahoochie, the 19th and 29th of May, offered the only opportunities to give battle without attacking the preponderant force in entrenchments. But Cassville he considered his greatest opportunity.

From Reseca to Atlanta might be called a siege in open field-daily approaches and resistances, daily battle, so received as to make the losses to the assailant more than treble those of the defensive forces. Sherman's progress was at the rate of a mile and a quarter a day. Every day was a warlike exercise. In the warfare of attrition, at this rate of progress, battle could ere long be given upon equal terms.

The advancing army found, in the wake of that retreat, no deserters, no stragglers, no muskets, no material of war. Retreat resembles victory when it is the assailant who is chiefly worn by the advantageous battle of each day. Think for an instant of this single achievement, that in all the difficulty of the time, in the imminent breach of daily battle, Johnston's troops did not miss a meal from Dalton to Atlanta; that the primitive prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ was punctually answered out of the smoke and roar of unremitting war—that, too, when not only the nutrition of life, but the nutrition of death was scant; when he had to be parsimonious of ammunition in his skirmishes, in order to be sure of it for his general engagements. He swung his army upon its hinges with the smoothness of well-oiled machinery, which no more swerved from its appointed course than do the forces of nature because a campaign of death reigns all around. We seem to touch the pulse of destiny itself, as we accompany that regular throb of recoil and repulse, and that still flexure of sockets about a pinion of resolve that knew no turning.

Johnston felt himself daily growing stronger against an adversary daily growing weaker. Tireless in his vigilant activity, clear in his purpose, every tactical, every strategic advantage was hourly on his side. No jeopardy stole upon him unawares. With a deadly precision he divined and repelled every adverse stroke. He handled his army as [360] a man would the fingers of his own hand. As link by link he unwound his resource as of magic, and his determination as of steel, it was like the movement of the hand of time on the face of a clock—so imperturbable, so infallible, so inflexible, the external calm, the unhasting certainty. It was as if one fate had been found to confound another. The weak place in the joinings of his mail was nowhere found. Every blow had rebounded from him, or was parried by him. Every material preponderance had been rebuked by a general's intuition and a hero's sword. We can almost see the lion-like glare of his war-like eye, and the menacing lash of his agile movement, as rampart by rampart he retired, his relative force rising with each withdrawal, and his united living wall making his earthen wall invincible.

Missionary Ridge had made this Johnston's mission: to draw his adversary from his base, and thereby compel the reduction of the force in front by the regular growth of that required to guard the rear of each remove; to move back with such assured precaution as never once to be surprised nor placed at disadvantage; to skillfully dispute each foot of ground with the least expenditure of his own forces; to thus more and more reduce the disparity existing, and warily biding his time to beckon his adversary forward, until the field of his own choice was made the final arbiter between them. And now the justifying proportions and the coigne of vantage had been won. All that executive foresight could do had been achieved. Here he would meet his foe, face to face, on ground which would equalize numerical odds. At Dalton, Johnston was a hundred miles from his base; at Atlanta it was Sherman who was so separated. The fortresses which, at Dalton, Sherman had in Ringgold and Chattanooga, Johnston now had in Atlanta—a place too strong to be taken by assault and too extensive to be invested. To this end Atlanta had been fortified and Johnston had manoeuvred.

Now he would lay down the buckler and part the sword from its sheath. Now he would constrain fortune. Now, by his perfect sinews, he would wrest the battle wreath, which the cunning fiend had so long withheld by sinister touches on his thigh.

From Dalton to Atlanta, Sherman, by force of numbers, had been able to follow every retreat of Confederate forces developed in their front, and then, with one or two corps, which he could afford to spare, make a flank movement imperiling their position. Three railroads then supplied Atlanta. To take Atlanta, it would be necessary [361] to take all three. On the 17th of July, Johnston had planned to attack Sherman, as the latter crossed Peach Tree creek, expecting just such a division between his wings as Sherman actually made. He had occasion to say this, and did say it more than once, to his inspector-general, Colonel Harvie. To thus successively engage the fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of his own, had been the purpose of his every movement. Success here would be decisive, he thought, by driving the defeated army against the Chattahoochie, where there were no fords, or to the east away from their communications. On the precipitous banks of the Peach Tree the Confederate army awaited the hour of battle. The superb strategy of their commander and the superlative excellence of the position he had chosen stood revealed. Johnston himself, with his chief of engineers, Colonel Prestman, and his chief of staff, General W. W. Mackall, was seated at a table examining the ground upon the map and maturing the plan of battle, when the order was delivered relieving him from command.

The goal had been reached, the victory organized—to his own vision, the foe delivered into his hand—when he was again struck down; but this time not by a blow in the breast, which, at Atlanta as at Seven Pines, was turned to the enemy. With a commanding grace in word and act, on the 17th of July he relinquished his command of the army for which he had wrought so wisely and so well, and turned it over, with his plan of battle, to his successor, on that day appointed.

I deem it just to give verbatim the instructions of Johnston to his strong, staunch hero, General A. P. Stewart. ‘Find,’ said Johnston to him, ‘the best position, on our side of Peach Tree Creek, for our army to occupy. Do not intrench. Find all the good artillery positions, and have then cleared of timber.’ He said that he expected Sherman would cross the Chattahoochie by the fords above the mouth of Peach Tree Creek, and advance across the creek upon Atlanta. He added that Governor Brown of Georgia had promised to furnish him fifteen thousand State militia with which to hold Atlanta, while he operated with his army in the field. He did not say that he would attack Sherman on the crossing of Peach Tree, ‘but,’ says Stewart, ‘his dispositions were evidently made with a view to so attack, and were inconsistent with any other purpose.’ That evening Stewart rode to Johnston's headquarters to report that he had made the dispositions according to direction. He was met [362] by Johnston with the order for the latter's removal. Stewart has since said: ‘I would cheerfully have suffered the loss of either of my own arms to have been able to retain Johnston in command.’ There could have been no purer ransom for his general's sentence than one of those stout arms. It was said by General Carter Stevenson, that he had never seen any troops in such fine discipline and condition as Johnston's army on the day he was removed from command. Constancy, staunchness, erectness, governed by a true discernment, are the attributes that conquer men and events. All these attributes were with Johnston's army the day he was removed. Ill they recked who changed that steadfast camp for the meteor flash of mutability. The authorities who made this change would rather have been dismembered, limb from limb, than knowingly to have done aught injurious to their cause. The motives for their action could be honest only, and were urged by pressure from without, which I doubt not was sincere. But to Johnston, and as I believe to history, it was as if the soldier, in his tent, had been stabbed by his own guard.

With wounds to the body, Johnston was familiar; but a wounded spirit who can bear? How did he receive this by far his severest wound? What was the fashion of the metal which emerged from this searching crucible? Did the equanimity which stood by him in every other turn of fortune desert him now? No, this did not desert him. His own unquailing spirit was faithful to him. If in the soldier's great campaign ‘no unproportionate thought took shape in act,’ so now, in his unwished furlough, none took shape in word. It is one of the prerogatives of greatness to know how not to be the sport of circumstance. Misfortune broke over him in vain. He broke misfortune by being unbroken by it. He was master of misfortune. The adversity, which does not shake the mind, itself is shaken. Nothing could be finer than Johnston's demeanor in this, his unlooked for, and, to him, unjust overthrow. Nothing froward, nothing unseemly shone in him or fell from him. He was one whom the external universe might break, but could not bend to an ignoble use. His tall branch stood, like the sap of Lebanon, rooted in the real. There stands to-day, and will to-morrow. The forest of appearance, that has no root, falls to swift decay around it.

I bestow no particular praise on one for following conviction, albeit without the place proportioned to desert. A mercenary hero is a solecism. No one wins eminence by disregard of selfish interest in an army where it is universal. Virtue is tried by finer measures in [363] that history. No corrupt, no venal thing survives to tarnish it. But of all adversity, there could be none more exquisitely fitted to freeze a noble heart than that which befell the general of the West. How much easier to bear the most cruel blow of adversaries, when on either side are sustaining arms; when the strength of sympathy invests the overthrown with a dignity almost divine—the might of that incalculable arm which we call sympathy! But when, to his own view, his own stronghold is his worst hostility, when there is no supporting elbow within touch, as he looks out upon the hopes which can only ripen in his ruin, how clear in conscience, how tenacious and erect in spiritual power and purpose, the dethroned must be to be unvanquished! The day of Johnston's dethronement was his imperial day. It was the empire of a soul superior to every weapon.

The great campaign by which he will be forever judged is now beyond the wounds of the archers, beyond all slings and arrows, above and beyond outrageous fortune. From the dark defile of Rocky Face to the large prospect of Atlanta, it will be not only a possession, but a pattern for all time. Its rugged scenery is illuminated by the meaning with which the lines of greatness clothe the impassive and the obdurate. It has been made the mirror of a great mind. The map of it, the more it is studied, the more clearly will evince, in due expression and proportion, and colors ineffaceable, the lineaments of a giant. It will be a canvas bringing to light that surpassing victory, which cancels adverse fate and shines over it and through it.

It was upon a burning deck that Johnston was next summoned to the wheel. It was night when his star again began to burn. The Confederacy was in the article of death, when it once more sent for him, whose hand nowhere appears in the drawing of that article. Johnston was sent for to repair the ruin, which he at least did not prepare; to take anew the shattered remnant of that army, wrought into such firmness by him, shattered by others, but which, though shattered, was still firm to him. The Confederacy lifted up its eyes, and beheld all that was left of the Army of Tennessee, tossing and drifting like seaweed in the Carolinas, and a voice which no authority could subdue was heard crying: ‘All that is left to us is Thermopylae. Oh, for a Johnston to stand there!’ And a firm voice answered: ‘I will stand in the gap.’ The great gap he had to fill was the one which had been rent in his devoted files by futile battle. It was Thermopylae, not in the beginning, but at the end of warfare. With the portents of [364] downfall all around him, his erectness was untouched; his plume was still a banner; his name a talisman. The moral and military force which had been lost in Johnston, will be measured for all time, by the events of the interval, between his enforced abdication and patriotic resumption of command. The impending wreck of things rallied of its own accord upon the disinherited knight. The hopes of which his downfall had been the pedestal, were now themselves a ruin. Out of the lime-pit of their destruction, out of their crash and chaos, rose from the rejected stone the straightness of the Doric column.

At this time it was plainly Sherman's plan to march through the Carolinas to the rear of Lee. When the western army went to pieces in hopeless wreck, in front of Nashville, the one hope of the Confederacy was the defeat of Sherman, by all the forces which could be assembled in the Carolinas, united to those of Lee; whenever the latter could most effectually withdraw from the lines at Petersburg. Everything depended upon the success of this movement, and the subsequent union of the same forces against Grant. The task had sufficient elements of difficulty as originally presented. Just at this time a new one was introduced. On the 14th of January Schofield had been ordered from Clifton, on the Tennessee river, to Annapolis. From this point he had been carried by water to North Carolina, where he united to his own army the corps of Terry.

From the time Sherman left Atlanta every wave of opposition had calmed in his front. He could march to the sea or to the mountains as he pleased. The indications were that the mighty host, which had marched through Georgia in such comfort, would cross the Cape Fear at Fayetteville, to be joined there by Schofield, when, on the 22d of February, 1865—the day he was restored to command—Johnston was ordered ‘to concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.’ The order was one less difficult to give than to execute. It was a question on the first of March, which would reach Johnston first, his own troops from Charleston, or Sherman's army. Hardee did, indeed, cross the Pedee, at Cheraw, on the morning of the 3d, but his rear guard was so hard pressed, that it had hardly time to destroy the bridge after passing over it. On the evening of the same day, information was received that the broken columns of the Army of Tennessee had reached the railroad at Chester. Sherman's order of march encouraged the hope, that the tatters of the Confederacy might be gathered up in time to engage one of his wings. It was, [365] however, not only Sherman, but Schofield, then marching up the Neuse from New Berne, with whom conclusions must be tried.

It was under such conditions that Johnston exposed to the world the electric force and vivid lightning of his arm. Here he gave the lofty answer, he scorned to make in words, to all who dared taunt him with want of daring. It should be some one, not less seamed over with honorable scars, who makes that charge. The battle furrowed chieftain might have said: ‘Put your fingers in my wounds, all ye who doubt.’ But the heroic answer ever is in deeds. So answered the captain, ‘who careless of his own blood was careful of that of his men, who knew how to take them under fire and how to bring them out.’2 From first manoeuvre to final onset nothing can surpass the magnificent strategy he now displayed. It will have to blush before no other of the war, or of the world. With decisiveness of command, which was met by celerity of execution, he at once ordered the movements which snatched, from the very jaws of death, the last Confederate victory. In the thrilling game of chess, which he now played, no pawn was taken without his leave, while he darted forward and back ward upon the board, each time giving check to the king. That game was played with the coolness and consummate skill of a master hand, which knew no pause, no tremor, no uncertainty, and only lacked the force of numbers, which genius could not create, to shine by the side of Austerlitz. It was the grand audacity of a conscious master, whose nerve matched his skill; whose ministers were strength and swiftness. His first movement was with the troops of Bragg's then near Goldsboro, added to those of D. H. Hill, just arrived from Charlotte, to strike Schofield at Kingston. The blow was sufficient to scotch Schofield's advance.

Bragg's troops and those of the Army of Tennessee were now ordered to Smithfield, midway between Raleigh and Goldsboro—it being at the moment uncertain through which of these places Sherman's route would be. Hardee was instructed to follow the road from Fayetteville to Raleigh, which, for thirty miles, is also that to Smithfield. On the 15th of March, Hardee had reached Elevation, on the road to Smithfield. On the 18th Hampton reported that Sherman was marching towards Goldsboro. The right wing, on the direct road from Fayetteville, had crossed the Black creek; the left, [366] on the road from Averysboro, had not reached that stream, and was more than a day's march from the point in its route opposite to the hamlet of Bentonville, where the two roads, according to the map of North Carolina, were twelve miles apart.

Upon this, Johnston prepared to attack the left column of Sherman's army, before the other could support it, by ordering the troops at Smithfield and at Elevation to march immediately to Bentonville (where the road from Smithfield intersected that from Fayetteville to Goldsboro), to be in time to attack the next morning. By the map, the distance from Elevation to Bentonville was about twelve miles. In two important respects, the premises of action proved incorrect. The distance between Sherman's forces was exaggerated, and between his own reduced from the truth. Thereby he was prevented from concentrating in time to fall on one wing while in column on the march. The sun was just rising on that beautiful Sabbath in March, when all except Hardee had reached the point of rendezvous. The gap made by his absence was for the time filled by the batteries of Earle and Halsey.

On the way to the attack, and just in time for battle, Johnston had met the shreds and patches of his old troops, under the stanch A. P. Stewart. The best interpreter of a general's strength is the sentiment with which he animates his rank and file. The wild enthusiasm of these Western troops whenever they caught sight of their old chief was in itself an inspiration of success. It was evident that they were as confident under him as if they had never seen the days which tore them into strips. They felt they had a general whose life or his fame was as dust in the balance where his duty weighed—under whom death itself was not in vain. The force, which had been wedded to him by the campaign from Dalton to Atlanta, had not been put asunder by the Tophet of Tennessee. At last the wayworn troops under Hardee, which had marched day and night to join battle, appeared upon the scene. The use for them was quickly revealed. All told, the torn remnants made an army of less than fifteen thousand men. At their head Johnston burst upon Sherman's left wing with an electrical intensity which will live in military annals as an object lesson to show how a wasted force is endowed by a general's fire. The battle of Bentonville is that marvel—that final battle of the Confederacy which shed the last radiance on its arms as its candle flickered in the socket.

The batteries which had held the gap were now told to follow the [367] dark plume and bright courage of Walthall, who commanded all that was left of Polk's corps. Hardee led the charge of the right wing. With an annihilating fury the hurricane of war swept Sherman from his first and second line, and on the 19th of March, night fell upon Johnston's victory. Had there been no other column to reckon with, or had not the discrepancy existed between the map and the facts, the blow which staggered would have prostrated. The victor would then have turned to throw his whole army upon Schofield. As it was, on the 20th the right wing of the enemy came up. On the 21st Sherman's united army was in position on three sides of Johnston. To oppose the increasing coil the line of the latter was bent into a horse-shoe shape, the heel being the point of the one bridge left, the bridge at Bentonville over Mill Creek.

The time had come for the man of resource to make his exit. It was essential to make the road over that bridge as secure as a turnpike in time of peace. He knew well how to do it, not with fear but with confidence. Once more he looked to Hardee to deal the blow he wanted. That intrepid man, first kissing the pale lips of his dying boy borne by him on the field, turned to the nearest cavalry command, and assuring them he had been Captain of Dragoons himself and knew how to handle cavalry, ordered a charge. On his magnificent black steed he led them and poured their torrent on the opposing front, running back the skirmish line on the line of battle, and the first line on the second. Victory made the isthmus of contention safe. The nettle had been rifled of its danger. Then, with forces vastly more confident than when the fight began, Johnston withdrew with the loss of a single caisson from between the jaws of death by the one opening left. Like a whirlwind he came, and like an apparition departed. Under arduous conditions he had set upon a hill that most admired faculty of man—the faculty to seize and to use opportunity. At his side hung the weapon—drawn from a great general's arsenal—the energy to fuse the fickle conditions of an instant into the bolt of victory.

One may be permitted to believe that with a natural sense of vindication, he had in this warrior fashion and with a warlike grace, inscribed upon the record of the time the quality of his arm, and with it the reasonable proof that if the Johnston at Atlanta had not been removed history would have engraved for him the epitaph:

‘Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem.’

[368]

One who saw him, writes3, ‘As he listened to the receding fire of the foe, the brightness of his eye showed the satisfaction with which he looked on the restored spirits of his old comrades in arms; and I was touched by the affectionate manner in which he ministered to the comfort of, and the words of cheer which he gave to a number of wounded men who were carried by. I could then well understand the affection which was demonstrated by them at every sight of him.’

In 1875, Sherman wrote: ‘With the knowledge now possessed of his small force, I, of course, committed an error in not overwhelming Johnston's army on the 21st of March, 1865.’ It was the ascendancy of the few over the many. In the last ditch Johnston's victory had been won—when there was little left beyond the field he had filled with his valor. His cynical fate poured all its craft into this last scoff, which left the truth illustrious when it could no more avail a perishing cause. It was as if his brow were torn with a mock crown at last.

Sherman now moved on to Goldsboro and effected the junction with Schofield, which could no longer be prevented.

Johnston marched to the vicinity of Raleigh, and disposed his troops, so that Sherman could not go forward to Virginia without exposing his flanks; while at the same time he placed himself so as to facilitate his junction with Lee, whenever the time should come to unite once more the two who rode into Vera Cruz together, for their last salutation of devoted valor. The respect which these successive revelations of resource and energy excited, is, perhaps, illustrated in the terms which on the 18th of April, Sherman accorded to Johnston, and which had they been ratified, would have saved the South the sorrow, and the North the shame—of the Reconstruction Era. The current of events chose otherwise; but once more Johnston did all that sagacity could do to stem the current. To the last there was no spot upon his breastplate which his adversary's steel had pierced; none which there was undue eagerness to challenge. From crown to sole he blazed in complete proof. At the end, his line was an undefeated and unbroken line. When the Great Umpire threw down his warder, the defense of North Carolina, covered with dust and bloody sweat, was standing with firm-planted feet against assault. There it was standing when the edifice of the Confederacy fell — the last wall of its strength. It was bearing aloft its ensigns, ‘torn but flying,’ when the earth under it opened. Doubtless [369] it is the spectacle of deeds and energies like these which caused the eloquent Union soldier, Colonel Edginton, to declare that the force and vitality of Johnston's character was like the ocean wave—not to be measured in time of storm, nor to be fairly estimated until rivalries have ceased.

With the return of peace, Johnston was removed from the field of duty wherein he was best fitted to win renown, and where he had woven the texture of a character as fine as it was firm. For the most part his fine assemblage of endowments lay like a book within its clasp, or like a coal unkindled. Broken by intervals of important duty, for a quarter of a century Johnston found himself doomed to a life of comparative inaction. There have been few to whom it could be more trying to take off the chariot wheels of life's activity. Perhaps one of the hardest of the many trials of his patience was thus to loiter by compulsion on the way where he was wont to spur. To a breast, ever thrilling with the impulses of action, patience was made perfect by this last trial. Yet it were wrong to pass without a word the blessing Heaven did not deny him; the meet partaker of his puissance and his pang, who drank of the same cup with him, exalting and exalted by it; who gave him truth for truth, and, under all the blows of time, a constancy fixed in heaven—that blessing which, however the world might rock, was truer than the needle to the pole — the blessing of a wife's true heart. And when of this blessing, too, he was bereft, we all were witnesses to the chastening touch of a brave man's anguish; how sorrow falling upon a character of such strength and depth did not harden, but melted to a tender glory; how the snows of his last years were irradiated by a soft, benignant light, as of sunset on the Alps. This was the final forge in which the iron of his nature was softened to take a new existence and more exquisite temper. He was the picture of the veteran, sitting in the evening before his tent, all unbroken by the years which are so wont to break. He was the even more splendid picture of an elevation which was not fortuitous, nor dependent upon fortune, as he sat, still erect, amid the ruins of his heart and the storm of life and fate.

So he lived amongst us his upright, straightforward, unaffected life. So, as he lived and moved, the shadows of the dark reaper deepened around him, until at last we saw him standing on the confine of the great night. In his eighty-fifth year there he stood, [370] ‘worn, but unstooping.’ Nowhere could one see a countenance and frame more worthy to declare—

The living will that shall endure
     When all that seems shall suffer shock.

One who came within the circuit of this sceptre of majestic age, might well pause to speculate whether the iron sleep could steal upon the lids over which that iron will stood sentinel. He, too, could not be conquered until worn out by attrition. He could not be conquered then. The last foe of all he turned to meet, in the old knightly fashion, and wrung from him the final victory, wherein he who conquers self is conqueror of death. Faithful son of the Church, he received his death wound, too, in the breast. Before the Universal Conqueror he fell upon his unsurrendered shield. He fell like a soldier, closing his eyes to earth and opening them to Heaven; he gave his soul

Unto his Captain, Christ,
     Under whose colors he had fought so long.

To this last Captain, who heareth and absolveth, his last report is handed. ‘There,’ he said on his death-bed to Dabney Maury, ‘we shall surely meet.’ Ah, there! In the light of that perfect eye which looks clean through appearance and judges the real only, there is this great appeal! In those upper fields where the venom of this earth is slain, its serpent crushed, where no false balance is and no inadvertency, his clear spirit will join and be felt where the mighty influences of time, purged of their dross, encounter as the stars in their courses fight. On the bosom of the Infinite he, too, is a star. In that last bosom, where the revenges of time are folded, earth's scarred warrior hath cleft a way to peace.

1 General A. A. Humphreys.

2 Report of L. P. Wigfall in the Senate of the Confederate States, March 1865.

3 Captain Wm. E. Earle.

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