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Chapter 17: California.

General Johnston had never been a politician or party-man. He had cast but one vote in his life, and that had been for General Taylor, who, he thought, would rise above party. He never forgot, however, that he was the citizen of a republic. Deeply interested in its welfare, conversant with its history, well acquainted with its practical working, long associated with its leading men, and himself a thinker and a leader in his own particular sphere, he could not fail to have decided opinions on the greater questions that divided the country. Though little bound by prejudice, his opinions were, of course, much influenced by his associations [257] and circumstances. A recapitulation of these will exhibit the conditions under which his ideas took form.

His family affiliations, his early associations, and some of his warmest friendships, inclined him, while young, to the principles of the Whig party, then in its best days. The constitutional text-book at West Point in his cadetship was, I believe, Rawle's “Commentaries,” a book of wholesome doctrine. The military education there had a natural and necessary tendency to inspire affection for the union of the States, and exalt the Federal authority in the youthful mind; and continued service in the army increased the feeling. On the other hand, the temporary severance of his allegiance, and his service under the independent government of Texas, and its formal voluntary annexation to the United States, must have compelled him to define the nature of Federal relations in a clearer way than did most army-officers. In the latter half of his life he saw the Democratic party as the champion, interpreter, and representative of conservative ideas, especially in the South. This, with other causes, contributed to draw him nearer to it. At once strongly Southern and strongly Unionist, he regarded with aversion the Republican party, which was anti-Southern, and, in its inception and tendency, disunionist.

To a soldier, that government commonly seems the best which is best administered; and the nurture and protection of liberty are less apt to engage his admiration than the display of certain other virtues. Order, justice, and vigor, are more apparent agencies than the spirit of freedom which gives them the breath of life. Power, exercised with decision, and restrained only by a sense of responsibility, appears as the model of government; and fetters upon the hands of authority seem the evidence of blind jealousy and unreasoning suspicion. Though General Johnston was something more than a mere soldier, this military ideal was not without its influence on his conception of government. A powerful, stable, energetic government, careful of the interests of the people, presents so many excellences that it is hard not to wish to see it realized. Such a vision influenced to some extent his imagination, the more so, as he deemed the spirit of personal independence the only effectual check upon the tendency to despotism present in all government. Devotion to the Union, fostered by the conviction of its unnumbered blessings, and by his military service, made him unwilling to consider it otherwise than as “perpetual.” In Utah, as the exponent of the military power of the Government, he was intrusted with the execution of its orders; its honor and dignity were in his custody; its welfare was the constant motive of his acts; and in his hands the mere symbols of its power had triumphed over the causeless rebellion of that disaffected yet dependent population.

But his life had not been passed altogether in the service of the [258] United States. He had been the soldier of Anglo-Saxon freedom, the cabinet officer of a constitutional and independent republic, and a planter who had earned his bread in the sweat of his brow. He understood the delicate and complicated mechanism of our Government; and, much as he desired to see its hands strengthened within its legitimate sphere, he knew that the sovereignty of the States was the palladium of our liberties, and was to be respected and defended with jealous care. It is true that he thought that the rights of the States could be better secured by many concessions even than by arms; but he had no doubts as to which party was the aggressor, and his convictions, as well as his sympathies, were with his own State and section. Moreover, he had learned from the patriots of 1776 the inherent right of every people to select their own form of government, and to maintain their independence by revolution.

General Johnston's views in regard to slavery were those generally held in the South, where he was born and brought up, and with whose social structure he had been identified. Right or wrong, they were the beliefs of eight millions of people, who have shown as high traits, as pure a morality, as lofty a courage, and as intelligent a statesmanship, as any who ever lived. With no great respect for political abstractions, and perceiving clearly the differences that mark race and condition, he rejected with intellectual scorn the generalizations which overlook all existing facts, and confound all the relations of life. He recognized our common humanity, no man more distinctly; and acted upon it, no man no more fully. But he could not ignore that the manifest inferiority of the negro fitted him for the place he held, and that time alone could fit him for any other. The slaves had been bought with a price, under the strongest legal sanctions, and all arguments for their forcible emancipation applied equally well to the confiscation of every other species of wealth or property. The destructive consequences of the abolition of slavery had been proved in the West Indies, and were as certain as any future event could be. Hence he shared the resentment, though not the expression of it, universal in the South, against the domineering philanthropy that assailed its institutions. His views in regard to the nature and polity of the United States Government, on the whole, fairly represented the ideas of the army-officers as a class, but enlarged and modified by a wider experience. If they could be summed up in a single word, it would be-conservative.

General Johnston had been so long the stanch soldier of the United States that he was unwilling to contemplate the picture of its majestic fabric shattered and in ruins. If the States were to be severed, it mattered little to him under what class of rights the act was to be consummated. Whether called secession, or revolution, or rebellion, it was the prostration of that governmental ideal for whose exaltation [259] his life had been spent. Like Mr. Madison, he had “veiled” the possibility, but the rude hand of fanaticism had rent the veil asunder. Ah! was it wise for the mighty North to force such faithful servants, such loyal hearts as this, as Jackson, as Lee, into resistance and the final argument of the battle-field. Lip-service and the hireling sword are everywhere at the command of power; but men like these, at their need, the generations must wait for. They are the product of wisdom, and justice, and beneficence, in the country which possesses them. Besotted is the people who believe that their place can be supplied by able adventurers. The splendid military genius of Hannibal could not sustain itself with mercenary spears against the moderate talents of Fabius and the unequal inspiration of Scipio, animated by patriotic fervor.

But, devoted as General Johnston was to the Union, he could not forget that he was also the citizen of a State. To Texas he had sworn allegiance; his estate and his best years had been spent in shielding her; he had aided to merge her autonomy and to limit her independent sovereignty by annexation, and he knew that when she entered the Union it was by treaty, as an equal, and that the Constitution was the bond to which she had consented. She had performed her covenant faithfully; it was the North by which it had been trampled into the dust. She had, therefore, the right to renounce the broken contract, or to try to enforce it, as she deemed most expedient. If she elected to secure her liberties by withdrawing from a Union in which they were assailed, her action would be justified by either the letter of the bond, or by the “inalienable right,” as the Declaration of Independence has it, of a people to choose their own form of government. It was an act of sovereignty, for which the State was responsible to whatever other community should choose to dispute it; but not. to its own citizens, who were bound to adhere to it the more closely the more it was endangered.

Now, though General Johnston was satisfied that Texas and the other Southern States had ample grounds for resistance or withdrawal, and the right to take the extremest measures to secure themselves, he did not believe the means adopted were wise or expedient. His mind was too sternly practical to allow him to suppose, when the clearest guarantees of the Constitution had failed to restrain partisan zeal and the lust of dominion, that these passions would be arrested now by the assertion of a disputed right. He was sure that peaceable secession was impossible, and therefore thought that it was a remedy to be tried only when all others had been exhausted, and not until every effort at conciliation had failed, and every sacrifice had been made to preserve the Union. Nor was he without hopes that, if an interval were left for returning reason to resume its sway, fanaticism might be dethroned, and the people would demand equity and peace. But, if resistance was to be made, he thought it should be attempted on no doubtful issue, [260] but only after radical tactics had fully laid bare the purposes of that party. Such delay would unite the South, justify its action, and give the opportunity for cooperation, organization, and the accumulation of adequate means of defense. Delusive as were these hopes, they were those of a patriot, and had much to do in shaping General Johnstones conduct in the opening of the war.

He knew that no man's voice or influence could control the tempest of human passions which was driving the republic on the breakers; yet such was his faith in its destiny that he could still trust that a good Providence would rescue it, even if by a miracle. In such a state of affairs, there was nothing left for a man in his position but to drift, standing at his post. His temper was of a cast so cheerful, his philosophy so bracing, and his code of duty so exacting, that he felt able to perform the minutest detail of service required of him with perfect fidelity of spirit and unshaken by the tumult, until a conflict of duties should arise. He would not anticipate the painful hour, for “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” but, when the moment for decision came, he would obey that conscience which had been his constant monitor.

When Texas seceded, the alternative was presented him. On one side was the grand nationality, whose flag he had borne, whose authority he had upheld, to whose glory he had consecrated his career, and in whose service were embarked all his plans for power, prosperity, and worldly advancement. On the other were his feeble State and her concurring sisters, as yet not united even in a defensive league, rent by faction, unprepared for war, and making no definite call upon his services. Had he listened to the voice of ambition, the tempter would have told him that, in the United States Army, he stood at the head of the list of active officers, and that above him were none except those whom age or meagre ability excluded from rivalry, and that the large resources and commanding position of the established Government offered every advantage a soldier could wish, while its rewards would accord with its imperial designs. Whatever others may have thought, he was not deceived as to the comparative strength of the opponents. He knew the facts only too well. When, therefore, he made his choice, it was the easy triumph of duty over interest, and of affection for his own people over all the allurements that ambition can hold out.

Until Texas seceded he went forward unswervingly in the service of his employer the General Government; but, when that event presented a definite issue, he promptly took his choice of evils. The United States Army was no longer the place for him, when, at any moment, he might be called upon to aid in the work of subjugation. He had resolved never to lift his hand against “his people ;” and, since Texas had left the Union, in the army he could not remain. He therefore [261] resigned. Still, as secession was not war, and Texas ardently desired peace, he indulged the hope that the mercy which had so often saved the country from the consequences of its own sins and follies might even yet avert impending disasters. In this event he would retire to some small farm, near Los Angeles, California, and, among congenial friends, far from the strife of faction, would pass the evening of his days in tranquillity. His age and services might claim exemption from contests for which he had no heart; and, in the balmy air of that garden of the West, he would nurture his children in scenes unvisited by civil discord.

He tendered his resignation, and asked that a successor might be sent to relieve him. He was very anxious to fulfill strictly and satisfactorily the trust committed to him, and to be relieved from it before the jar of civil war should complicate his position. Lest the knowledge of his resignation might weaken the moral hold he had over the soldiers, or promote disaffection and a revolutionary spirit among the numerous Southerners resident in California, he kept the fact concealed. His adjutant-general (Major Mackall) and Mrs. Johnston were aware of the fact, which he also communicated to Dr. Griffin, and Mr. and Mrs. H. P. Hepburn, his kinsfolk, under the seal of secrecy. This was so well observed that San Francisco was taken by surprise when his resignation was announced a fortnight later.

About this time, General Johnston was told, by some Republicans of San Francisco, that a plot existed to seize Alcatraz, the fortress which commands the entrance to the bay and harbor of that key of California, in order to set up a Pacific republic. General Johnston replied that he hoped they were mistaken, but that precautions would be taken to prevent the success of such an enterprise. He proceeded quietly to remove several thousand stand of arms from the arsenal at Benicia, where they were exposed, to Alcatraz, which was virtually impregnable, and informed the Governor that, in case of any outbreak or insurrection, they could be employed by the militia to repress it. He also took other measures to insure peace. The writer does not believe that any plot or design was made by the Southerners, or others in California, to take the State out of the Union; but there is no doubt that, if the large element of restless and revolutionary men on that coast had imagined they would receive the aid or countenance of the military commander in such an undertaking, they had the hardihood to make the attempt. A friend, long domiciled there, who would have known if anybody in that country knew, told the writer that there were prominent men in California who wished such a result, and, knowing his long intimacy, asked him to sound General Johnston as to the feasibility of a Pacific republic, and as to his wishes and intentions. “But,” said he, “I did not dare to approach him on the subject, He told me, however, of his [262] own accord, that as long as he held his commission he would maintain the authority of the United States to the last extremity; and we knew he would do it.”

While he was waiting, in suspense and much inward sorrow, the action of the authorities at Washington, General E. V. Sumner suddenly arrived unannounced at San Francisco, with orders to supersede him in the command of the department. As the circumstances of General Sumner's arrival have been greatly falsified by some of the baser sort of party journals, and the more careless sort of partisan histories, it is necessary to mention them here with more detail than would otherwise be called for. General Sumner sailed from New York about the 1st of April, secretly, and perhaps, as was stated at the time, under an assumed name. His name was not in the list of passengers forwarded by the Pony Express, which reached San Francisco a week in advance of the steamer. He had hardly taken command, before the Administration organs from ocean to ocean began to hint darkly of a deep-laid conspiracy nipped in the bud by this wonderful coup-d‘état. With that fertility of fancy which characterizes a certain class of journalists, the story grew by embellishment. This was the manner, as published by one of them:

There came one day to our good President a message that caused his cheek to pale, and his great heart to beat quick with apprehension. This was the message-short, as it was ominous-“There is treason on Alcatraz!” Alcatraz is the name of the island and fort, etc.

Then follows a long description of the situation, with full details of an imaginary plot, evidently evolved from the inner consciousness of this political romancer :

To insure the success of the scheme, Albert Sidney Johnston was placed in command at Fort Alcatraz. It was arranged that the leaders in San Francisco, with a force of picked men sufficient for the purpose, should surprise and capture the fort. The details were all arranged. They were waiting only for orders from the rebel government to strike the fatal blow. The birds of the air carried whisperings of this treason to loyal ears, etc.

General Sumner's secret appointment and transit are then given, with this denoument:

The eager thousands who thronged the streets hardly noticed the momentary pause of the steamer when passing Fort Alcatraz, nor did they note the little boat that shot out from her side toward the island; yet that tiny boat bore more to them “than Caesar and his fortunes.” It bore General Sumner, who, in a few minutes, stood before the commander, and, as his superior in rank, and under special orders from the President, assumed command of Fort Alcatraz. California was saved to the Union. [263]

This is a pretty fair sample of a story that has since been frequently reproduced with variations in Northern prints. On its face it bears the marks of a mythical origin — signs of improbability-circumstantial details, resting on the evidence of “the birds of the air” --a metaphor, probably, for that vile brood of troubled times, the paid informers. It would not be worth while to notice such a rumor, had it not been suggested by the conduct of the Administration, and, most probably, from its source and prevalence, by official inspiration. The truth was, that General Sumner landed at the wharf with the other passengers, and did not see General Johnston till the next day at noon. When the command was turned over to him, he expressed an approval of all his predecessor's acts, and much gratification at the condition of the department, also asking his advice as to future arrangements, the disposition of troops, etc. He stated that he would make a favorable report to the War Department.

The following extract from his report of April 28, 1861, to the adjutant-general, gives all that he says in regard to General Johnston; but, in so far as it goes, it confirms what has been said:

I have the honor to report that I arrived here on the 24th inst., and on the 25th relieved General Johnston in command of this department. My departure from New York was not known here till the night before my arrival. It gives me pleasure to state that the command was turned over to me in good order. General Johnston had forwarded his resignation before I arrived, but he continued to hold the command, and was carrying out the orders of the Government.

Having applied for information on this topic to General Buell, who was Sumner's chief of staff, in California, he replied, in a letter of April 2, 1873:

I did not accompany General Sumner to California in the spring of 1861, and was not there when your father turned over the command to him. I arrived, however, very soon after. I do remember that a report had some currency about that time to the effect that your father desired, or had it in contemplation, to surrender California to the cause of the Southern Confederacy. Those were days of a good deal of distrust and bitterness; but I do not believe that any well-informed person ever gave credence to the report. For, besides the intrinsic absurdity of such a proposition, and its utter inconsistency with your father's character, there was no foundation whatever for such a report. No man who knew your father well could ever believe him capable of a base action.

This slander having been lately revived in California, possibly for some political motive, has called forth a letter from Governor Downey. The article from the Los Angeles Express and the reply of Governor Downey are here given. [264]

All old residents of the Pacific coast know that at the time of the breaking out of the rebellion a plot was formed by A. S. Johnston, then the military commander of this department, in connection with a number of prominent leaders (some of whom are still prominent in that party), to seize the United States Arsenal, distribute the arms to their partisans, and hand the State of California over to the Southern Confederacy. Unfortunately for the success of this precious scheme, it by some means leaked out, and the Government at Washington, comprehending the danger, lost no time in dispatching General Sumner to supersede Johnston, and save the State to the Union. General Sumner arrived here incognito, and immediately proceeded to Benicia, where he presented the order assigning him to the command, and demanded possession of the department. Sumner's appearance was like a thunder-clap to the conspirators, who had not anticipated such prompt action, and were not prepared to resist, so there was nothing for Johnston to do but submit, and turn over the command to Sumner, which he did, and himself left a few days after for the South, where he fell on the field of Shiloh.

To the editor of the

The above is taken from an article in the Los Angeles Daily Republican, and is written to subserve the local campaign; but it is at great sacrifice of the truths of history. During the term of General Albert Sidney Johnston I had constant intercourse with him on official business. Up to my term of office we had yearly wars with the Indians, in which the State annually incurred great expense. I took the ground that this was all wrong, that it was a Federal matter purely, and that the Federal troops on this coast were ample, at all times, for every Indian emergency. The executive office was flooded with petitions to call out troops. I applied to General Johnston for relief, which he immediately granted, and assured me that he had all the force and material required to quell the Indian disturbances, and that this service was about all that himself, officers, and men, had to perform on this coast. It was suggested by several citizens to me that there were 75,000 stand of arms at Benicia that might, in those disturbed times, fall into hands that would use them against the Government. I called on General Johnston in relation to these arms. He said, in the most impressive manner: “Governor, I have spent the greater part of my life in the service of my country, and while I hold her commission I shall serve her honorably and faithfully. I shall protect her public property, and not a cartridge or a percussion-cap shall pass to any enemy while I am here as her representative. There is,” he said, “no man in the Union more sorely afflicted than I am at the occurrences now taking place. I do not know yet what position Texas may take. I have been long identified with Texas, her interests and public men, and her action may control my future destiny, but in any event I shall give due notice, and turn over intact my department to my successor.” Now, I say it is not true that there was any plot to carry this State out of the Union. I was in constant communication with Mr. Seward and the Secretary of War. I raised all the troops that were required, without an expense of twenty-five cents to the State. The railroad was no factor in this question. No troops came here from the East. I raised them and sent them forward East, all under Democratic officers — the Arizona column, under Generals Carleton and West, and the Utah column, under Generals Conner, Evans, O'Neal, and others. General [265] Johnston did not leave the State in a few days after the arrival of Sumner. He remained in San Francisco a long time, and his house was the centre to which the army-officers tended in a social way. Long after his replacement by General Sumner I met the most of the Federal officers at his house, many of them men who distinguished themselves afterward during the war. It was long after this occurrence that General Johnston was in Los Angeles, and I believe still undetermined what course to pursue. So it is plain that the Republican is badly informed. I have the kindest letters from General Sumner and General Wright, his successors, thanking me for my aid in helping them to discharge their duties at this very critical period. Neither of these gentlemen believed that General Johnston had any knowledge of any plot on this coast; nor that there was any necessity for the unusual and precipitous manner which the War Department pursued. It is plain that, if the Department of War thought there was any danger, they would not have shipped the arms at Benicia East by way of Panama. They would have kept them here for us to put down rebellion.

John G. Downey.

This chapter having been submitted by letter to General W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant-General of the Department of California in 1861, he replied January 7, 1876. The following is an extract from the letter of General Mackall:

That your father exercised his command honestly for the Government he served in California is thoroughly known to me; but, as a matter of course, my evidence can have no weight with those inclined to doubt it. When Texas seceded, he told me that he had sent in his resignation. I was surprised, and said, “I always thought you were a Kentuckian.” He replied, “I adopted Texas, and its people have been my fast friends and are entitled to my best services.” In reply, some days after, to a remark of mine (not, however, in reference to himself), that I thought an officer inexcusable in negotiating with another government for position, while holding a United States commission, he said, “Major, I assure you that I have never written one word to any one on such a subject.”

The morning General Sumner arrived, General Johnston and I were in the office with some other officers, when my clerk announced Sumner's arrival. General Johnston turned to me and, smiling, said, “Major, you and I know how welcome he is.” Neither of us suspected that it had any other significance than the natural answer to his resignation, or a command given to Sumner on his promotion. I am satisfied that no officer, Northern or Southern, had up to this time thought that General Johnston would act otherwise than as a gentleman true to his trust. Nor do I believe that he, much as his character commanded the respect of all, had he attempted to make use of his position to injure the Government he then served, could have called to his side a single Southern officer. Sure am I that none of those who afterward, with great sorrow, felt themselves obliged to leave the service and go to the defense of their own people, for whom many of them gave up their lives, would have been found among the number. The only complaint I ever heard from General Sumner as to the condition of the command as he received it was, that he was not assured of the loyalty of the commander of Alcatraz Island, I do not remember [266] whether or no he superseded him. This, however, is known, that the officer continued to serve the United States during the war; and so Sumner must have learned that, even in this instance, General Johnston had been true. General Johnston, however, had acted from no special knowledge of the officer's politics, but from his own honest instincts, which brought the conviction that a gentleman would not accept a trust which he might be induced to betray.

The meeting was cordial on both sides. Whomsoever else that bluff soldier might suspect, he knew that the man before him was the model of spotless integrity. General Johnston mentioned the facts of his resignation to General Sumner, who then said: “General, I wish you would reconsider and recall your resignation. General Scott bade me --say to you that he wished you for active service, and that you should be only second to himself.” General Johnston replied, “I thank General Scott for his opinion of me, but nothing can change my determination.”

When General Johnston learned how his successor had been sent forward, and the inference thus suggested to the public mind, together with the version of his conduct which had been put forth by the Administration press for some weeks previous, he felt the deepest indignation. To the officers who informed him of General Sumner's arrival, he had said with emotion at the weight of care which had been lifted from his shoulders, “Then am I doubly relieved.” But, after he had so guarded his action as to keep his fair fame spotless, at the expense of feeling and interest, the iniquity of this insidious blow rankled in his bosom. Whether it was the fabrication of some malignant slanderer, or a nightmare conjured up from the tangled designs of the cabinet, he scorned the imputation upon him of conspiracy or infidelity to his duty as a United States officer. He said once and again to friends, “If I had proved faithless here, how could my own people ever trust me?”

Colonel Munford, on his staff during the civil war, made the following statement in his public address at Memphis, on General Johnston:

When his resignation of command in the army of the United States was sent from California, he kept his purpose and action a profound secret. I heard him say that he believed if he had tried he could have brought nearly or quite his entire command with him, and, remarking that we needed them very much, I asked him if he did not regret not having done so. “No sir,” he replied.

That army was not mine; it belonged, with all its appointments, to the Government of the United States. My position was a trust which for myself I could relinquish, but only on condition of handing over, to those for whom I held, whatever was in my hands. I waited till I had cause to know my resignation had been received in Washington, turned over the entire command to the next ranking officer, mounted my horse and started across the Plains.

Colonel Thomas F. McKinney, his old friend, wrote in 1872, in regard to General Johnston: [267]

One thing is very clear from what he said as he passed through Texas, that the war between the North and South distressed him exceedingly.

The whole proceeding was at once imbecile and insulting. Had the suspicion been correct, and General Johnston the arch-conspirator he was represented to be, no man who knows the boldness and decision of his character can doubt that he would have solved the problem of a Pacific republic promptly enough, by clapping his successor in irons, and turning the guns of Alcatraz upon San Francisco. As his correspondence will show, however, he was still hoping for a peaceable solution of the question, and was alternately swayed with grief at the condition of affairs and satisfaction at the Union feeling in San Francisco. The only effect upon him was to revolt his whole soul against those who had assailed his honor. His friends on the Atlantic coast, without fully comprehending the force of the thrust made at him, tried to wipe out or repair the injury as far as possible. General Scott, as soon as he heard what had been done, sent him the strongest assurances of friendship. A cadetship at the Military Academy for his son was forwarded on the 19th of April, probably through General Scott's instrumentality; and other evidences were offered of a desire to employ him in high position, which were communicated to him through various channels more or less direct.

The Hon. Montgomery Blair, Mr. Lincoln's Postmaster-General, in a letter to the writer, shows that, at a later date, when opportunity for investigation and a correct knowledge of the facts had been afforded, the Administration entertained no such view of conspiracy as the loyal press had disseminated. Mr. Blair says:

There is a fact in regard to your father that I ought to mention. When General Ord came here from San Francisco, he called on me, and stated that great injury had been done your father by the manner in which he had been superseded, that he was opposed to the secession movement altogether, and that he had often heard him check persons using secession talk in his presence, telling them that it was not respectful to him, as a United States officer. This statement was substantiated by a letter of yours which had been intercepted and given to me. I immediately told Mr. Lincoln the facts, and recommended him to send your father a major-general's commission, and he at once executed the commission. I had it forwarded to your father at San Francisco. But a few days afterward I learned that he had started for Texas, and I directed the postmaster to retain the package for cancellation.

This must have been early in July.

So far as his merely personal attitude was concerned, the assurances he received of the disposition of the President and cabinet toward him might have been accepted as satisfactory, though it is not probable that he ever would have resumed his sword, under any circumstances, [268] under the orders of an Administration that had touched his honor so nearly. But the allurements held out to him had no weight in altering a resolution formed on entirely different grounds. From the moment Texas seceded, his purpose was fixed, no longer to bear arms for a Government of which she was not a member.

General Johnston was now again a private citizen. He left San Francisco on the 28th of April, and proceeded to Los Angeles, where he became the guest of his brother-in-law, Dr. John S. Griffin. He had made comparatively few acquaintances in California; but, as soon as he ceased to wear the uniform of the United States, numbers flocked to him for advice as to what should be done in such a crisis. His habitual reply was:

If you sympathize with either side, and feel the call of duty to take part in a sectional war, go home, and fight there if necessary. But here there should be peace. Strife here would be civil war — not North against South-but neighbor against neighbor; and no one can imagine the horrors that would ensue.

The writer does not think he is claiming too much when he says that the exemption of the Pacific coast from the calamities of civil war, and, in great measure, subsequently, from the bitterness engendered elsewhere thereby, was due to General Johnston, perhaps, more than to any other man, by reason of his firm and unshaken attitude as a commander until relieved, and afterward by his counsels as a private citizen.

About the first of May, the writer, hearing that it was probable that General Johnston would be arrested if he returned to the United States by the way of New York, determined to apprise him of his danger. Knowing that all letters were liable to official scrutiny, he engaged a midshipman, who had lately resigned and was highly recommended, to bear advices to General Johnston. The messenger, with excellent intentions, was so indiscreet as to confide his letters to a United States consul in the West Indies, and to land in New York, where he was arrested. This is the intercepted letter alluded to by Mr. Blair. As General Johnston knew nothing of this attempt to warn him, it did not influence his movements. It is mentioned now only because it was proclaimed at the time as another link in the grand chain of conspiracy which was erroneously assumed by the excited imagination of the North to encircle the Confederate States.

With fair opportunities of knowing the details of the secession movement, the writer does not hesitate to say that its most salient characteristics were spontaneous enthusiasm and reckless confidence. The revolution was essentially popular; and a martial democracy, in which public measures had always been settled by oral discussion, was not apt to practise any concealment of conduct or opinion. In fact, as [269] the entire State action claimed to be based on legal right, all mystery was repudiated as savoring of intrigue, and much force was spent in vehement assertion that might better have been put into preparation for the conflict. Conspiracy is alien to the genius of a free people. It requires generations of despotism to train men to the secrecy, perfect organization, and implicit obedience, necessary to success in it. There were no materials for this sort of work in the South; and, indeed, the education that supplies them unfits a people for the liberty it seeks through them. It would, nevertheless, be well for Americans of all sections if the spirit of self-restraint were cultivated more, and if a greater reserve were studied to replace the unbridled expression of thought and feeling that is becoming so marked a national trait.

In a letter written January 17, 1861, from San Francisco to the writer, General Johnston, after describing the rough voyage by which he and his family reached their destination on the 14th of January, says:

When we get to our new home and look around a little, I shall be able to give you some account of California affairs. I think the public sentiment here is decidedly in favor of the maintenance of the Union.


San Francisco, California, February 25, 1861.
My dear son: We are all well, and almost as comfortable as we could desire, were it not for the unhappy condition of our country. I confess I can only expect a general disruption, for passion seems to rule. Yet, though hope has been so often disappointed, a gleam breaks upon us from the efforts of the 4th of February convention at Washington, leading us on to indulge in its illusions a little longer.

A huge Union meeting was held here on the 22d. The day was a perfect holiday for the whole population, who filled the streets, and in their best dresses seemed to enjoy the beautiful weather. The resolutions adopted testified to a devoted loyalty to the Union, declared against secession as a right, and repudiated the idea of a Pacific republic as impossible. They express fraternal feelings for all the States, and declare that their interest and honor demand every exertion on their part to bring about harmony again. I presume that the sentiments of these resolutions, which are those of the people of this city, may be set down as those of the State, with the exception of a small minority.

I send Hennie, Rosa, Mrs. Duncan, and grandpa's little pets, best love. Your affectionate father,

A. S. Johnston.

The following letter to Major Fitz-John Porter, though in parts nearly identical with that just given, is inserted as corroborative of General Johnston's perfect frankness of dealing. While his son was acting with those in the South who were readiest to meet the issue of war, his late adjutant-general and trusted friend, looking at affairs from a Northern point of view, was gradually yielding his conservative views and entering with zeal into the idea of coercing the South. General [270] Johnston, agreeing with neither, did not resent in those he loved that liberty of thought and action which he claimed for himself as his dearest right:

San Francisco, California, February 25, 1861.
My dear Major: I have received your letter of 22d of January. I found my trunk at Wells, Fargo & Co.'s office. I have no news to give you from this far-off region. Everything is quiet, and the affairs of the department are being conducted quietly and without difficulty from any source; though, without any excuse for it, the Government has allowed every department of the staff here to fall into a state of pauperism, making the military arm as impotent for action here as the greatest enemy of the republic could desire to have it. The district of Oregon owes not less than $200,000, and no money on hand except a few thousands in the Subsistence Department; this department owes probably $100,000, and not a cent to pay with. Is our Government absolutely stupefied? or why overlook the fact that they can protect the public interest here at least? There is abundance of money in the Mint to pay all the indebtedness of the Government here, and meet any emergency, if the Secretary of the Treasury would only recognize the fact, and transfer the funds in the Sub-Treasury to the credit of the disbursing officers. Volumes have been written against the credit system and the losses to the General Government in consequence of it, when it had credit; how much more strongly may all the arguments be urged now, when men begin to doubt its longer continuance! The loss to the Government must be so much the greater in consequence.

There was a huge Union meeting here on the 22d. The weather was beautiful, and the day was made a perfect holiday by the whole population, who, well dressed and entirely respectable in appearance and deportment, seemed to enjoy the fine weather. The streets were filled all day, the people going to and fro in pursuit of pleasure. The resolutions adopted by the meeting were declaratory of the devoted attachment of the people to the Union, of their opposition to secession as a right, of their repudiation of the idea of a Pacific republic as impossible, and expressive of their fraternal feelings toward all the States, and their duty and interest to bring about harmony. I would that there were no other sentiments within the broad expanse of our country.

Please present my kind regards to Mrs. Porter and Mrs. Holbrook, and believe me, very truly your friend,

A. S. Johnston. To Major F. J. Porter, no. 66 Union Place, New York City.

San Francisco, California, April 9, 1861.
My dear son: Yesterday the newspapers of this city announced that Texas had completed all arrangements contemplated as necessary to separate her destiny from the General Government, the final act being the taking the oath of allegiance to the new Confederacy by the Legislature and other State officers. I have hoped to the last that a reconciliation would be, by some great statesmanlike move in the right direction, effected, with such guarantees as would be satisfactory and reestablish the tranquillity of the Southern mind and those fraternal relations which alone make our confederate system possible. Whether these acts could or could not be rightfully done under the Constitution need no longer be discussed. The people have resolved, and so declared to the [271] world, to establish a government for themselves. A great fact thus presents itself, which must be dealt with not with technicalities, but in view of all the considerations and interests which affect the future of two great sections of our country. To continue to hold my commission after being apprised of the final action of my State, to whose partiality in a great measure I owe my position, could find no justification in my own conscience; and I have, therefore, this day forwarded the resignation of my commission for the acceptance of the President, which I hope may be promptly accepted. I have asked that my successor be appointed and ordered to relieve me as soon as practicable.

You probably have seen a paragraph in the papers to the effect that evidence is in possession of the War Department that General Johnston and other officers are conspiring to establish a Pacific republic. I say the whole charge. is false in every particular, and that there is not the slightest ground for it. I am a stranger here, and have had no conversation even with any one who desires such a result or entertains such views. If the War Department has such information, why don't they order an investigation, and not give it to the letter-writers to damage the reputation of officers? My escutcheon is without a blur upon it, and never will be tarnished. I shall do my duty to the last, and when absolved take my course. I must now look out for a livelihood for my poor family; how or where to find it is not apparent, but with my courage all will not be lost. Give my love to Hennie, Rosa, Mrs. Duncan, and the children.

Your affectionate father,

You had, perhaps, better let the announcement of my resignation come from the department.


San Francisco, California, April 14, 1861.
My dear doctor: The news reached this place on the 9th inst. that Texas had, in the most solemn and conclusive manner, taken the final step to separate her destiny from that of the Northern States, and had joined the Southern Confederacy. This extreme action is entirely consistent with the belief on their part that the unfriendly sentiment of the North, which so injuriously affected the tranquillity and security of the Southern communities, would undergo no change, and that the future, in consequence of it, would be worse than the past. For my own part, I thought differently. I believed that the joint action of the slaveholding States (if it could be brought about) would obtain from the North all the guarantees necessary for the preservation of the equality of the States, and prevent for the future the system of molestation kept up by fanaticism, and that the unfriendly sentiment (sufficiently prevalent at the North for mischief), no longer sustained by political sanctions, would die out. I thought this course would preserve the integrity of the Union, and make it compatible with the honor and interests of the whole to maintain it. But the persistent obstinacy of the Republican party, in refusing to concede anything whatever for the sake of the Union up to the hour of the adjournment of the Senate, seems to indicate that the action of the South was based upon a correct understanding of the true sentiments of the North and their unbending character.. It seems instinctively to have seized the right conclusion. The Government has now to deal with a great fact — a portion of the Confederacy in the attitude and progress of revolution. It is now immaterial whether the steps by which they have reached this point are legal or not; the question now rests upon principles which constitute [272] the essence of our organic law, i. e., the right of revolution. A wise, straightforward, manly statesmanship may lead to a peaceful solution; but there is nothing so far to found the basis of such a hope upon. The quibbling about technicalities, which can no longer enter into the question, has only produced embarrassment so far. I felt, as soon as I learned the course adopted by my State (Texas), that it was my duty to conform to her will, and that I ought to forward my resignation to the President; and I have accordingly done so. I have served faithfully to the present moment, and will continue to until I am properly relieved. Until then, rest assured that I will do nothing inconsistent with my obligations to the Government as an officer. The pressure of Northern views had begun to manifest itself in the army, and therefore I felt less repugnance in severing my connection with it. You will allow that a man's convictions of the necessity must be strong to lead him to take the step I have done. I have counseled only with my wife. It brings us face to face with poverty. There is no dishonor in this; but, to serve without the proper animus, there would be. In the contingencies of life, we have taught ourselves to believe that all conditions of life are tolerable, without dishonor. I am willing to undertake any employment that will yield a support for my family. Your advice would assist me. I will have in cash about $1,500 to begin with.

Your friend and brother,

A. S. Johnston.
Any publicity given to the fact of my having resigned would embarrass me in the proper discharge of my duty. It would be better for the notice to come from the East.

Washington City, April 18, 1861.
My dear General: I take the greatest pleasure in assuring you, for the Secretary of War, that he has the utmost confidence in you, and will give you the most important command and trust, on your arrival here. Sidney is appointed to the Military Academy.

I hope soon to see you; and, with a heart glowing with pride and pleasure for my commander and friend, I remain, ever yours,

F. J. Porter, Assistant Adjutant-General. To General A. S. Johnston, San Francisco, California.

The following letter, addressed to Major Porter by an officer, then and since very prominent in the United States Army, needs no comment:

Washington, May 10, 1861.
dear Porter: General Johnston has resigned. He did so, April 9, 1861! Sumner's orders were not known here till near that time. He left Washington April 1st. Johnston asked that a successor might be sent to relieve him I His letter did not show that he had any idea that he was suspected, or that any one was sent to relieve him-says that he has heard that Johnston has been talking, very openly, secession doctrines in San Francisco. The thing is all up. His resignation is accepted, and the feeling is so strong against those who have abandoned the country, that it would be utterly useless to say a word.


General Johnston's resignation was accepted on the 6th of May, to take effect on the 3d instant.

From his sister-in-law, Mrs. Eliza Gilpin, already mentioned as the widow of his brother, Josiah Stoddard Johnston, he received a letter, dated at Philadelphia, April 15th, breathing the excited feeling of devotion to the Union just then newly aroused by the fall of Fort Sumter. The following extract, however, contains all that is essential to this memoir:

My very dear brother: The newspaper account of your having been superseded in your command, and without any reasons having been assigned for it, has given me much anxiety on your account, and excited much indignation, as no one alive has a right to feel for you a more natural and affectionate interest. Your elder brother, my beloved husband, having felt for you as a father, gives me a right to speak as a mother; and I do affectionately request you not to act hastily and resign your commission. I have a letter, this moment received from Washington, from the most reliable source — an officer of rank, and a great personal friend of yours. From him I asked what it meant. His reply is: “Great astonishment prevails at the course taken with regard to your brother, General Johnston, and General Scott expresses great mortification at the course, which we all believe to be purely political. The general designs, when General Johnston arrives here, to place him in a position at once which will relieve him from the slightest imputation.” Therefore, my dear Albert, do not think of resigning. Remember your dear brother's love for the Union, his exalted patriotism, and his many virtues. You are his representative now, and will remain by our beloved flag....

God bless you, my dear brother, and direct you in the right way!

your sister.

The following was General Johnston's reply:

My dear sister: I received your kind and affectionate letter of April 15th, last evening. The resignation of my commission in the army was forwarded from San Francisco, for the acceptance of the President, on the 10th of April, by the Pony Express. It should have reached Washington on the 25th of April, the day on which General Sumner, under the orders of the Secretary of War, relieved me from the command of the Pacific Department. I was directed in that order to repair to Washington to receive orders. Presuming that my resignation had been accepted by the President, to take effect on the arrival of my successor, as had been requested by me, I have awaited here the announcement of its acceptance. It may be that, having, under the influence of an unaccountable and unjustifiable distrust, ordered me to be relieved, the authorities deferred the acceptance till they received General Sumner's report, in which case I cannot receive an answer before the 23d inst.

Having faithfully administered the affairs of the department until I was relieved, there can be no reason to refuse the acceptance. As I am neither indebted to the Government, nor have done any exceptionable act, a refusal to accept would be without precedent; and, inasmuch as themselves made it impossible [274] for any man with a spark of honor, in my position, to serve longer, it would also be most unjust. I do not say I would have served much longer under any circumstances; but I do say that it would have been impossible for me to have done any act inconsistent with the trust reposed in me; and that trust would, under all circumstances, have been restored, as it was, to the Government, intact.

After General Sumner's promotion, I expected, as a matter of course, to be relieved by him, and was not aware when I was relieved that his being sent out was accompanied by circumstances manifesting distrust. This I learned afterward. I was astonished to see in the San Francisco Bulletin of the 7th of April, and I must say also disgusted, that the War Department, which should guard and protect the fame of the officer of the army, allowed itself to be the vehicle of foully slanderous imputations against me, derived no doubt from anonymous sources. If not, justice required an investigation, which would have fixed the guilt, or have acquitted. Instead of this, letter-writers were suffered to spread the charge of disloyalty against me through the wide extent of the States, though there was not a single fact to sustain it.

I have since received the assurances of the Secretary, dated April 18th, through an excellent friend, of full confidence in me, and that my son was appointed a cadet. This is better than nothing, but is a small compensation for the damage done. I have at no time thought that General Scott had anything to do with this. I still feel for him all the gratitude and kindness I have always felt.

I do not desire ever again to hold an office. No one could feel more sensibly the calamitous condition of our country than myself; and, whatever part I may take hereafter, it will always be a subject of gratulation with me that no act of mine ever contributed to bring it about. I suppose the difficulties will now only be adjusted by the sword. In my humble judgment that was not the remedy.

I hope, my dear sister, you are in good health, and that you may long live to enjoy the good things Providence has placed in your hands. Such is the prayer of your affectionate brother,

A. S. Johnston.

It is a pleasant thought, now that death has reunited these kindred and exalted spirits, to remember that, though differing so widely, the affection of a lifetime was not imbittered even by the events of the civil war. This venerable lady cherished a tender, sisterly recollection for the memory of the soldier to whose martial virtues her benign influence had early imparted some of the grace of her own refined and elegant character. In a letter to the writer, dated July 12, 1861, she says:

I truly grieve for the necessity of your father's resignation. Still, I cannot blame him. He has always been the soul of honor; and so he will be, in my estimation, while I live.

Years afterward these sentiments were reiterated by the trembling hand of age.

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