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Interesting Reminiscences of General Johnston. [from the Richmond dispatch, April 26, 1891.]

By General Dabney H. Maury.

Services in Mexico.

I first saw General Johnston at Vera Cruz in March, 1847, when, after a bombardment of two weeks, the city raised the white flag, and General Scott appointed Captain Robert E. Lee and Captain Joseph E. Johnston of his staff to go into the place and arrange the terms of its surrender. They were then distinguished young officers, [172] intimate friends to each other, and their martial appearance as they rode superbly mounted to meet the Mexican officers gave a general feeling of satisfaction to our army that such representatives of the ‘North Americans’ had been chosen for such an occasion.

A few days before General Scott had published to his army a congratulatory order announcing ‘the great victory won by the successful General Taylor’ on the field of Buena Vista. We young Virginians felt very proud that day.

After disposing of Vera Cruz we moved on toward the City of Mexico. The army marched along the great National road, made by the old Spaniards, till about April 12th, when some cannon-shots from Cerro Gordo checked the advance guard of our cavalry, and made us know Santa Anna was prepared to give us battle there.

Wounded in Mexico.

Captain Johnston was ordered to make a reconnoissance of his position. ‘C’ company of the Rifles (now Third cavalry) was a part of his escort, I being attached to it. We had been halted in the timber, just out of sight of the enemy, some twenty minutes, when we heard the rattle of musketry, and a few minutes later the order came to ‘fall back to the right and left of the road’ to let the hearers of Captain Johnston pass by. He had received two severe wounds while making a daring reconnoissance, and was borne back to Plan Del Rio and placed in the most airy house in the village, where I also was borne five days later, being severely wounded.

Stevens Mason, captain of the Rifles was taken there also, and a few days after Lieutenant Darby (John Phoenix) was brought in and laid on a cot by my side.

A disciplinarian.

The rooms were separated by partitions of reeds, which admitted the passage of air and sound. And we could converse from one room to another. Darby's coarse humor was irrepressible. Nothing could stop it, and it gave annoyance especially to Captain Johnston, who was as pure as a woman in word and thought. But he lay quiescent, without any expression of pain, though his wounds were the most grievous of all, and silently endured Darby's jokes till he heard him one day order his servant to catch a lamb from a passing flock and have it cooked for dinner. Then he lifted up his voice and said, ‘If you dare to do that, sir, I will have you court-martialled.’ [173]

After ten days General Scott had all of us borne on litters up to the beautiful city of Jalapa, where we were in a delicious climate and luxurious quarters.

After getting strength enough to walk to Captain (now Colonel) Johnston's quarters (he had been promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the fine regiment of voltigeurs) I went to see him every day, and we there formed an attachment which ever grew until the end. His nephew, the gallant young Preston Johnston, of the artillery, was his constant companion and nurse. Ten months later both had been shot down in battle ‘in the valley.’ Young Preston Johnston was killed instantly. His uncle, then heading the voltigeurs at Chapultepec, was again severely wounded.

Tender affection.

Only a month ago he told me with deep feeling of his distress on hearing of his brave boy's death, and how Lee, who broke the news to him, wept as he grasped his hand and told it. The affection between these two great men was very tender.

A comparison.

After the Mexican war we met no more on duty until about 1858, when a board of cavalry officers was assembled in Washington to establish a uniform equipage for our cavalry and artillery regiments. We were occupied several weeks on this business in Winder's building, where during the same time Captain William B. Franklin and Raphel Semmes were serving together on the light-house board.

One day after our daily session Franklin said: Now that you have seen Lee and Johnston working together for some weeks, how do you estimate the two men? In previous discussion I had thought Lee more full of promise and capacity.

I said: While both are as earnest and intelligent as possible, I have noticed that Colonel Lee often yields his opinions to those of the board or of other members of it, while Colonel Johnston has never on any occasion yielded his, but frequently has made the board yield to him. In fact, he is the one man who seems to have come to his work with a clear and fixed idea of what is needed in every detail of it.

Cordial intercourse.

Our intercourse, as you know, has been cordial, and even affectionate, ever since we met in Mexico. I was with him for a few days after [174] the first battle of Manassas and accompanied him as he rode over the field and described the course and incidents of the fight. Then, I being ordered to the West, met him no more until about Christmas, 1862. When he came to our army at Grenada with President Davis, who reviewed and inspected it, the army was in position in our entrenchments on the Yallabusha. I commanded the centre and was in my place when General Johnston rode out from the President's cortege, greeted me most cordially, and asked me to ride with him, which we did for several hours.

A mistake.

He had just returned from an inspection of Vicksburg, and told me he had never seen so much fortification, and thought it a mistake to keep so large an army in an entrenched camp; that the army ought to be 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 about three thousand men, which would guard the river better than the long line of dispersed guns and entrenchments and troops which extended above and below Vicksburg for more than twenty miles.

While commanding the Department of the Gulf I occasionally sent him supplies of provisions, troops, and some siege-pieces, which he mounted on the works of Atlanta, declaring thereby his intention to ‘keep that place.’ After his removal from command I received this very interesting letter from him:

Macon, Ga., September 1, 1864.
My dear Maury:

I have been intending ever since my arrival at this place to pay a part of the epistolary debt I owe you. But you know how lazy it makes one to have nothing to do, and so with the hot weather we have been enduring here I have absolutely devoted myself to idleness. I have been disposed to write more particularly of what concerns myself—to explain to you as far as practicable the operations for which I was laid on the shelf, for you are one of the last whose unfavorable opinion I should be willing to incur.

You know that the Army I commanded was that which, under General Bragg, was routed at Missionary Ridge. Sherman's army was that which routed it, reinforced by the Sixteenth and Twenty-third corps. I am censured for not taking the offensive at Dalton— [175] where the enemy, if beaten, had a secure refuge behind the fortified gap at Ringgold, or in the fortress of Chattanooga, and where the odds against us were almost as ten to four. At Resaca he received five brigades, near Kingston three, and about three thousand five hundred cavalry, at New Hope church one—in all about fourteen thousand infantry and artillery. The enemy received the Seventeenth corps and a number of garrisons and bridge guards from Tennessee and Kentucky that had been relieved by ‘one-hundred-day men.’

Fought every day.

I am blamed for not fighting. Operations commenced about the 6th of May. I was relieved on the 18th of July. In that time we fought daily, always under circumstances so favorable to us as to make it certain that the sum of the enemy's losses was five times ours, which was ten thousand. Northern papers represented theirs up to about the end of June at forty-five thousand. Sherman's progress was at the rate of a mile and a quarter a day. Had this style of fighting been allowed to continue is it not clear that we would soon have been able to give battle with abundant chances of victory? and that the enemy, beaten on this side of the Chattahoochee would have been destroyed?

Sherman's Army stronger.

It was ceriain that Sherman's army was stronger compared with that of Tennessee, than Grant's compared with that of Northern Virginia. General Bragg asserts that Sherman's was absolutely stronger than Grant's. It is well known that the Army of Virginia was much superior to that of Tennessee. Why, then should I be condemned for the defensive, while General Lee was adding to his great fame by the same course? General Bragg seems to have earned at Missionary Ridge his present high position. People report at Columbus and Montgomery that General Bragg said that my losses had been frightful; that I had disregarded the wishes and instructions of the President; that he had in vain implored me to change my course, by which I suppose it is meant assume the offensive.

Utterly untrue.

As these things are utterly untrue it is not to be supposed that they were said by General Bragg. The President gave me no instructions and expressed no wishes except just before we reached [176] the Chattachoochee, warning me not to fight with the river behind us, and against crossing it, and previously he urged me not to allow Sherman to detach to Grant's aid. General Bragg passed some ten hours with me just before I was relieved and gave me the impression that his visit to the army was casual. He being on his way further West to endeavor to get us reinforcements from Kirby, Smith and Lee. I thought him satisfied with the state of things, but not so with that in Virginia. He assured me that he had always maintained in Richmond that Sherman's army was stronger than Grant's. He said nothing of the intention to relieve me, but talked with General Hood on the subject, as I learned after my removal.

The object.

It is clear that his expedition had no other purpose than my removal, and the giving proper direction to public opinion on the subject. He could have had no other object in going to Montgomery. A man of honor in his place would have communicated with me as well as Hood on the subject. Being expected to assume the offensive he attacked on the 20th, 22d, and 28th of July, disastrously losing more men than I had done in seventy-two days. Since then his defensive has been at least as quiet as mine was; but you must be tired of this.

We are living very quietly and pleasantly here. The Georgians have been very hospitable. We stopped here merely because it was the first stopping-place. Remember us cordially to Mrs. Maury. Tell her that the gloves arrived most opportunely. Mine have just been lost, and it would have been impossible to buy more, and they are lovely.

Just before I left the army we thought the odds against us had been reduced almost six to four. I have not supposed, therefore, that Sherman could either invest Atlanta or carry it by assault.

Very truly yours,

Since the great war between the States we have been often so associated as to impress me with the tender nature which underlay the martial mind and person of our great soldier. As a host, and with his wife he was attentive and tender above all men. She was very humorous and jovial and delighted to have a joke on him, and he enjoyed it from her as heartily as any of us. [177]

One day at Sweet Chalybeate Springs a party of us, as usual, assembled before dinner around one of John Dabney's great hail-storm juleps. The General was sitting near the baluster of the portico, which overlooked the wall beneath, and deep in some narrative, when he was interrupted by a shriek which startled us all and broke in upon his story. After looking over to learn the cause of such a yell, he recommenced his story, but was again interrupted as before. Again he looked and then again resumed, only to be interrupted a third time. Then, fierce as Mars, he looked down upon the screamer and said: ‘Why don't you run away? Why don't you run away?’ I suggested, ‘Well, that's fine advice for a great general to give.’ Turning savagely upon me he said, ‘If she will not fight, sir, is not the best thing for her to do to run away, sir?’ Mrs. Johnston, with a burst of her hearty laugh, said, ‘That used to be your plan always, I know, sir.’ This relieved us all, and we burst into a laugh in which he joined as heartily as any.

A terrible gobbler.

The cause of all of this disturbance was a young women in a red cloak, upon whom a turkey gobbler charged. The girl stood still and shrieked with fear. The gobbler then wheeled in retreat, only to make another charge on the paralyzed women, whose only recourse each time was to shake herself and shriek until somebody came and drove the gobbler away.

Elder S picture.

The State of Virginia employed Jack Elder to paint his portrait—a good one it is—and now hangs in the rotunda of our Capitol beside Lee's. I was asked to go and keep him in chat while the artist was at work. The first sitting was occupied by him in discussing Napoleon, Marlborough, and Wellington, and a short-hand writer might then have recorded the most terse critique ever pronounced on these great commanders.

The little Corporal.

He placed Napoleon above all of the generals of history. Marlborough he ranked above all Englishmen, and censured Macaulay for allowing his partisan feelings for King William to transmit as history his aspersions of Marlborough. Wellington he considered a very great general, but denounced his brutality in Spain in giving to sack by his British soldiery the cities of the people he was sent there to defend and protect.


His opinion of Forrest.

The next day we had another sitting, and he discussed the generals of our war. He spoke most highly of Forrest, whom he had closely observed, and declared to be the greatest soldier the war produced. You know how keenly he felt that the Virginians had known so little of him in our war. His strongest desire was to be identified with Virginia. 'Twas this caused him to agree to go to Congress, and up to the last he often expressed his wish to live in Virginia.

A true description.

One day during his canvass for Congress, Mrs. Johnston, meeting me on Main street, said: ‘Can you tell me where my husband is?’ I went at once and found him, and said: ‘The handsomest and brightest woman in Richmond is looking for her husband.’

There is but one woman in Richmond who answers that description, and she is my wife. I'll go to find her at once.

Some time after I heard he had been laid up by an accident to his leg, and went to see him. He was sitting in the parlor with his leg extended over a chair. His wife was by him, and affected to triumph over him in his crippled condition. I said: ‘That is very ungrateful in you so to treat the husband who loves and admires you as he does,’ and then told her the above incident. She said: ‘You old goose you, do you let him fool you in that way? Don't you know he said that to you knowing you would come and tell me?’

He joined heartily in the laugh, as he always did when she raised one at his expense.

His tender care.

You remember that ten years or so ago Mrs. Johnston was very ill for many weeks at the White Sulphur. The General nursed her with the tender care of a mother. He never left her except to get a hurried meal, from which he hastened back to her sick chamber. Mrs. James Lyons was an active and constant friend, and so soon as Mrs. Johnston began to improve in health she insisted that the General should relax his anxious watch, and induced him to take the air for an hour or two every day. But he would never go far from their cottage door, but sat upon a fallen tree on the lawn in sight and sound of it, and conversed with a friend. On these occasions he talked all the time, and all he ever said was full of strong conviction and good sense.


Reticence and embarrassment.

Genial and confiding as he was to the friends he knew and trusted, he was reticent and even aversive to those whom he did not like, and was quick to resent any freedom or liberty from those he did not like nor know. Of all men in the world he was the least fitted for the work of canvassing a Virginia district, and he never went upon the hustings that his friends did not fear he would give offence to somebody—and in this we were disappointed. He could not overcome his embarrassment in making an extempore speech, and therefore tried to write out his speeches and get them by heart. But he found it impossible to commit to memory what he had written himself, though in all other directions his memory was the most accurate and retentive. Towards the last years of his life he could not command it in little matters, and was often at a loss for the exact word he wished. This was a great trial to him, and in it he recognized the beginning of the end. There was a magnetic power about him no man could resist, and exact discipline followed at once upon his assuming any command.

A wretched condition.

When he took charge of the great army, which had been defeated and disorganized before his arrival to its command, it was in wretched condition. Most of the general officers were in open hostility and avowed mistrust of the general commanding, and indiscipline prevailed throughout. When Johnston came the change was instantaneous, and henceforth no army of the Confederacy ever equalled Johnston's in drill and high discipline.

How he improved it.

General Carter L. Stevenson was one of the division commanders of that army, of the largest experience and military accomplishments. He had served in every army of the Confederacy and actively in all of our wars since 1834. He told me he had never seen any troops in such fine discipline and condition as Johnston's army the day he was moved from its command.

General Randall L. Gibson had been in constant action in the Western army (he it was who closed an honorable record by his masterly command of the defences near Spanish Fort, on the eastern shore of Mobile bay, in the last battle of the war between the States), and says that when Johnston assumed command of that army it was somewhat [180] demoralized, but when the campaign with Sherman opened the worst regiment in it was equal to the best when he came to its command. A Missouri soldier of Cockrell's brigade, which Johnston declared to be the best body of infantry he ever saw, was on his way back to his regiment after recovery from a wound. I asked him, ‘What do you all think of the change of commanders?’ ‘Oh, sir, we are mightily cut down about it!’

‘The bomb-proofs and the newspapers complain of his retreats. Why, we did not miss a meal from Dalton to Atlanta, and were always ready for the fight. We never felt we were retreating.’

Grants opinion.

During that campaign Bishop Lay went to City Point to get a pass from Grant to enable him to return to his home. He told me Grant sent for him, invited him to his headquarters, and talked freely with him for a long time. He seemed to the Bishop to feel that he was handling Sherman's army during that campaign. He said that the telegraph was a wonderful accessory of war; that every night he and Sherman conversed by it an hour or two about the movements of the army on that day, and what it was to do on the next. And he said: ‘Bishop, when I heard your government had removed Johnston from command I was as happy as if I had reinforced Sherman with a large army corps.’


During the past year General Johnston, responding to me, said in his emphatic manner: ‘Yes, I consider General Schofield much the ablest soldier and the highest gentleman who has occupied that office since I have known it.’

Such a tribute from such a source must be very gratifying to such a soldier as Schofield is. And you know just praise is the breath of the soldier's life and its highest aim.

The best shot.

The General bitterly deplored the long inaction which his severe wounds at Seven Pines enforced upon him. When he was lying at Mr. Joseph H. Crenshaw's, in Richmond, where he was brought from the field, his medical director, Dr. Fauntleroy, told me an old Virginian called to pay his respects and sympathy.

He Said: ‘Not only do we deplore this cruel affliction upon you, General, but we feel it to be a national calamity.’ [181]

‘No, sir,’ said Johnston fiercely, rising suddenly upon his unbroken elbow, ‘The shot that struck me down was the best ever fired for the Southern Confederacy, for I possessed in no degree the confidence of this Government, and now a man who does enjoy it will succeed me and be able to accomplish what I never could.’

Embittered his life.

The consciousness of wrong done him and of the non-appreciation by his Government bore hardly upon him all through our long war, and was a misfortune for him and for our cause, and embittered his life to its end. Proud and unyielding as he was to injustice, he was quick and gentle in his sympathy for all that were weak and unfortunate.

For over fifty years he was the tender, devoted lover of his wife, and was always true and effectionate to his kindred. He loved young people and drew them to him. He yearned for children of his own. He and my children were fervent friends. Only a few months ago he said to me: ‘You are truly blessed in your children’; and it will ever be their and my consolation that we enjoyed his affection, for he was the honestest, bravest, and gentlest gentleman who ever gave us his trust and love.

A student of history.

To the end of his life he was a student of history bearing upon his profession. During the past few months I found him reading memoirs of Tamerlane (Timour the Tarter), of which he read me nine striking pages, as on another day he read me, with great feeling, ‘Thiers' narrative of the last days of Napoleon at St. Helena.’

And the very last day I saw him—the last on which he left his chamber—I found him with Du Guesclin open before him.

We will meet again.

His disease had then become very grave and distressing. I sat by him but a short time, and expecting to go on a long journey next day I told him so, and said good-by. He drew me to him, kissed my cheek, then again kissed my lips tenderly as a father. I said: ‘We will meet again soon if the yellow-fever don't carry me off.’ He said, with strong emotion and emphasis: ‘Yes, we will surely meet again.’ I never saw him any more.


General Johnston's report of battle of Seven Pines

The following is the official report of General Johnston of the battle designated by the Confederates as Seven Pines and by the Federals, Fair Oaks. It was dated Richmond, June 24, 1862.

General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector-General: Sir: Before the 30th of May I had ascertained from trusty scouts that Keyes's corps was encamped on this side of the Chickahominy, near the Williamsburg road. On that day Major-General D. H. Hill reported a strong body immediately in his front. On receiving this report, I determined to attack him next morning—hoping to be able to defeat Keyes's corps completely in its more advanced position before it could be reinforced. Written orders were dispatched to Major Generals Hill, Huger and G. W. Smith. General Longstreet being near my headquarters, received verbal instructions. The receipt of orders were acknowledged.

General Hill, supported by the division of General Longstreet (who had the direction of operations on the right), was to advance by the Williamsburg road to attack the enemy in front. General Huger, with his division, was to go down the Charles City road in order to attack in flank the troops who might be engaged with Hill and Longstreet, unless he found in his front force enough to occupy his division. General Smith was to march to the junction of the New-Bridge road and the Nine-Mile road to be in readiness either to fall on Keyes's right flank, or to cover Longstreet's left. They were to move at daybreak. Heavy and protracted rains during the afternoon and night by swelling the streams of the Chickahominy increased the probability of our having to deal with no other troops than those of Keyes. The same cause prevented the prompt and punctual movement of the troops. Those of Smith, Hill, and Longstreet were in position early enough, however, to commence operations by 8 o'clock A. M.

Major-General Longstreet, unwilling to make a partial attack, instead of the combined movement which had been planned, waited from hour to hour for General Huger's division. At length at 2 o'clock P. M. he determined to attack without those troops. He accordingly commenced his advance at that hour, opening the engagement [183] with artillery and skirmishers. By 3 o'clock it became close and heavy.

In the mean time I had placed myself on the left of the force employed in this attack, with the division of General Smith, that I might be on the field where I could observe and be ready to meet any counter-movements which the enemy's general might make against our centre or left. Owing to some peculiar condition of the atmosphere the sound of the musketry did not reach us. I consequently deferred giving the signal for General Smith's advance till about 4 o'clock, at which time Major Jasper Whiting, of General Smith's staff, whom I had sent to learn the state of affairs with General Longstreet's column, returned, reporting that it was pressing on with vigor. Smith's troops were at once moved forward.

The principal attack was made by Major-General Longstreet, with his own and Major-General D. H. Hill's division—the latter mostly in advance. Hill's brave troops, admirably commanded and most gallantly led, forced their way through the abatis which formed the enemy's external defence, and stormed their entrenchments by a determined and irresistible rush. Such was the manner in which the enemy's first line was carried. The operation was repeated with the same gallantry and success as our troops pursued their victorious career through the enemy's successive camps and entrenchments. At each new position they encountered fresh troops belonging to it and reinforcements brought on from the rear. Thus they had to repel repeated efforts to retake works which they had carried, but their advance was never successfully resisted.

Their onward movement was only stayed by the coming of night. By nightfall they had forced their way to the ‘Seven Pines,’ having driven the enemy back two miles, through their own camps, and from a series of entrenchments, and repelled every attempt to recapture them with great slaughter. The skill, vigor, and decision with which these operations were conducted by General Longstreet are worthy of the highest praise. He was worthily seconded by Major-General Hill, of whose conduct and courage he speaks in the highest terms.

Major-General Smith's division moved forward at 4 o'clock—Whitney's three brigades leading. Their progress was impeded by the enemy's skirmishers, which, with their support, were driven back to the railroad. At this point Whitney's own and Pettigrew's brigade engaged a superior force of the enemy. Hood's, by my order, moved on to co-operate with Longstreet. General Smith was desired [184] to hasten up with all the troops within reach. He brought up Hampton's and Hatton's brigades in a few minutes.

The strength of the enemy's position, however, enabled him to hold it until dark.

About sunset, being struck from my horse severely wounded by a fragment of shell, I was carried off the field and Major-General G. W. Smith succeeded to the command.

He was prevented from resuming his attack on the enemy's position next morning by the discovery of strong entrenchments, not seen on the previous evening. His division bivouacked on the night of the 31st within musket-shot of the entrenchments which they were attacking, when darkness stayed the conflict. Major-General Smith directed the attack, and would have secured success if it could have been made an hour earlier.

On the morning of the 1st of June the enemy attacked the brigade of General Pickett, which was supported by that of General Pryor. The attack was vigorously repelled by these two brigades, the brunt of the action falling on General Pickett. This was the last demonstration made by the enemy.

Our troops employed the residue of the day in securing and bearing off the captured artillery, small arms, and other property, and in the evening quietly returned to their own camps.

We took ten pieces of artillery, six thousand muskets, one garrison flag, and four regimental colors, besides a quantity of tents and camp equipage.

Major-General Longstreet reports the loss in his command as being about3,000
Major-General G W Smith reports his loss at1,283

That of the enemy is stated in their own newspapers to have exceeded ten thousand--an estimate which is, no doubt, short of the truth. Had Major-General Huger's division been in position and ready for action when those of Smith, Longstreet, and Hill moved, I am satisfied that Keyes's corps would have been destroyed instead of being merely defeated. Had it gone into action even at 4 o'clock the victory would have been much more complete.

Major-Generals Smith and Longstreet speak in high terms of the conduct of their superior and staff officers. [185]

I beg leave to ask the attention of the Government especially to the manner in which Brigadier-Generals Whiting and R. H. Anderson and Colonels Jenkins, Kemper, and Hampton, exercising commands above their grades, and Brigadier-General Rhodes, are mentioned. This and the captured colors will be delivered by A. H. Cole, of my staff.

I have been prevented by feebleness from making this report sooner, and am still too weak to make any but a very imperfect one.

Several hundred prisoners were taken, but I have received no report of the number.

Your obedient servant,


J. E. Johnston, General.

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