[xix] A biography of Albert Sidney Johnston will need no apology with a large class of his countrymen. Many discreet men have urged upon the writer that his duty, both as son and citizen, required him to do this work. They believed that the omission of a picture of this heroic life would leave unfilled an important panel in the gallery of American history, in which the Civil War occupies so large a space. In response to such demand this memoir has been written.

The writer would gladly have devolved his task on some more competent and disinterested hand. He has felt keenly the restrictions and obligations imposed by the filial relation. Hostile criticism can always begin its argument with the charge that it is impossible for a son to be fair; and the writer's own heart teaches him how difficult it is to be always and perfectly just. A writer who strives to delineate a dear, dead father will not mar the picture by a portrait below his own ideal, though it may well fall short of the heroic proportions of the original. But it is not necessary to be impartial, in order to be truthful; and, without love, there can be no correct interpretation of character. Knowing that he has made an honest effort to find out and relate the truth in every particular in this volume, the writer trusts that much will be pardoned to him.

If a friend could have been found fitted by preparation, leisure, and literary enthusiasm, for so heavy a charge, it would have been consigned to him with a feeling of immeasurable relief. But this was not to be. The labor promised and proved to be very great. The very sources of information had often to be discovered, and the material employed has been gathered from quarters remote and obscure; siftings of the memories of the aged or the unwilling, for many of those best qualified to speak of the events of the Civil War [xx] are often the most averse to recall its painful experiences. Then, too, the verification of the facts involved processes too tedious for any one not animated by the strongest sense of personal interest and responsibility. Hence it came to pass that the writer was himself compelled to discharge this duty.

In spite of these serious obstacles, the writer has had some peculiar facilities for the successful achievement of his purpose. A strong call from within and from without has urged him on. The friendship of eminent Confederates and the sympathy of a multitude of worthy people have encouraged him in his design and furnished him with valuable information. General Johnston's own papers have been preserved almost entire since 1836; and these, including his Confederate archives, complete, have supplied ampler and more perfect materials than most biographers enjoy. Gentlemen who were opposed to him in the late Civil War have been both courteous and generous in affording all proper information; and, in this respect, he is especially indebted to the Honorable George W. McCrary, the present Secretary of War, to General D. C. Buell, General Fitz-John Porter, and Colonel George H. Elliott, of the Engineers, and to other gentlemen to whom acknowledgments are made in the course of the narrative.

Such frequent and important services have been rendered in the preparation of this book by so many friends that their recognition can be made appropriately only in the same way; and, indeed, a large part of the value of this work is due to their unselfish aid. But the writer cannot omit to express here his deep obligations to the Honorable Jefferson Davis, ex-President of the Confederate States; to the late General Braxton Bragg; to Governors I. G. Harris, John C. Brown, and James D. Porter, of Tennessee; to Colonel Edward W. Munford, General William Preston, General W. C. Whitthorne, General William J. Hamby, Dr. William M. Polk, Colonel A. Ridley, Captain G. W. Gift, and Captain N. J. Eaton. His late colleagues, Prof. Edward S. Joynes, now of Vanderbilt University, and Prof. Carter J. Harris, of Washington and Lee University, have given him most acceptable literary assistance.

In addition to the writer's unusual opportunities for arriving at the truth, there were certain exceptional features in his relations to General Johnston, not often found between father and son. There was the utmost confidence and intimacy in their intercourse, and yet General Johnston sedulously cultivated the independent development of his children. Further, the writer's lines of life and habits of thought have been widely remote from his father's. Hence he believes that, thus unfettered by his authority yet conversant with his ideas and affairs, he can often explain better than any one else the bearing of obscure transactions.

Nevertheless, the close tie between the biographer and his subject has to some extent marred the artistic effect of this book. Not only delicacy but a sense of duty to the intelligent reader has dictated that it was better in all personal matters to speak in the language of others, wherever it was possible; and yet this could only be done at some sacrifice of brevity and of apparent unity. Then, too, in the discussion of controverted points, where a bias might be presumed to exist, he has thought it proper, while frankly stating his own conclusions, to give the evidence on which they rest. Some original documents and tables of military statistics, pertinent to the narrative, have been published with it, for the sake of their historical value.

There has been no effort to make General Johnston the central figure of his times, or to drag into his biography matters extraneous to his career. But where any phase of life, or series of events, was interwoven with it, the reader is not assumed to be acquainted with unfamiliar or forgotten facts. Such facts are recounted as succinctly as the matter will admit, but not, it is hoped, at the expense of accuracy. But, though he has been diligent in seeking to be exact, he knows the difficulties, and, so far from deprecating judicious criticism, he invites it, in the interest of historical truth.

General Johnston was singularly tolerant of others, though himself severe in principles and circumspect in conduct. Hence it has not been thought necessary, for the most part, to vindicate his opinions or actions; since, if the tenor of his life was noble and good, its errors and mistakes may well be left standing for such warning or censure as the moralist shall feel compelled to employ. Such would have been his own wish. But the integrity and sincerity of the man permit the writer to use an uncommon frankness in detailing [xxi] not only the events of his public career, but such incidents of his domestic life as may serve for instruction or illustration. The facts of a life are the best-perhaps, the only-apology for writing it; and General Johnston was so truthful and simple in all he said and did that the fittest tribute to his memory is absolute accuracy in whatever relates to him. No ideal of what a hero ought to be has been framed herein; but the story of a life has been told, just as it was lived. Sympathetic spirits, however wide the differences of circumstance, creed, or opinion, may learn, in its adversities and its consolations, some lessons of fortitude and magnanimity.

This biography recounts a stirring theme. The most casual reader must be struck with the dramatic interest of the career of a man who, with small share of wealth, patronage, or political arts, filled so large a sphere by mere moral and intellectual force. It is something in this material age to find a man almost wholly above the accidents of fortune. In some respects he was a man representative and typical of his times, his country, his section and his profession; in others he stood apart with an individuality so marked that Marcus Aurelius might have welcomed him as a brother-stoic, or the Chevalier Bayard as a knightly peer. In Albert Sidney Johnston's long life he mingled in many great and memorable events, and in some of the greatest he acted the chief and most conspicuous part. In all of them, his countrymen accounted him a fine example of civic and military virtues. His death was not only the decorous and becoming end to a grand life, but many of the wisest and ablest leaders believed that in his fall a national tragedy culminated, which ever after declined toward its final catastrophe. Many of the most judicious have declared that on his arm rested the fortunes of the Confederate cause. It cannot be well that such a figure should pass into utter oblivion.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
United States (United States) (1)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1836 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: