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The Confederate career of General Albert Sidney Johnston.

A Review by General Basil W. Duke, of Kentucky.
[In addition to our brief notices of Colonel William Preston Johnston s Memoir of his Father, we had intended preparing a review which should sketch the career of the great soldier more fully; but General Basil W. Duke has (with the experience of the gallant soldier and the pen of a “ready writer” ) performed the task so much better than we could do, that we cheerfully give place to his graceful, loving tribute. We only regret that the pressure upon our pages compells us to omit that portion of General Duke's paper which reviews the first part of the book and the earlier life of General Johnston, and to give only that which treats of his Confederate career.]

In 1860 General Johnston was placed in command of the Department of California, and proceeded in pursuance of orders to San Francisco, where he remained until superseded by General Sumner, April 25, 1861; he had previously, on April 10, forwarded his resignation as an officer of the United States army. General Johnston was, of course, accused by the Union press, as was every other officer who quitted the service of the United States Government to enter that of the Confederacy, of disloyal attempts, antecedent to the acceptance of his resignation, to assist the Southern cause. Colonel Johnston, by the best and most unimpeachable contemporary testimony, has refuted all such charges — which, indeed, with those who knew Albert S. Johnston, needed no answer. As he made no secret, after learning that his resignation had been accepted, of his intention to. offer his sword to the Confederacy, it became necessary, in order to reach the seceded States--indeed, to escape from California and avoid arrest — that he should cross the plains on horseback, as return by sea was not to be thought of. He accordingly made this arduous journey, escorted by a few devoted friends and followers who meant to share his fortunes, and arrived in Texas, to be welcomed with a burst of joy and congratulation which spread through the Confederacy. He had already been appointed-so soon, in fact, as Mr. Davis learned of his resignation--one of the five “Generals,” for the appointment of whom the Confederate Congress had made provision. These five Generals were ranked as follows: 1. S. Cooper, Adjutant-General; 2. A. S. Johnston; 3. R. E. Lee; 4. J. E. Johnston; 5. G. T. Beauregard. General Johnston was assigned on the 10th September, 1861, to the command of Department No. 2, embracing, as described in the order assigning him to it, “The States of Tennessee [134] and Arkansas, and that part of the State of Mississippi west of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern and Central railroad; also the military operations in Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas and the Indian country immediately west of Missouri and Arkansas.” Up to this date the war in the territory included in this department had been confined exclusively to Missouri. In that State Price and McCullough had won the important victory of “Oak Hill,” or “Wilson's creek,” and Price, marching into the interior, had achieved a brilliant and valuable success by the capture of Lexington, its garrison and military stores. But the immense Federal odds in Missouri, which the inactivity prevailing elsewhere in the West permitted to be used against him, soon forced General Price to retire to Arkansas, having only half reaped the fruits of victory; and the incalculable advantage so nearly gained of winning Missouri to the Confederacy was lost forever. When Johnston reached his department he found to his consternation — if he were capable of such an emotion — that after deducting the garrison necessary for Columbus, which point it was absolutely necessary to hold in order to prevent the enemy from coming down the Mississippi river, and other equally necessary detachments, he had only 4,000 men available for active operations. This force he immediately pushed forward to Bowling Green, under General S. B. Buckner. General Johnston has been censured for not having caused Buckner to press on to Louisville, but audacity, like everything else, has its proper limits. The permanent occupation of Louisville, with this very inadequate Confederate force, would have been impossible. Stationed there, its inferiority in point of numbers would have been at once discovered by the enemy, and would have invited attack at the very juncture when to gain time was of the utmost importance; but at Bowling Green and comparatively remote from observation, its strength was exaggerated, and it seemed always on the point of assuming the offensive. Moreover the strategic value of the position thus taken was very great. Protected by the Green and Barren rivers in front, hardly accessible by the right flank at all its defensive strength could scarcely be overestimated. Should the army ever become strong enough for offensive operations, it could be hurled rapidly from this base upon any portion of Northern Kentucky. Forts Henry and Donelson were relied upon to close the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers against the enemy and protect the left flank. No Federal advance in force could possibly be made except by the Louisville and Nashville railroad, and, therefore, [135] directly upon Bowling Green, or by the water lines, which it was thought the forts that have been mentioned sufficiently guarded. So long as this line was maintained, General Johnston's department was safe and could not be invaded. Soon after the occupation of this position, the commands of Hardee and Pillow, aggregating seven or eight thousand men, were brought from Missouri and Arkansas, where they had been operating to no purpose, and by strenuous effort and earnest solicitation, General Johnston succeeded in recruiting and bringing to the front several regiments, but failed to induce the people of his department to respond properly to his own zealous exertions, or even to convince them of their peril. The battle of Manassas had induced throughout the entire South a ruinous feeling of confidence and security. Seven Kentucky regiments were also organized during the winter. The troops were constantly drilled and instructed in the duties of the camp, and frequent expeditions were undertaken, which not only inured them to the hardships of the march and the bivouac, but contributed to delay the advance of the Federal forces by inducing the belief that the Confederates were preparing for aggression. This condition of things, however, could not last long. Forty-eight thousand men were collected in the Federal armies under Buell and Thomas, and heavy forces were massing at Cairo under Grant, C. F. Smith and McClernand, to attack Donelson and Henry. This movement, if successful, would lay open the road to Nashville, force the evacuation of Bowling Green and Columbus, and isolate and risk the loss of. Memphis. On the 19th of January the first shock of arms was felt, on the left flank, at Fishing Creek, where the Confederate General George B. Crittendon was defeated by Thomas and forced to a disastrous retreat.

The United States Government, determined to improve success, rapidly reinforced Buell, and he, in turn, reinforced Grant. On the 2d of February the Federal movement up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers was commenced. The only reinforcement Johnston could obtain from his government was Floyd's brigade from Western Virginia; otherwise he was compelled to rely for troops entirely upon his own department. The entire Federal strength for offensive purposes upon the Bowling Green and the river lines early in February cannot be estimated at much, if any, short of 90,000 men. To meet their assaults, Johnston, by greatly reducing the garrison at Columbus, leaving only the slenderest depot guards, and calling into the field every other effective soldier in Tennessee [136] and Kentucky, had for the defence of his whole line 31,000 men. Speaking of the movement upon Donelson, the biographer says: “To meet it, General Johnston sent a force, which he estimated moderately at 17,000 men, reserving for himself only 14,000 men to perform the more delicate task of retiring before a larger army, ably commanded. Even after reinforcing Grant with thirteen regiments, General Buell had left seventy regiments of infantry besides artillery and cavalry — fully 55,000 men. Certain, it is, therefore, that General Johnston took himself the place of greater hazard, and left his subordinates the opportunity of glory.” Twenty-five thousand men more might have enabled General Johnston to have attempted an offensive campaign by an advance against Buell. Inadequate transportation and the nature of the country rendered offensive operations by the Confederates physically impossible upon the left flank. But even with such increased strength he would have been compelled to attack the strong position of Munfordsville with a force numerically inferior to the army which held it; or, withdrawing the 17,000 men intended for the defence of the forts, permit Grant to push on, unresisted, to Nashville, thus gaining his rear, and completely severing his communication with his department. With the force actually at his disposal an aggressive policy at that date, and in his then situation, would have been madness. Whatever may be thought of Buell by his own side, he has always been and always will be considered by Confederates one of the ablest and most formidable commanders the United States Government put at the head of her armies. Wary, perfectly prudent, always thoroughly cognizant of the situation, he never failed to move promptly and strike energetically at exactly the right time. The only Federal commander who was apparently not solicitous concerning his numerical strength — certainly calling less complainingly and constantly for troops, and getting fewer than the others. He was the only Federal General ever in the West whom the Confederates feared when at the head of a comparatively small army.

It is but simple truth to say that if we often felt a salutary respect, bordering upon if not actually gliding into bodily fear of the Federal armies, we were rarely afraid of their Generals. But the manner in which Buell came to Grant's salvation at Shiloh; the style in which he followed like a bloodhound close upon Bragg's trail into Kentucky; the audacious determination with which he marched his depleted army to Louisville; the skill and [137] energy with which he organized the raw levies assembled there and the alacrity with which he moved out against Bragg, and shoved that distinguished officer out of Kentucky, gave him a high reputation with his opponents. Other Federal commanders could press us fiercely when we were crippled, disheartened by disaster and decimated by continuous conflict, but Buell struck us his hardest blows when we were confident and in the full tide of success. He lacked one quality, however, essential to popularity and success in American life, be it civil, political or military: he could not advertises himself; he knew not how to sound one single note on his own trumpet. He was quite inferior in this sort of musical talent to. Sherman. This estimate of Buell, which two years more of war taught others, General Johnston already entertained.

On the 6th of February Fort Henry was attacked, and taken after a bombardment of two hours. Indeed, General Tilghman, deeming it indefensible, made no real effort to hold it, but sent off all his command, save some seventy-five men, to Donelson. The victorious Federals advanced to Donelson, so soon as a concentration of all the forces intended for the attack was effected, and on the 12th the place was completely invested. No attempt was made by the Confederate Generals Floyd, Pillow and Buckner to impede the progress of their marching columns. A detailed account of this memorable battle, and of the fall of Donelson, cannot be given here. Colonel Johnston treats the subject ably and fully, and in his account the military student will find some most instructive lessons. The reader cannot rise from its perusal without feeling that what was a terrible Confederate disaster ought to have been a brilliant Confederate success, and that despite the acknowledged skill and gallantry of the Confederate commanders, divided councils, producing their inevitable conseqences, vacillation and paralysis of energy, caused defeat.

As a specimen of Colonel Johnston's descriptive powers, the following account of the duel between the fort and the fleet, which resulted in the utter discomfiture of the latter, may be taken: “While the ironclads could use grape and canister against the Confederates on the parapets, and their gunboats were throwing shells at long range, which burst in the fort with novel terrors to the untried soldiers there, nothing but solid shot told against the sides of the vessels. But the furious cannonade of the fleet, while terrific, was harmless, though each moment it seemed that it must sweep away gunners and batteries together. Soldiers and generals alike [138] looked with apprehension for the catastrophe when their guns should be silenced, and the fleet, steaming by, take them in reverse. Still, the fascination of the scene riveted to the spot as spectators hundreds, who witnessed it with breathless suspense and anxiety. As the heavy metal smote the iron mail of the water monsters it rang with a mighty and strange sound — a new music in the horrid orchestra of strife and death, unheard before and terrible to the hearer. Old fables seemed to live again, in which giants, with clash of hammer on linked scales, fought with dragons of the great deep.” The fall of Donelson laid open the road to Nashville, which place was not only unfortified but incapable of being successfully fortified against an enemy coming from the north. The necessity of prompt decision and rapid action was now forced on the Confederate chief; but Albert Johnston was the man for both. Before this great reverse had occurred, at Bowling Green in January, a remark had dropped from him which has been well called “prophetic,” and which indicates that he already contemplated some such emergency as was now upon him, and had planned to meet it. While examing the map of his department he placed his finger on the spot where “Shiloh” subsequently reeked with blood and said: “Here the great battle of the Southwest will be fought.” This remark was not made lightly, nor was it an accidental guess; it was the declaration of a profound strategic conviction. The line in Kentucky once forced, it was impossible for the retreating army to halt until it had crossed the Tennessee river. If it checked its march at any intermediate position, it would be exposed at once to attack by overwhelming odds before reinforcements could possibly reach it; nor was there any point in the State of Tennessee where opportunity to strike an effective blow at the enemy offered itself. Retreat, continued until the army was placed south of the Tennessee river, was therefore necessary. The objective point would then be Corinth, situated in North Mississippi, at the junction of the two great railway lines running north and south and east and west, viz: the Mobile and Ohio and the Memphis and Charleston. A glance at the map will show the reader that at Corinth General Johnston's army would not only be in a position of perfect safety, but in position to maintain and protect communication with Memphis, Chattanooga and every portion of the department except Tennessee, which would, of course, have been abandoned. But the consideration of safety only partially entered into General Johnston's plan. He wished to place himself where [139] he could assume the offensive and win a victory which would recover all and more than he had lost. At Corinth he could rapidly concentrate all the forces of his department. Bragg, with his superbly drilled and disciplined army corps, was ordered there; troops from New Orleans were brought there, and Price and Van Dorn were ordered from Arkansas, but did not arrive soon enough to aid the blow he was about to strike. After the fall of Donelson, Grant's army, reinforced with all the troops from Cairo and other available points, was carried by transports, as rapidly as possible, up the Tennessee, and disembarked at Hamburg Landing, twenty-two miles from Corinth, with the intention, doubtless, of occupying that point if it was found unprotected. But Bragg and the troops from New Orleans, moving promptly upon receipt of Johnston's orders, had already gotten there, and the place was partially fortified. Now it is certain that General Johnston had anticipated this movement of the Federal army, and believed that he could concentrate at Corinth before Buell, marching southward from Nashville, could come to Grant's assistance; and all that has been briefly described herein was in his mind, and he had already determined upon battle and victory at some point between Hamburg Landing and Corinth, when, three months before it was fought, he uttered the language which has been quoted.

It would be futile to attempt a description of such a battle as Shiloh in the brief space permitted in an article of this character; it is sufficient to say that a most exhaustive, accurate and vivid account of it is given in the book.

Information of the rapid advance of Buell compelled General Johnston to attack Grant before he himself was still further strengthened by the 17,000 troops under Van Dorn and Price. Colonel Johnston estimates the Confederate force in the battle at 40,000 and Grant's at 59,000 men. This is a larger estimate of the strength of both armies than has been generally made. The Confederate loss was something less than 11,000; the Federal loss has been variously computed from 13,000 to 17,000, but part of it was sustained by Buell's army, which took part in the second day's fighting.

Bad roads and unavoidable accidents delayed the march of the army, and the attack, which should have been on Saturday, April 5, Was not delivered until the morning of the 6th. General Grant now claims that he was not surprised. To those who were in that battle, both Confederates and Federals, this is perhaps the most surprising statement that has ever been made about it. If eye-witnesses [140] are entitled to believe what they saw — if the earlier reports made by Grant and Sherman themselves are entitled to any credence — it was an overwhelming surprise. During the afternoon of the 5th, while the Confederate army was being placed in position, within a mile of the Federal pickets, nothing transpired to indicate that its vicinity was suspected by its enemy; and although scouts were watching for every symptom which should betray a discovery of its presence, and many Confederates, impelled by curiosity, advanced close to the first camp and observed its inmates, everything showed complete and careless confidence, and no dream of danger. When the Confederate lines advanced at daybreak the outposts certainly were not expecting them; and when the first and second camps were reached many men were killed in their tents, or just emerging from them. No Federal line of battle was formed or met with until Hardee's corps, which constituted the Confederate first line, had penetrated a very considerable distance into their encampments. Nor was the evil effect of surprise remedied in the least by subsequent skillful dispositions by the Federal commanders. On the contrary, under Johnston's admirable tactical arrangement and supremely energetic conduct, the confusion into which the Federal army was thrown by the first onset was propagated and continued until he fell. Advancing with his flanks perfectly protected by the two creeks between which the battle field was enclosed, the enemy could not show a greater front than his own; and the three lines in which his attack was delivered, constantly relieving and supporting each other, persistently beat down the Federal attempts at formation, and crushed and crowded back their masses upon themselves. Grant and Sherman are great soldiers, but they gathered no laurels at Shiloh. Johnston's death at the moment that victory had declared itself for him, the consequent suspension of the attack and partial withdrawal of the Confederate lines before Beauregard could “gather the reins of the battle,” and the timely arrival of Buell that night, saved the army they commanded from destruction. But if the Federal generalship deserves no eulogy, the valor and stubborn constancy of the Federal soldiery is worthy of all praise. Never did troops fight better, and the boldest and most forward Confederates will ever be the frankest to testify to it. At the crisis of this magnificent combat, just when complete triumph was about to vindicate himself, consummate his plans and perhaps make the Confederate arms and the Confederate cause permanently successful — for no man can divine to what extent [141] he might not have improved Shiloh had he lived — he received a wound of which he was scarcely conscious when it was inflicted — a mere flesh wound, and trifling, had it been properly and promptly treated, but of which he bled to death. Destiny, ever the foe of the Confederacy, interfered, and slew him to ruin her. He died in the very front of the fight, surrounded by struggling combatants.

Thus passed the spirit of Albert Sidney Johnston, “in the glory of his manhood” and the hour of his victory. A noble and stainless life was appropriately closed by a heroic death. He left his children poor in the world's goods, but rich in the heritage of his name — he left his people the priceless example of unswerving personal honor and patriotic devotion. The chivalry of the Southland, the subject of sneer and satire by her foes, and, it must be sadly confesssed, too often perverted by her sons — for many evils have been done in its name — had in him a true exponent, and its loftiest, purest representative. The young knighthood of the South--sometimes mutinous under authority founded upon hollow and pretentious claims, but instinctively obedient to true leadership — admired him living and revere him dead. They served under him in the same spirit with which Tancred, Robert and Bohemond accorded supremacy to the wisdom, virtue and exalted heroism of Godfrey. Monument nor mausoleum may never be erected in his remembrance; no costly national inscription will ever record his virtues and his services; but until the last trumpet summons the sons of his own land to “arise from this quarter of the earth to answer for the sins of the brave,” they will cherish his fame and love his memory.

B. W. D.

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