Sr. Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston
Albert Sidney Johnston (February 2, 1803 – April 6, 1862) served as a general in three different armies: the Texian (i.e. Republic of Texas) Army, the United States Army, and the Confederate States Army. He saw extensive combat during his military career, fighting actions in the Black Hawk War, Texas War of Independence, the Mexican–American War, the Utah War, and the American Civil War.
Considered by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to be the finest general officer in the Confederacy before the emergence of Robert E. Lee, he was killed early in the Civil War at the Battle of Shiloh. Johnston was the highest-ranking officer, Union or Confederate, killed during the entire war. Davis believed the loss of Johnston “was the turning point of our fate”.
Johnston launched a massive surprise attack with his concentrated forces against Grant at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. As the Confederate forces overran the Union camps, Johnston seemed to be everywhere, personally leading and rallying troops up and down the line on his horse. At about 2:30 pm, while leading one of those charges against a Union camp near the “Peach Orchard,” he was wounded, taking a bullet behind his right knee. He apparently did not think the wound was serious at the time, or even possibly did not feel it. It is possible that Johnston’s duel in 1837 had caused nerve damage or numbness to his right leg and that he did not feel the wound to his leg as a result. The bullet had in fact clipped a part of his popliteal artery and his boot was filling up with blood. There were no medical personnel on scene at the time, since Johnston had sent his personal surgeon to care for the wounded Confederate troops and Yankee prisoners earlier in the battle.
Within a few minutes, Johnston was observed by his staff to be nearly fainting. Among his staff was Isham G. Harris, the Governor of Tennessee, who had ceased to make any real effort to function as governor after learning that Abraham Lincoln had appointed Andrew Johnson as military governor of Tennessee. Seeing Johnston slumping in his saddle and his face turning deathly pale, Harris asked: “General, are you wounded?” Johnston glanced down at his leg wound, then faced Harris and replied in a weak voice his last words: “Yes… and I fear seriously.” Harris and other staff officers removed Johnston from his horse and carried him to a small ravine near the “Hornets Nest” and desperately tried to aid the general who had lost consciousness by this point. Harris then sent an aide to fetch Johnston’s surgeon, but did not apply a tourniquet to Johnson’s wounded leg. Before a doctor could be found, Johnston died from blood loss a few minutes later. It is believed that Johnston may have lived for as long as one hour after receiving his fatal wound. Ironically, it was later discovered that Johnston had a tourniquet in his pocket when he died.
Harris and the other officers wrapped General Johnston’s body in a blanket so as not to damage the troops’ morale with the sight of the dead general. Johnston and his wounded horse, named Fire Eater, were taken to his field headquarters on the Corinth road, where his body remained in his tent until the Confederate Army withdrew to Corinth the next day, April 7, 1862, after failing to gain a decisive victory over the Union armies. From there, his body was taken to the home of Colonel William Inge, which had been his headquarters in Corinth. It was covered in the Confederate flag and lay in state for several hours.
It is probable that a Confederate soldier fired the fatal round. No Union soldiers were observed to have ever gotten behind Johnston during the fatal charge, while it is known that many Confederates were firing at the Union lines while Johnston charged well in advance of his soldiers. Furthermore, the surgeon who later dug the bullet out of Johnston’s leg identified the round as one fired from a Pattern 1853 Enfield. No Union troops in the area where Johnston was hit had been issued Enfield rifles, whereas the Enfield rifle was standard issue for the Confederate forces Johnston was leading.
Johnston was the highest-ranking fatality of the war on either side, and his death was a strong blow to the morale of the Confederacy. At the time, Jefferson Davis considered him the best general in the country.
Johnston was survived by his wife Eliza and six children. His wife and five younger children, including one born after he went to war, chose to live out their days at home in Los Angeles with Eliza’s brother, Dr. John Strother Griffin. Johnston’s eldest son, Albert Sidney Jr. (born in Texas), had already followed him into the Confederate States Army. In 1863, after taking home leave in Los Angeles, Albert Jr. was on his way out of San Pedro harbor on a ferry. While a steamer was taking on passengers from the ferry, a wave swamped the smaller boat, causing its boilers to explode. Albert Jr. was killed in the accident.
Killed in action, General Johnston received the highest praise ever given by the Confederate government; accounts were published, on December 20, 1862, and thereafter, in the Los Angeles Star of his family’s hometown. Johnston Street, Hancock Street, and Griffin Avenue, each in northeast Los Angeles, are named after the general and his family, who lived in the neighborhood.
Johnston was initially buried in New Orleans. In 1866, a joint resolution of the Texas Legislature was passed to have his body moved and reinterred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. The re-interment occurred in 1867. Forty years later, the state appointed Elisabet Ney to design a monument and sculpture of him to be erected at the grave site.
The Texas Historical Commission has erected a historical marker near the entrance of what was once Johnston’s plantation. An adjacent marker was erected by the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of The Republic of Texas and the Lee, Roberts, and Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederate States of America.
The University of Texas at Austin has recognized Johnston with a statue on the South Mall.
General Johnston has a long and storied life and career of service to the United States, The Republic of Texas, and the Confederate States of America.
Much too long to post in this format.
If this piece has caught your interest concerning one one the greatest military men of all time, I would recommend reading:
Albert Sidney Johnston, Soldier of Three Republics
Book by Charles P. Roland