On February 2, 1803 Albert Sidney Johnston¹ was born, in Washington, Kentucky. Young Albert was the youngest son of Dr. John and Abigail Harris Johnston. Johnston would receive his education at Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky. While attending Transylvania University, he would befriend Jefferson Davis. While his roots were from Kentucky, Johnston considered Texas his home, and spent most of his years there.
Albert Sidney, and Jefferson Davis, would both be accepted to West Point. Johnston would graduate in 1826 – eighth in a class of 41 cadets. Johnston and Davis would enjoy a lifelong friendship, although Davis was two years behind Johnston.
After graduating, Johnston received a commission as brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He would be assigned various posts, from New York, to Missouri. During the Black Hawk War, in 1832, he would serve as chief of staff to General Henry Atkinson.
In 1829, Johnston married Henrietta Preston. Together, they would have a son, William Preston Johnston, who would also serve in the Confederate army. Due to his wife’s tuberculosis, he would resign from the army, in 1834, to care for her. Henrietta would die in 1836.
With the passing of his wife, Johnston would enter the Texas Army, in 1836, as a private, during the Texas War of Independence, against Mexico. One month after entering the Texas Army, he would be promoted major, and aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston. His promotion would be rapid, in the Texas Army. On January 31, 1837 he would become the senior brigadier general in command of the Texas Army.
Interestingly, in February 1837, Johnston would be wounded in the pelvis, during a duel with Texas Brigadier General Felix Huston. He refused to fire. He would lose the senior general position, but would be appointed Texas Secretary of War at the end of 1838.
In 1840, Johnston would resign his Texas commission and return to Kentucky, were he married Eliza Griffin, in 1843. They would move to Texas and settle on a large plantation in Brazoria County.
During the Mexican War, he would once again return to the Texas Army as a colonel in the 1stTexas Rifle Volunteers, under General Zachary Taylor. He would lead his regiment until their terms of enlistment expired, right before the battle of Monterrey. Managing to convince some of his regiment to stay and fight, Johnston led them into battles at both Monterrey, and Buena Vista.
After the war, he would return to his plantation until then President Zachary Taylor appointed him as major in the U.S. Army, in December 1849. He would serve as paymaster for the next five years, traveling many thousands of miles through hostile country. In 1855, President Franklin Pierce promoted Johnston to colonel of the newly designated 2nd U.S. Cavalry. This was a significant, as promotions in a peacetime army come very slowly. He would organize the 2nd Cavalry, and would lead them in the Mormon Uprising in Utah. For his service in Utah, he would receive brevet promotion to brigadier general.
He would be in Kentucky in 1860, where he would leave to take command of the Department of the Pacific, on December 21, 1860.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnston would still be in California. He would be encouraged by the Californians to take his troops east, and join the Federal forces against the newly formed Confederacy. As Texas was part of the Confederacy, he would resign his commission, in the U.S. Army, on April 9, 1861. Leaving California, in June, he would start the long trip east, to the new capitol of the Confederacy – Richmond, Virginia. He would arrive there on September 1. His friend, now Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, would promote him full general in the Confederate States Army – the second highest ranking officer in the Confederate service.
Davis would assign his friend to command the vast area west of the Allegheny Mountains – from the Cumberland Gap to the Trans-Mississippi. His primary line of defense would run from the Cumberland Gap, west through Bowling Green, Kentucky, ending at Columbus, Kentucky. Unfortunately, A.S. Johnston’s army was considered an invading army with Kentucky’s declaration of neutrality. This allowed a young rising star, in the U.S. Army, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant to enter Kentucky to liberate the state. Arriving in Paducah, Grant would not stay long as he had other plans.
On February 6, 1862, U.S. Grant, along with Flag Officer A.H. Foote, would capture Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River. Foote’s gunboats would annihilate the fort, and Grant’s ground forces would capture what remained of CS Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman’s command. Grant, moving eastward, would stun the Confederacy, on February 16, by capturing Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River, along with 12,000 Confederate soldiers. This capture would open both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers to the United States – making Johnston’s line of operations, in Kentucky untenable. Taking the remnants of his army, including CS Major General Leonidas “Bishop” Polk’s garrison, at Columbus, Kentucky to Corinth, Mississippi, Johnston would unite with the forces under the command of CS General P.G.T. Beauregard.
Over the coming month, Johnston would organize his army to protect any deeper incursion of Grant’s army, currently camped near Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River.
In early April, not wanting to cede the initiative to Grant, Johnston planned an attack on Grant’s forces. Originally scheduled for April 5, the Confederate forces would be stalled due to rain – and mud. At dawn, on April 6, Sidney Johnston unleashed his attack, on an unsuspecting army near a small church – Shiloh. With his corps in stacked formation, Johnston would initially experience success, pushing William T. Sherman’s division past Shiloh Church to an area known as the Crossroads. The most brutal fighting, thus far in the Civil War, would take place just north of the Crossroads, in an area to be known as the Hornet’s Nest (given its name by the sound of hundreds of buzzing minie balls).
With Leonidas Polk’s Corps on the left flank, CS Major General William J. Hardee’s near the center and CS Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Corps on the right, Johnston was commanding the army near the right flank. While sitting on his horse, Johnston would be struck, behind his right knee by a minie ball. Due to a his previous dueling injury, he was either unaware of his wound or believed it was not serious. Reeling in his saddle, he would be caught, and helped from his horse, by Tennessee’s Confederate Governor Isham Harris. Seeing blood coming out his right boot, Harris would ask Johnston if he were injured. Johnston would quietly reply, “Yes and I fear seriously.” By this time, he was severely weakened and removed to safer area of the field. He would die a short time later. Ironically, Johnston had a tourniquet in his pocket that could have been used to save him.
Albert Sidney Johnston would be the highest ranking Confederate officer killed in the war. Unfortunately, command would pass to P.G.T. Beauregard, who would lose the Battle of Shiloh, on April 7, when a reinforced Federal army would overrun his position, pushing him clear to Corinth. Johnston, a true patriot to the United States, before the war, was also one of the Confederacy’s ablest general officers. After Shiloh, the war in the West would be dominated by the Federal armies.