Joseph E. Johnston Biography


Birthday: February 3, 1807 (Aquarius)

Born In: Farmville, Virginia, United States

Joseph E. Johnston was an American military officer who had served as a ‘Confederate’ general during the American Civil War (1861 to 1865). He had previously fought in the Mexican–American War (1846 to 1848) and had joined the Civil War as a senior officer. Due to his exploits at various wars, Johnston became a full general early in his career. He won the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in July 1861, but his early retreat during the initial part of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 drew a lot of criticism. Johnston was badly injured at the Battle of Seven Pines in 1862 and was replaced by Robert E. Lee. He was later put in charge of the ‘Confederate’ army in the Western Theater. He had a long-standing feud with President Jefferson Davis due to his defensive strategy during the conflicts of Vicksburg and Atlanta. In April 1865, Johnston surrendered to General William T. Sherman of the ‘Union’ army. Following the war, Johnston spent his final years working as an insurance agent and a railroad executive. He also served the ‘U.S. Congress’ for a term. He died of pneumonia in 1891, aged 84.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Joseph Eggleston Johnston

Died At Age: 84


Spouse/Ex-: Lydia Mulligan Sims McLane (m. 1845–1887)

father: Judge Peter Johnston Jr. (1763–1831)

mother: Mary Valentine Wood (1769–1825)

siblings: Algernon Johnston, Benjamin Johnston, Charles Clement Johnston, Edward Johnston, Jane Johnston, John Johnston, Martha Johnston, Peter Johnston

Born Country: United States

Military Leaders American Men

Died on: March 21, 1891

place of death: Washington, D.C.

U.S. State: Virginia

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

More Facts

education: United States Military Academy

Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was born on February 3, 1807, at ‘Longwood House’ in ‘Cherry Grove,’ near Farmville, Virginia, United States, to Judge Peter Johnston Jr. and Mary Valentine Wood. The family’s home was later destroyed in fire.
His father was a renowned judge and a Revolutionary War veteran. His mother was the niece of attorney Patrick Henry. His grandfather, Peter Johnston, was a Scottish immigrant who had later fought in the American Revolution.
Joseph E. Johnston was named after Major Joseph Eggleston, under whom his father, Peter Johnston Jr., had served in the American Revolutionary War. He was the seventh son (and the seventh child) of his parents. One of his brothers, Charles Clement Johnston, later became a congressman.
In 1811, he and his family moved to Abingdon, Virginia, where they built a home named ‘Panecillo.’
Helped by his father’s political connections, in 1825, Johnston was able to join the ‘United States Military Academy’ at West Point. In 1829, he graduated, securing the 13th rank in a class of 46.
Recommended Lists:
Early Military Career
Joseph E. Johnston became a second lieutenant in the ‘4th U.S. Artillery’ and served garrison duty before being put to a non-combat role in the Black Hawk War in 1832. After serving at ‘Fort Monroe’ in Virginia, Johnston became part of General Winfield Scott’s staff at the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842) in Florida. However, Johnston decided to resign in 1837, in order to become a civil engineer. He began working as a civilian contract worker on a ‘U.S. Navy’ ship in Florida. In 1838, he was injured by the Seminoles.
After a few months, Johnston got back to the army and captained topographical engineers for a few years.
Johnston then fought in the Mexican–American War (1846 to 1848) and was injured several times, initially at the Battle of Cerro Gordo and then at the Battle of Chapultepec.
Following this, Joseph E. Johnston was promoted to the post of lieutenant colonel. Johnston then worked as a topographical engineer in Texas and as a cavalry officer in the Midwest. In 1860, he was promoted to the post of brigadier general and was made the quartermaster general of the ‘U.S. Army.’
Early Civil War
In April 1861, Joseph E. Johnston resigned the commission after Virginia, his home state, joined the ‘Confederacy.’ He was made a brigadier general in the ‘Confederate Army’ and was put in charge of the forces at Harpers Ferry. In July 1861, Johnston scored his first main triumph when his army crushed the ‘Union’ forces at the ‘First Battle of Bull Run’ (Manassas).
Following this, he was promoted to the post of full general. However, ‘Confederate’ President Jefferson Davis criticized him for not chasing down the retreating ‘Union Army.’ Johnston did not like the fact that even after being promoted, he was still below Robert E. Lee, Samuel Cooper, and Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston was the most senior ‘U.S. Army’ officer in the ‘Confederacy,’ and thus felt insulted.
He was put in control of the ‘Confederate Army’ of the Potomac (later the ‘Army of Northern Virginia’) in 1862. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 was his first major campaign there.
‘Union’ general George B. McClellan decided to march into Richmond. Going against Davis, Johnston decided to withdraw from the Virginia Peninsula. After defending his forces at the Battle of Williamsburg, Johnston retreated and finally stationed just outside Richmond.
On May 31, 1862, Davis forced Johnston to attack McClellan at the Battle of Seven Pines. The ‘Union’ army was stopped, but Johnston was badly injured on June 1. Following this, Robert E. Lee replaced him.
During Johnston’s 6-month recovery period, Lee made a few aggressive attacks (the Seven Days Battles) and succeeded in ousting McClellan from Virginia.
Western Theater
In November 1862, Joseph E. Johnston returned to action. He was in charge of the ‘Confederate’ army in the Western Theater. In May 1863, he was put in charge of the forces in Mississippi, which was under threat from the ‘Union’ army under Ulysses S. Grant.
Johnston abandoned Jackson, the state capital, and decided to join forces with General John C. Pemberton, who was trapped in the Mississippi River hub at Vicksburg. Johnston ordered Pemberton to surrender to the ‘Union’ forces. However, Davis had ordered Pemberton to fight till the end, and he thus refused to surrender.
Johnston decided not to attack Grant, as he felt he did not have a strong army. Pemberton’s forces surrendered on July 4, 1863. Vicksburg was thus acquired by the ‘Union.’
Johnston was criticized for his failure in Mississippi. However, in November 1863, he took control of the Army of Tennessee, succeeding General Braxton Bragg. He was asked to stop General William T. Sherman’s march into Atlanta.
Johnston stuck to his strategic retreat, but Sherman continued to march toward Atlanta all though May 1864. In June 1864, Johnston managed to damage Sherman’s army at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. However, Davis felt Johnston lacked a decisive plan, and thus, after a month, replaced him with General John Bell Hood.
In February 1865, Johnston was put back on duty. He was in charge of the Army of Tennessee, which had gathered in North Carolina to delay Sherman’s march after the siege of Atlanta.
In March 1865, along with General P.G.T. Beauregard, Johnston tried to launch a surprise attack at the Battle of Bentonville, but was attacked by an army that was thrice the size of his own.
In April 1865, after retreating to Greensboro, North Carolina, Johnston and Beauregard surrendered. This was done after they came to know that Robert E. Lee had surrendered much before, at Appomattox.
After the War: Final Years & Death
Following the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston shifted to Savannah, Georgia, and worked there as an insurance agent and a railroad president. In the 1870s, he wrote his memoirs. In 1877, he moved to Richmond. The following year, he was elected to the ‘U.S. House of Representatives.’ However, he quit politics after just one term.
Later, he was made the U.S. commissioner of railroads under President Grover Cleveland’s administration. While his conflict with Jefferson Davis continued long after the war ended, Johnston became friends with ‘Union’ generals such as William T. Sherman, and even served as a pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral in February 1891.
It is believed, he caught a severe pneumonia after refusing to wear a hat in the cold and rainy weather, to pay his respect to Sherman, on his funeral. Johnston died a month later, on March 21, 1891, in Washington, D.C., at age 84. Johnston remains buried in the ‘Green Mount Cemetery’ in Baltimore, Maryland.
Family & Personal Life
Joseph E. Johnston married Lydia Mulligan Sims McLane on July 10, 1845, in Baltimore. Lydia was the daughter of Louis McLane, a Delaware-based senator. Lydia died in 1887. The couple had no children.

See the events in life of Joseph E. Johnston in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Joseph E. Johnston Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Ulysses S. Grant Biography
Ulysses S. Grant
Samuel Alito Biography
Samuel Alito
Stonewall Jackson Biography
Stonewall Jackson
Michael Flynn Biography
Michael Flynn
David Petraeus Biography
David Petraeus
Sitting Bull Biography
Sitting Bull