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The Impact of One Person
How A.S. Johnston changed the South

by: Donavan N. Johnston

What impact does one man have when it come to a group of people? What influence can that person make? The influence of one person can affect the outcome of a situation. The age of the person does not matter. They can be young, middle age, or retirement age and still have a pressure over a society and their outcome. When a person has this power over a set of a people, they come into a role of authority. No matter what there age or mental mindset, when the person is brought to the people, they rally around him and are able to know that he is there to bless and guide their journey. This person's word and stance can shape the direction of a battle and lead the direction of a war. Yet when the person dies, there can be this lack of leadership and misdirection to where the people should head in their direction and the path must choose. Often the people begin to lament that if only that leader were around they would be a better off. Leaders of this caliber do not often come around that often.

In the 1800's there was such a man. He was a crude man and a general for three nations. He fought in the campaigns that changed the American outcome and influenced leaders the followed him. This rise and subsequent departure of this man affect how the Civil War turned out for the Confederacy and gave the Union that need boost to win and control the war. When Albert Sidney Johnston died at the battle of Pittsburgh Landing his death sent shockwaves into the whole both Union and Confederate lands. General Johnston's death turned the war for Union and made the struggle more difficult for the Confederates. If General A.S. Johnston had lived, would the United States be a different country today? Would the South be its own free nation? Would the institution of slavery still be alive and prospering? These questions can only be speculated because A.S. Johnston died early on in the war and could not lead the Confederates onto the Glory the searched for. Yet to wonder about how this man had the influence he did a person must look at his campaigns before the civil war, his work during his time in the civil war, and the impact he had after his death. By examining these three areas one can predict the outcome of the Civil War had A.S. Johnston been around for the duration of the war.

Born in Kentucky in 1803, A.S. Johnston came from a family that lived in a proslavery state. Born to New Englander parents, his surrounding in Kentucky influenced him more then his parent's background. He grew up ten miles from the Ohio River and had the chance to be affected by the free society, yet the people who passed into his area in Washington County Kentucky instituted that he was a Southerner and that loyalty should remain with were he was born, not where his parents came from. Early on, he was seen as bright young man destined to be a leader. At his first time in Transylvania University in Kentucky in 1819, he tried to quit wanting to join the Navy but his father insisted that he not join. He moved to Louisiana to work under his brother Josiah Stoddard Johnston, who at the time was Representative of the State of Louisiana in Congress. While living there he felt the need to go back to school to study medicine. Thus in 1820 he enrolled again at Transylvania University . Upon his return to school, he meets Jefferson Davis and the two of them become good friends. Yet he still wants to be a solider fighting. He asks his brother, now a Senator, to sponsor his enrollment into West Point and his taken without questions into the Army. He graduates form West Point and he is consider one of the best soldiers to come out of there. While spend sometime before his first deployment with his brother in Washington he becomes acquainted with President J.Q. Adams and others of Washington 's elite class .

After stints in present day Illinois and Wisconsin , Albert Johnston found a new challenge that began to affect his life. In March of 1836 A.S. Johnston, while in Louisville Kentucky , head the peels of Stephen Austin for help in defending the new Republic of Texas . At first he did not want to settle in Texas , instead he petitioned the government to let him settle lands in the Sioux territory. However after the Texan Army's defeat at the Alamo the petition were made for A.S. Johnston to come an help the army defend and fight for there independence. This renewal intrigued Johnston and he took his family and went to Texas to fight for their Independence . He came into the field highly qualified and thus was given the rank of Colonel in the Army. His leadership skills became unmatched yet people under him had a difficult time in adjusting to his leadership. He got call upon to negotiate treaties and conference with the Native American who inhabited the land and he had control over different Calvary groups that went out and attacked key outpost in the Texas-Mexican boarder region. While not everyone agreed with his thoughts and ideas, A.S. Johnston began to gain the admiration of many people. He became to be highly looked upon by all Citizens of Texas. When Texas gained its Independence , A.S. Johnston became one of them .

When the United States annexed Texas , A.S. Johnston rejoined the United States federal army. In 1855, he received his new orders to defend and protect federals lands. In 1847, Brigham Young and his followers established a colony of people in the Northern edge of Mexico near the Great Salt Lake . Young and his Latter-day Saint settlers brought with them a hope to find peace in the land and a place to prosper and grow. However, they also brought with them a religious practice that the government did not approve of, polygamy or having a man married to more then one wife at the same time. When the United States acquired the region after the Mexican war, rumors floated about what Young and his followers were doing. One of these rumors came that the Latter-day Saint people were going to break off from the United States and form their own republic. Sensing that trouble was a foot President Millard Fillmore dispatched a regimen of the Army out to quell the possible the revolution. The leader of this Army group was A.S. Johnston. When he arrived in Salt Lake A.S. Johnston found the city deserted. No one was found in the city. The temple lot, where the Saints planned to build a house of worship, covered except for a wall around the land. Johnston and his men searched the city trying to find people yet with the people hidden Johnston 's men could not find them. Eventually the people came out their hiding places and A.S. Johnston took his men and encamped outside of the city for over two years keeping their eye on them. The troops remained to quell any rebellion and they were used to try to stop the use of polygamy among the Latter-day Saints . During this time, A.S. Johnston received correspondents from the east supporting him in his command. One of the letters that he received while stationed in Utah came from another friend he had in the army, that friend is Robert E. Lee. In the letter, Lee discusses how things are changing out east and how they dearly miss his leadership in fighting rebellions and Indian attacks. He concludes the letter by stating that A.S. Johnston is welcome at his place and that he looks forward to the next time when they can meet . This experience in Utah helped to A.S. Johnston to form to things with his friends. One is that most of the people out east gained a trust in him and they gained a knowledge that he was doing what was best for the republic, which he served. This experience also led to the promotion of him to lead the Armies even further west in the California range.

When you are in your fifties you might head to California to retire, however if you are A.S. Johnston California was not a retirement. In February of 1859, Johnston received orders to head to head back home to Kentucky to be with his wife. After spending some shore leave time with his wife, he was asked to come to Washington to receive his new posting. The Department of the Pacific had recently lost their leader and A.S. Johnston received the appointment to take his family and take over the post now vacated. He reluctantly accepted the post and moved his family out there. In 1860, he arrived in California to a less then stellar assignment. In the three months, he sent there nothing militarily happened. Yet the propaganda and ideas that went around with the South helped to decide which side he truly belong on. Johnston is solider with loyalties to his family, his home state, his adopted state, and his Nation. Being a believer in States rights, he allied himself with Texas , resigned his Union commission, and subsequently left California .

When Albert Sidney Johnston California it was not know if he was joining the rebel forces to attack the forces that were being to rebel. When he arrived in Texas his alliance, was show and welcomed to adoptive land. He made the journey to Richmond to discuss the situation with his old friend Jefferson Davis. Although Johnston never formally gives his allegiance to Davis , Davis knows that Johnston is on his side. In Davis 's own words, he states that the South could have not received a greater gift then Albert Sidney Johnston joining their cause. In Johnston 's first assignment, he went to the west to open it up and to defend the area. The first major conflict that came about came in his native Kentucky . Although the state still had slaves at the time, Kentucky remained loyal to the union. When the federal troops got word that A.S. Johnston was in command of the troops and that, he was marching in their direction they expected him to head to Louisville because of its port. However, Johnston instead focused his troops on taking over the Bowling Green area. This proved more successful then an attack on Louisville . Under staffed and under supplied, when the Confederate forces began to attack the Union troops had no choice but to surrender to Johnston and his company. This gave the Confederates a deceive point in which they could attack. This also put Johnston on a higher pedestal to the rest of the Confederate army. At the age of fifty-nine, it appeared nothing could go wrong for him and that nothing could have stopped him.

Nevertheless, his old Kentucky home did provide a glimpse into a side never seen before side of Johnston . Located on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson appeared from the outset to strategic forts on their Respected rivers. The forts had their advantages and disadvantages. One they both were located on key Confederate rivers. Both forts had their own Armies of the Confederacy that would fight to defend them. If the Union were to attack one, however the fort could not be left alone to defend itself. Even Johnston with his armies in Bowling Green could not spare enough soldiers if a fort came under Union fire. Another trouble that Fort Henry had occurring is that it was built in the low part of a river and thus it flooded over. In October of 1862, Johnston wrote to his leaders, “That I can not weaken either fort (or Bowling Green ) until the object of the enemy is fully pronounced .” In February of 1863, Union soldiers took advantage of the flooded fort and began to attack it from the Tennessee River . The fighting was swift and fast and before Johnston 's could sent any troops to defend the fort it had fallen. Nothing could be done to save it from the Union 's attacks. Troops were dispatch from Fort Donelson to save Fort Henry , yet the lack of preparedness that Fort Henry had became its dismissed. Johnston became resolute that Fort Donelson would not fall to the enemy's hands. “This would be a major blow the Confederates hope if the Donelson were to come under the wrong hands,” Johnston wrote in a letter to a colleague .

With the Union having to take some time to go back up the Tennessee River and come down the Cumberland Johnston still became reluctant to send more troops to fortify Donelson. The main reason is that he felt that if he abandons his stronghold in Bowling Green he would loose both of the forts. Should Johnston have sent more troops to the area? Well the outcome of a Confederate victory would have never been known because most of the troops were untrained and undisciplined. When the Union began its assault on Donelson for the most part the confederates were winning the battle and it appeared that the Union would be defeated with out Johnston making a personal appearance in the battle. The battle lasted two days and that is were the problem leys. The Confederate advances against the Union were all on the first day. On the second day the confederate leaders believing they were out numbered by the Union troops, began to retreat upon hearing nothing from Johnston and his command on what they should do. The most major of follies that A.S. Johnston ever did during this time was not going to Donelson when it the Union attacked it. Had he gone there it might have given the Confederates a fighting chance. In the struggle Johnston forgot that the people rallied around him and that, the soldiers out fighting the war were not only fighting for their way or life, but also for a leader whom they supported and loved .

The scene then shifted to Pittsburg Landing in Mississippi . The reason for calling it Pittsburgh Landing and not Shiloh comes from this is about a Southern person and not a Yankee. In Pittsburgh Landing the Confederacy, lost Jefferson Davis' greatest General . The story of the battle of Pittsburgh Landing is relativity simple. An entrenched Confederate army led by A.S. Johnston met the Union on its continued march south. They battled each other and the Confederates lost the battle. Both sides lost great deal amount of men. Yet the Confederates come out of this battle in the worst of shapes. On the first day of the attack while leading a charge of men, A.S. Johnston has a bullet strike him in the leg and he begins to bleed. Had he not sent his personal medic ahead with the advance troops, he could have had the leg fixed and been out of bed in a few days. Instead, he continued on fighting, while at the same bleeding profusely from his leg. Albert Sidney Johnston dies while trying to save his men and rally them around for the cause. Instead of protecting his life and saving his own self from death, he tried to advance on and rally his men to victory . General P.T. Beauregard the seconded in command at Pittsburgh Landing was shocked to learn of the death of Johnston . He continued the battle but eventually had to retreat to points further south. Beauregard had not wanted to fight the Union at Pittsburgh Landing, even encouraging Johnston to hold back the attacks . Yet Johnston was adamant on saving what he considered the seat of vitality for the Confederacy.

The death of Albert Sidney Johnston sent a huge shockwave across the Confederacy and in the Union . General Grant and Bragg who fought for the Union wrote in their official description of the battle:

No one cause probably so greatly to our loss of time, which was the loss of success as the fall of the commanding general. For want of a common superior to the different commands on that part of the field great delay occurred after the misfortune and that delay prevented the consummation of the work so gallantly and successfully begun.

In Richmond upon hearing of A.S. Johnston death, the confederate congress held a moment of silence to remember him. His friend Jefferson Davis became weak at the news of Johnston 's death . All through the Confederacy, there became a sense that they might not win this war now that A.S. Johnston is gone.

The Confederacy did go on to loose the Civil War. It took almost three years of intensive fighting, but the Confederacy could not prevail. So who is to blame for the Confederacy's loss? Many historians have stated it came from their planning and strategies. The Confederacy was defending their home turf, they knew the land and they knew how to strike and kill the Yankees. Yet they lost to war. Is it because of leadership or style of leadership? On the other hand, is it because they lost a leader who would fight the fight and appeared to be god's gift to the South?

For the most part, however historians point out that the main impact Johnston would have occurred at the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing. The greater impact of this battle is not known but what is projected had Johnston lived is that he would have given the Confederates a fighting chance on day two of the battle. The role that P.T. Beauregard played in making the decisions after Johnston death changed how the Confederates lost the battle. Johnston greatly influenced and held a major role in the campaign. His battle tactics inspired men. Maybe they should not have attacked at Pittsburgh Landing and instead taken the battle to Corinth as Beauregard suggested. With Johnston dead nevertheless Beauregard choose the most appropriate action to end the fighting with the least amount of bloodshed. Had Beauregard choose to fight the next day against Grant and his troops then the Confederates may have won the battle and changed the war. Yet Johnston was not there to lead and inspire his men on to the victory they sought and wanted to claim as their own.

What would the outcome of the War have been like if A.S. Johnston had found a medic and lived? Would slavery still exist? Would the South have gained their independence? The answers are purely speculation. Had Johnston lived he would have established a plan to defeat the Union at Pittsburgh Landing. The Union leader was a man named Grant. This same Grant went east on reassignment because of his no holds bar attitude towards the war. This same Grant also accepted the surrender of one of Johnston 's friends Robert E. Lee, which ended the south's hope of becoming their own nation. Had Johnston lived at Pittsburgh Landing would Grant have been so successful that he received control of the Union troops and defeated Lee? Yet that is one speculation theory that people have suggested. While Johnston could have leaded the South to victory, his death cut this idea short.

One person can have an impact on a society. One person can change the way a group of people respond and act. Even the presence of one person can shape how a group of people feel and react to a situation. In the eighteen hundreds, there was such a man. When Albert Sidney Johnston came to rise, he gained an aura around him that drew people to him. People wanted him to be near them. People asked him to come to Texas and fight for its freedom, and he came. The government assigned to quell a rebellion in Utah and he went. A choice came to him to choose between his loyalty between the federal government and that of the states governments and he upheld the rights of a state over that of the federal governments. He did not conquer the Union government, yet he did leave an impression that with time he just might. His death sent waves of disappointment and changed the outcome of the war he was fighting. If he would have stayed alive, the South and the North could have been different today.


Roland, Charles P. Albert Sidney Johnston Solider of Three Republics (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press: 1964) 6-19

Ibid., 53-80

Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church History in the Fullness of Times (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1993),

Sibley, Marilyn McAdams. Robert E. Lee to Albert S. Johnston 1957 The Journal of Southern History Vol. 29 No. 1 (Feb, 1963) 100-107

Roland, 241-245

Roland, Charles P. Albert Sidney Johnston and the Loss of Ft. Henry and Donelson The Journal of Southern History Vol. 23 No. 1 (Feb 1957) 59

Roland, Charles P. Jefferson Davis's greatest general : Albert Sidney Johnston ( Abilene , TX : McWhiney Foundation Press, 2000), 23

Roland. General of three Republics, 279-297

Roland. Jefferson Davis, 13

Roland. General of three Republics, 326-328

Woodworth, Steven E. Civil War Generals in Defeat (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press: 1999), 26

Roland. Jefferson Davis, 78