Author: John L. Bell

a professor emeritus at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina

Joseph E. Johnston (1807–1891)

Joseph E. Johnston was a veteran of the Mexican War (1846–1848), quartermaster general of the United States Army, a Confederate general during the American Civil War (1861–1865), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1879–1881), and a U.S. railroad commissioner in the first administration of U.S. president Grover Cleveland (1885–1889). The highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to resign his commission at the start of the Civil War, Johnston helped lead Confederates to victory at the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861; a month later, however, when Confederate president Jefferson Davis appointed five men to the rank of full general, he was only fourth on the list, igniting a bitter feud with the president that would last the war and even spill into his postwar memoir, Narrative of Military Operations (1874). Historians, meanwhile, have split on his military performance, with some dubbing him “Retreatin’ Joe,” citing, among others, his retreats in the face of General George B. McClellan‘s Army of the Potomac on the Peninsula in 1862. Johnston was wounded on June 1, 1862, at the Battle of Seven Pines, and Davis turned the Army of Northern Virginia over to General Robert E. Lee, who led it for the remainder of the war. Other historians have argued that Johnston’s strategy of withdrawal saved Confederates from destruction during the Atlanta Campaign (1864); nevertheless, Davis replaced him then, too.