Albert Sidney Johnston (1803-1862)

Albert Sidney Johnston (February 2, 1803 - April 6, 1862) was a career U.S. Army officer and a Confederate general during the American Civil War. Considered by some to be the finest general in the Confederacy, he was killed early in the war at the Battle of Shiloh.

Early life

Johnston was born in Washington, Kentucky, on February 2, 1803, the youngest son of Dr. John and Abigail Harris Johnston. His father was a native of Salisbury, Connecticut. Although Albert Johnston was born in Kentucky, he lived much of his life in Texas, which he considered his home. He was educated at Transylvania University in Lexington and later secured an appointment to West Point. In 1826 he graduated from the United States Military Academy with a commission as a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He served at Sackett's Harbor, New York in 1826, with the Sixth Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, in 1827, and as regimental adjutant in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and as chief of staff to General Henry Atlinson. On January 20, 1829, he married Henrietta Preston. Because of his wife's illness, he resigned his commission on April 22, 1834, and farmed near St. Louis in 1835. She died on August 12, 1835. They had one son, William Preston.

Texas Army

In 1836 Johnston moved to Texas and enlisted as a private in the Texas Army during the Texas War of Independence against the Republic of Mexico. One month later, Johnston was promoted to major and the position of aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston. On August 5, 1836, he was appointed adjutant general by Thomas Jefferson Rusk in the Republic of Texas Army. On January 31, 1837, he became senior brigadier general in command of the army to replace Felix Huston.

On February 7, 1837, he fought in a duel with Texas Brig. Gen. Felix Huston, challenging each other for the command of the Texas Army; Johnston refused to fire on Huston and lost the position after he was wounded in the pelvis. The second president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar, appointed him Secretary of War on December 22, 1838. Johnston was to provide the defense of the Texas border against Mexican invasion, and in December 1839 he led an expedition against the Cherokee in East Texas. In February of 1840, he resigned and returned to Kentucky, where he married Eliza Griffin, a cousin of his first wife, in 1843. They settled on a large plantation he named China Grove in Brazoria County, Texas.

U.S. Army

Johnston returned to the Texas Army during the Mexican-American War under General Zachary Taylor as a colonel of the 1st Texas Rifle Volunteers, fighting at the Battle of Monterrey on September 20-24, 1846. General Johnston remained on his plantation after the war until he was appointed by President Zachary Taylor to the U.S. Army as a major and was made a paymaster in December of 1849. He served in that role for more than five years, making six tours, and traveling more than 4,000 miles annually on the Indian frontier of Texas. He served on the Texas frontier and elsewhere in the West. In 1855 President Franklin Pierce appointed him colonel of the 2nd (now 5th) Cavalry, a new regiment, which he organized. As a key figure in the Utah War, he led U.S. troops who established a non-Mormon government in the formerly Mormon territory. He received a brevet promotion to brigadier general in 1857 for his service in Utah. He spent 1860 in Kentucky until December 21, when he sailed for California to take command of the Department of the Pacific.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Johnston was the commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific in California. He was approached by some Californians who urged him to take his forces east to join the Union against the Confederacy. He resigned his commission, April 9, 1861, as soon as he heard of the secession of Texas. He remained in California until June. After a rapid march through the deserts of Arizona and Texas, he reached Richmond, Virginia, on or about September 1, 1861. There Johnston was appointed a general by his friend, President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis. On May 30, 1861, Johnston became the second highest ranking Confederate General (after the little-known Samuel Cooper) as commander of the Western Department. He raised the Army of Mississippi to defend Confederate lines from the Mississippi River to Kentucky and the Allegheny Mountains.

Although the Confederate Army won a morale-boosting victory at First Bull Run in the East in 1861, matters in the West turned ugly by early 1862. Johnston's subordinate generals lost Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, and Fort Donelson on February 14, 1862, to Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. And Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell captured the vital city of Nashville, Tennessee. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard was sent west to join Johnston and they organized their forces at Corinth, Mississippi, planning to ambush Grant's forces at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.


Johnston conducted a massive surprise attack 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. At about 2:30 p.m., while leading one of those charges, he was wounded, taking a bullet behind his right knee. He did not think the wound serious at the time, and sent his personal physician to attend to some wounded Union soldiers instead. The bullet had in fact clipped his popliteal artery and his boot was filling up with blood. Within a few minutes Johnston was observed by his staff to be nearly fainting off of his horse, and asked him if he was wounded, to which he replied "Yes, and I fear seriously." It is possible that Johnston's duel in 1837 had caused nerve damage or numbness to that leg and that he did not feel the wound to his leg as a result. Johnston was taken to a small ravine, where he bled to death in minutes.

Ironically, 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. He was the highest-ranking casualty of the war and his death was a strong blow to the morale of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis considered him the best general in the country; this was two months before the emergence of Robert E. Lee as their pre-eminent general.


Johnston was buried in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, a joint resolution of the Texas Legislature was passed to have his body reinterred to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin (the re-interment occurred in 1867). Four decades later, the state appointed Elisbet Ney to design a monument and sculpture of him to be erected at his gravesite.

The Texas Historical Commission has erected a historical marker near the entrance of what was once his 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.