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Johnston, circa 1865



Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807–1891)

Joseph E. Johnston’s Civil War career was a little like the Confederate experiment itself in that it was begun with high hopes, riddled with missed opportunities, and ultimately met with disappointment. Johnston joined the rebel army as a leading contender for high command. His brilliant performance at the First Battle of Manassas earned him a general’s commission and seemed to foretell further military laurels. Yet his promotion was the beginning of a tempestuous working relationship with President Jefferson Davis. The two simply did not trust each other. When assigned to command in Tennessee and Mississippi, Johnston erroneously complained that his orders were nominal and lacked authority. In turn, when the strategic river town of Vicksburg fell, Davis blamed Johnston for circumstances beyond his immediate control.

The problem hurting Johnston most, however, was his overcautiousness, which was interpreted by his superiors as passivity. He liked ideal situations in which his army had a numerical edge and could take the defensive, but at no time was the Confederacy ever blessed with superior numbers.

Benjamin Franklin Reinhart (1829–1885)
Oil on artist board, not dated
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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