Johnston Returns to Duty

General Joseph E. Johnston reluctantly assumed overall command of all Confederate troops opposing Federals in the Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as the shattered Army of Tennessee.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Most of these Confederate troops had been under command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. As such, Lee initially resisted reinstating Johnston, writing, “I entertain a high opinion of Genl Johnston’s capacity, but think a continual change of commanders is very injurious to any troops and tends greatly to their disorganization…” But since then, Columbia, Charleston, and Wilmington had all fallen, which prompted a desperate command change.[1]

After the fall of Columbia and Charleston, Lee wrote to Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, “I do not know where his (Beauregard’s) troops are, or on what lines they are moving… Should his strength give way, there is no one on duty in the department that could replace him, nor have I anyone to send there. Genl J.E. Johnston is the only officer whom I know who has the confidence of the army and the people, and if he was ordered to report to me I would place him there on duty…”[2]

Despite Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s extreme disdain for Johnston, Lee and the War Department issued orders recalling him to duty on February 22. Besides Lee and Breckinridge, Johnston also had supporters in the Confederate Congress such as Louis T. Wigfall of Texas, who had denounced Davis for making Johnston the scapegoat for past Confederate defeats. Johnston wrote to a friend that he suspected Davis secretly hoped Johnston would fail so that Davis’s opposition to him would be vindicated.[3]

Nevertheless, Johnston reluctantly accepted the appointment the next day, when he received instructions to “concentrate all available forces and drive back (Federal Major General William T.) Sherman.” Lee informed Davis that he had confidence in Johnston, and although Confederate forces were scattered in Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas, “by diligence & boldness they can be united.” Two days later, Johnston arrived at Charlotte, North Carolina to take command.[4]

As Johnston began gathering troops, he notified Lee that he could only muster 25,000 men, and “In my opinion, these troops form an army far too weak to cope with Sherman.” He proposed joining with General Braxton Bragg’s command in North Carolina.[5]

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  • [1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16696-16706
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16715-16735
  • [3] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 642-43; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16735-16745; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 457-58
  • [4] Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 26, 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 643; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16735-16755
  • [5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 643-44
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