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 Posted: Fri Jan 5th, 2007 11:26 pm
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bschulte
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Charles P. Roland. Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky; Revised Edition (February 2001). 384 pp., 16 maps, notes, index.. ISBN: 0-81319-000-2 $19.95 (Paperback).

The University Press of Kentucky reissued Charles P. Roland's impressive biography of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston in 2001, and readers will be glad they did. It is telling, writes historian Gary Gallagher in a new Foreword, that no new biography of Johnston has come out in almost 40 years. Roland's balanced, entertaining, and informative work still stands as the standard account of this martial man's life. In telling Johnston's story, Roland emphasizes his devotion to duty no matter how distasteful the assignment. Time and time again, whether in Texas, Utah, or Tennessee, Johnston was faithful in discharging his duty despite any personal misgivings with those in authority. Many thought Johnston would run for President of the eponymous three republics, Texas, the United States, and the Confederate States. In all cases, Johnston declined, preferring military duty as the best way to help whatever cause he was then involved with. As of early 2007, Roland's study is and will remain for the foreseeable future the standard work on Albert Sidney Johnston's life.

Albert Sidney Johnston was born in Kentucky in 1803, the son of a practicing doctor who originally hailed from New England. Despite these Yankee roots, Johnston would become a thoroughly southern man. Johnston initially enrolled at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, and he later attended West Point. Johnston counted future Confederate President Jefferson Davis as one of his close friends while at the military academy. Johnston was a good student and finished eighth overall, requesting a commission in the infantry. Johnston seemed to be attracted to the most active areas all his life, first participating in the Black Hawk War in 1832, then moving on to the newly created Republic of Texas in the 1830's. Johnston became a General an d commanded Texas' main army after she had won her independence from Mexico. While in Texas, Johnston eventually found himself in a feud with prominent Texan Sam Houston, a situation which would endure even after Texas joined the United States. From Texas, Johnston also participated in the 1846-48 War with Mexico, first as a Colonel of volunteers and then as an honorary aide. After the Mexican War, Johnston became chief paymaster of the Department of Texas, and also unsuccessfully ran a plantation in that state. His job entailed long, lonely journeys away from his family, a situation that finally ended when Johnston was placed in command of the famed 2nd United States Cavalry. While in this position, Johnston commanded an expedition to Utah to possibly fight a war with the Mormons in 1857. Johnston's treatment of the Mormons was impeccable, though he disagreed with their way of life. Later, Johnston became commander of the Department of California, and was at this post when the Civil War broke out. Johnston, who identified strongly with Texas, decided to join the Confederacy as soon as the Lone Star state seceded.

Johnston was soon appointed as one of the five senior generals of the Confederacy, and his experience was so extensive that his personal friendship with Jefferson Davis never even factored into the equation. Davis considered Johnston to be the finest general he had available, and assigned him to command the entire western theater from eastern Kentucky to western Arkansas. What Davis didn't give Johnston enough of was men and materiel. He was expected to cover this massive amount of territory with less than 60,000 men initially, facing over twice that number in Union troops. Johnston's attempts to defend the easter expanse of this department failed when one of his strong points at Forts Henry and Donelson was taken. Not only did Johnston fail to hold the forts, but he also lost 15,000 badly needed men in the process. Roland rightly criticizes Johnston's actions during this time frame. To Johnston's credit, he managed to hold together his army through a long and demoralizing retreat which saw the loss of all of Kentucky and most of Tennessee including Nashville. Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard now called in reinforcements from across the Confederacy in an attempt to overwhelm Grant's Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing. At the height of the attack, Johnston was hit and his boot heel torn partially from the boot. Johnston seemed fine, but in reality an artery had been nicked and the general bled to death in a short while. Johnston was never given the chance to achieve greatness, argues Roland, so we cannot honestly say what might have been regarding his development. Men such as Grant learned from their early mistakes; whether or not Johnston would have done the same is open for speculation.

Johnston spent most of his adult life in and around the military in one form or another, so this biography is naturally enough concerned with a lot of military matters. Roland moves equally well in military and non-military discussions of Johnston's life. His portrayal of Johnston's family and the general's inability to house all of his children in one home due to his financial situation was especially touching. That Roland's book still stands as the standard account of Johnston's life testifies to his mastery of the subject. From Johnston's days as a cadet at West Point to the various campaigns for different countries Johnston found himself in, Roland covers all aspects of Johnston's life in a consistently fair manner, giving the man's failures (mainly financial) and successes (mainly military) equal attention. Roland ultimately concludes that Johnston handled his military commands with aplomb throughout the antebellum years, and he was possibly on his way to this same success in the Civil War before his life was cut short at Shiloh.

The maps in this book were standard for their time (1964), and I was actually pleasantly surprised by most of them. They serve their intended role of familiarizing the reader with the situation without being too vague or too few in number to make a difference. Roland uses the footnote method at the bottom of each page, a process which works better for me in terms of actually looking through the notes at the pertinent point in the text rather than at the end of a chapter or at the end of the book. Roland's bibliography is extensive and uses quite a few manuscript collections as the foundation of his research. Johnston's letters to and from family, friends, and acquaintances are used to especially good effect. The index is functional and serves its intended purpose quite well.

Charles P. Roland's biography of Albert Sidney Johnston continues to stand as the only modern work of the general. The quality of the book will insure that it stays this way for the foreseeable future. Those readers interested in biographical works on the Civil War's leaders would do well to have a copy of Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics on their shelves. No portion of Johnston's life, from his military and personal affairs, his financial failures and military successes, is left uncovered. This biography of Johnston can also be seen as a microcosm of the difficult choices facing men who had previously or were then serving in the United States Army in 1860. For many of these men, their state was more important to them than their country. This biography was also mentioned in several Civil War periodicals as one of the 100 best books written on the Civil War, a sentiment which is pretty close to the mark. Albert Sidney Johnston: Soldier of Three Republics will appeal to students of antebellum America almost as much as students of the Civil war, for most of Johnston's life was spent in those pre-war years. Considering the relatively low price and solid account of Johnston's life, this biography belongs in every Civil War buff's collection.

(Note: Special thanks goes to Hap Houlihan at The University Press of Kentucky.)



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 12:14 am
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javal1
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Brett,

Thanks for the review. Answer me a question if you will...

Does the author examine at all whether ASJ gave PGT too much authority when it came to the battle plan at Shiloh? It's a question that I've always found intriguing. About 25 years ago, I sat down with the late George Reeves, former Superindedent of Shiloh, for several hours for an interview for an article I was writing and asked him that. He seemed to agree that ASJ gave up too much authority. Curious what this author thinks. BTW, if Reeves isn't a legend among the staff at Shiloh, he should be (Calcav, any input?)...



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 12:26 am
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Doc C
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I would also be interested in what changed PGT's initial aggressive nature at Shiloh to one of let's get back to Corinth asap.

Doc C



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 05:39 am
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bschulte
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javal1 wrote: Brett,

Thanks for the review. Answer me a question if you will...

Does the author examine at all whether ASJ gave PGT too much authority when it came to the battle plan at Shiloh? It's a question that I've always found intriguing. About 25 years ago, I sat down with the late George Reeves, former Superindedent of Shiloh, for several hours for an interview for an article I was writing and asked him that. He seemed to agree that ASJ gave up too much authority. Curious what this author thinks. BTW, if Reeves isn't a legend among the staff at Shiloh, he should be (Calcav, any input?)...

Yes he does.  Apparently Johnston circulated an attack plan on April 4 that had the First through Third Corps attacking in a normal formation, with the Reserve Corps, naturally enough, in reserve.  Apparently Beauregard either misunderstood Johnston or deliberately changed it on the march to the battlefield.  The author says Johnston found out on the march but decided it was too late to change it.  Roland says that Johnston at the very least knew about the unwieldy nature of the attack before it began, and that he bears the blame as the commanding General.  Remember this book was first written in 1964, and I don't think it has been revised, so I'm sure others such as Larry Daniel and Wiley Sword pulled from more sources to give their versions.  I read Daniel's book 10 years ago and I still haven't gotten around to reading Sword's.  If anyone knows what they say, I'd be interested to hear it.



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 08:24 am
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susansweet
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Our Drum Barracks book group read this book last year.  I think every single person enjoyed the book.  The only negative was the lack of more or better maps .  Albert Sidney has a close connection to the Los Angeles area as his wife stayed here during the war with her brother Dr. John Griffin. 

As the book tells the story Albert Sidney came though Los Angeles and joined with a group  headed east to join the Confederacy. 



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 03:36 pm
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calcav
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From Wiley Swords “Shiloh:Bloody April”.

During the evening (April 5th) the plans for the morning’s battle were reviewed by the ranking Confederate generals at Johnston’s headquarters. Johnston’s original concept appears to have been an attack with corps abreast, each corps assigned a sector of the front. His telegram to Jefferson Davis of April 3, 1862, implied that the attack formation would consist of “Polk, left; Hardee, center; Bragg, right wing; Breckenridge, reserve.” Later the same day, however, Jordan had drawn up the army’s marching orders utilizing Beauregard’s notes and “Napoleon’s order for the Battle of Waterllo,” such being considered a proper model for operational detail. The concept called for an attack by succeeding waves of infantry, with each corps aligned one behind the other across the entire front. The basic premise, said a staff officer, was that “no force the enemy could (amass) could cut through three double lines of Confederates.” It was a fatal flaw, as events would later demonstrate.

By accepting these plans and witnessing their publication in his own name, Johnston must bear full responsibility for their use. On the evening of April 5, when the Confederate army was fully deployed in this unwieldy battle formation, Johnston ordered only a few last-minute changes.

 

Javal, George is definetly a legend at Shiloh. His widow Alice works part time at the bookstore so there is still a Reeves at the park. His daughter-in-law is a park ranger in Colorado.

 

Tom



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 05:36 pm
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calcav
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I would also be interested in what changed PGT's initial aggressive nature at Shiloh to one of let's get back to Corinth asap.

Doc,

The Army of the Ohio.

The evening of April 6th Beauregard was convinced that everything was going his way. He had conferred with several of his senior officers and all were convinced that the Confederates had won the day and tomorrows victory was assured. The prospect of Grant's being reenforced was dismissed sometime in the late afternoon when he had recieved a communication from Col. B. H. Helm that reported Buell's Army of the Ohio was marching toward Deactur, Alabama. In fact this was only O.M. Mitchell's division and not the entire army. Planning to resume the offensive in the morning he was surprised by a Federal advance with Grant on the Union right and Buell on the left. In his official report of the battle Beauregard stated that he had only 20,000 men on the 7th to resist the counterattack. Having enjoyed superior numbers the day before he was unable to stop the swelled Union ranks though through tough fighting and personaly leading a counterattack he was able to keep the Federals from over running his troops.



 Posted: Sat Jan 6th, 2007 08:16 pm
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ole
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I would also be interested in what changed PGT's initial aggressive nature at Shiloh to one of let's get back to Corinth asap.


Tim:

I believe Doc was referring to Bo's heebie-jeebies on the 5th when he was convinced that the Yanks were waiting for him. About then is when ASJ is reported to have said, "I would fight them if they were a million." (On second thought, maybe not.

In that statement at least, AEJ resumed command of the Confederate forces. I believe it was in Daniel's book that I first became aware that AEJ allowed too much authority to pass through his fingers to Bo. Examples: (Bear with me, I'm working off a geriatric memory here.) Bo is allowed to rename his forces the Army of Mississippi and assume equal status with ASJ. Bo gets away with changing ASJ's intentions into a cumbersome, unworkable, foolish plan of attack (nemmine that his aide composed the incomprehensible orders). Other than all that, Bo did a reasonably decent job on the 6th once he found out where he was and located the scattered commanders.

Ole

Last edited on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 08:18 pm by ole



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 01:49 am
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Doc C
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Ole

Thanks for the reply. Thats what I meant. Why did PGT change from his initial aggressive nature prior to the onset of Shiloh?

Doc C



 Posted: Sun Jan 7th, 2007 03:55 am
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ole
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Doc:

The way I read it, Beauregard became convinced that they had lost the element of surprise with all the delays and brushes with Yankee pickets, scouts and such. How was he to know that their reports never got back or, when they did, were tossed off cavalierly? On the 6th and 7th he apparently did a good job of directing those troops he could locate. In between, he inexplicably called off that second effort that might have forced a retreat of Grant's army.

That's what bugs me about Beauregard. There's nothing consistent about him. Today he's brilliant, tomorrow he drops the ball. Today he usurps command and tomorrow he ducks it. Most everybody else can be put in a pigeon-hole. With him, I can't figure out which.

Ole



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