General Joseph Johnston's tendency to retreat

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
That's the criticism of Joe Johnston but it overlooks his military thinking. JJ believed that maintaining a fighting force was more important than squandering limited resources in offensive attacks against the enemy. He was a proponent of maneuvering and seeking favorable positions where his forces could seize on an enemy's weak points particularly where enemy forces were divided (Seven Pines, Bentonville, Peachtree Creek). Granted, the execution of those assaults were often flawed but the concept was not. (Peachtree Creek was actually executed under the command of General Hood after JJ's relief). Whether or not the Confederacy was best served by this strategy is of course a valid question. Johnston's doctrine was in direct contrast to Lee, but neither of the two military dogmas succeeded. As far as Vicksburg is concerned, JJ's only significant force in the Mississippi Valley was in fact Pemberton's, who was directed by JJ to save his army (again in keeping with Johnston's doctrine), and not getting trapped in the Vicksburg entrenchments. But Pemberton was stuck between Johnston's direction and that of Davis.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Was Gen. Johnston too quick to retreat? And what about not providing Vicksburg with the help it needed?
Over many years the military genius or lack thereof General Johnston has been debated on CWT.
We know President Davis seemed to have a tumultuous off and on relationship with General Johnston. Johnson's men seemed to have liked him. Ultimately Johnston was defeated by the Union Army but so was Lee and all other Confederate Generals.
It's a tough call because based on limitations on manpower and logistics could Johnston of done more then his critics say is hard to answer.
Leftyhunter
 

Harms88

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 13, 2019
Location
North of the Wall & South of the Canucks
Johnston was very conscious of just how outnumbered he was, yet unlike Lee, was no brilliant tactician. Whereas Lee could take on an army twice his size comfortably, Johnston never could. Instead, he was always looking for detached parts of his enemy he could strike. Take Seven Pines for example or even Bentonville. North Anna would have been his version of a wet dream, if he had elected to attack.

I think a bigger problem was his abject refusal to discuss his plans with the government. Take for example Atlanta.

He was planning on doing an attack at Peachtree Creek, similar to what Hood was doing, but never told Jeff Davis when he kept asking him if he had a plan. Then, instead of doing what Hooker or McClellan did where they discussed where the army's forces were when their successor came knocking, Johnston promised to tell Hood only to straight up run off, leaving Hood with no idea of what was going on with his army.

Jeff Davis was a man who had an almost obsessive need to be in the know. Johnston never understood this, or just didn't care, with the latter being more likely. Johnston, who was a prickly individual under the best of circumstances, never could humble himself enough to do so.

Generals in the Civil War rarely understood that they weren't operating in a bubble, a bubble where they existed outside the government oversight and could do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted. They were operating in a democratic society where they were answerable to the government, which meant they needed to not only respect the wishes of the government, but talk to them as well.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Johnston was very conscious of just how outnumbered he was, yet unlike Lee, was no brilliant tactician. Whereas Lee could take on an army twice his size comfortably, Johnston never could. Instead, he was always looking for detached parts of his enemy he could strike. Take Seven Pines for example or even Bentonville. North Anna would have been his version of a wet dream, if he had elected to attack.

I think a bigger problem was his abject refusal to discuss his plans with the government. Take for example Atlanta.

He was planning on doing an attack at Peachtree Creek, similar to what Hood was doing, but never told Jeff Davis when he kept asking him if he had a plan. Then, instead of doing what Hooker or McClellan did where they discussed where the army's forces were when their successor came knocking, Johnston promised to tell Hood only to straight up run off, leaving Hood with no idea of what was going on with his army.

Jeff Davis was a man who had an almost obsessive need to be in the know. Johnston never understood this, or just didn't care, with the latter being more likely. Johnston, who was a prickly individual under the best of circumstances, never could humble himself enough to do so.

Generals in the Civil War rarely understood that they weren't operating in a bubble, a bubble where they existed outside the government oversight and could do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted. They were operating in a democratic society where they were answerable to the government, which meant they needed to not only respect the wishes of the government, but talk to them as well.
Davis's dilemma with JJ was whatever flaws JJ had there simply was no alternative at least in Davis's mind to JJ. Lincoln had least had a bigger talent pool to draw from so he could fire generals vs having to fire and rehire has Davis was forced to do with JJ.
Leftyhunter
 

uaskme

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
Davis pretty much hated JJ. JJ had a strong personal relationship with Louis Wigfall, who led the anti Davis Administration opposition. JJ and Davis had other conflicts between them. However, Davis took the position Wigfall was a traitor. So Davis would never trust Johnson. For this reason alone, Davis should of never given the AOT to Johnson in 64. He had eliminated everyone else, so he had no other options.

Army of the Cumberland was in Nashville during the time of Vicksburg. JJ did send a Division to Vicksburg. However he had to defend 2 Fronts. He suggested to Davis to pick 1. Preferably TN. He advised Pemberton to leave Vicksburg. Politically, Davis had to defend Vicksburg. But how silly was it to put yourself into a position to have to Surrender a Army? Surrendering an Army at FT Donelson and Vicksburg killed any chance for Confederate success. Don’t think you can blame that one on JJ.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Generals in the Civil War rarely understood that they weren't operating in a bubble, a bubble where they existed outside the government oversight and could do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted. They were operating in a democratic society where they were answerable to the government, which meant they needed to not only respect the wishes of the government, but talk to them as well.

Interesting how often that concept was overlooked by commanders. Aside from Johnston, McClellan was famously reluctant to reveal his operational plans to Lincoln. Part of the problem on both sides was the lack of a unified command structure or general staff organization in which a clear chain of command was established all the way up and down the ladder. With the exception of Grant's ascension in 1864 to more or less overall command of the federal armies, both sides maintained department commands in which the officer commanding had almost complete control over their sphere of operations, often with little regard for coordination with other department commanders or with the civilian administration.
 

jackt62

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Location
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Davis pretty much hated JJ. JJ had a strong personal relationship with Louis Wigfall, who led the anti Davis Administration opposition. JJ and Davis had other conflicts between them. However, Davis took the position Wigfall was a traitor. So Davis would never trust Johnson. For this reason alone, Davis should of never given the AOT to Johnson in 64. He had eliminated everyone else, so he had no other options.

Army of the Cumberland was in Nashville during the time of Vicksburg. JJ did send a Division to Vicksburg. However he had to defend 2 Fronts. He suggested to Davis to pick 1. Preferably TN. He advised Pemberton to leave Vicksburg. Politically, Davis had to defend Vicksburg. But how silly was it to put yourself into a position to have to Surrender a Army? Surrendering an Army at FT Donelson and Vicksburg killed any chance for Confederate success. Don’t think you can blame that one on JJ.

Davis put JJ in a precarious situation when he was given western command. JJ had to balance competing demands and resources between Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi, separated by vast distances and without adequate resources to defend both. To make matters worse, JJ refused to accept operational command of either force; his thinking was that the 2 subordinate commanders had the main responsibility for making decisions in their areas. That may have indicated a lack of responsibility on the part of JJ, but given the situation he was in, it might have been a no win in any case.
 

jackt62

Captain
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Location
New York City
Davis's dilemma with JJ was whatever flaws JJ had there simply was no alternative at least in Davis's mind to JJ. Lincoln had least had a bigger talent pool to draw from so he could fire generals vs having to fire and rehire has Davis was forced to do with JJ.
Leftyhunter

As far as I can tell, the only 2 army commanders that Davis had any real faith in were Lee and AS Johnston. AS Johnston did not live long enough to make a fair judgement about his capabilities. Davis did favor other commanders such as Bragg and Polk, but that reliance was based on personal connection rather than any objective faith in their abilities.
 

Greywolf

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 17, 2017
Let's not forget Cassville as well. JJ had a great plan drawn up and Hood got jittery and backed out, or did he have another agenda....yep, the same Hood who wrecked the AoT with assaults once he was in command.

JJ seemed a bit snakebit to me. Seven pines gets injured, was a good plan but didnt communicate well enough with subordinates.

The whole Vicksburg mess

Takes over AoT in a bad situation after the Chatanooga debacle. Improved the morale and logistics that were in shambles. His men seemed to love him.

Tried his best to set good positions and have Sherman bloody himself, but really Sherman only took the bait at Kennesaw.

Befor that Cassville, another good plan, and Hood gets frightened, so no attack.

Next planning Peachtree and he gets yanked.

Re instated near the end and hits one wing of Sherman's army hard at Bentonville, but doesnt have the strength to destroy it.
 

uaskme

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 9, 2016
Location
SE Tennessee
Davis put JJ in a precarious situation when he was given western command. JJ had to balance competing demands and resources between Bragg in Tennessee and Pemberton in Mississippi, separated by vast distances and without adequate resources to defend both. To make matters worse, JJ refused to accept operational command of either force; his thinking was that the 2 subordinate commanders had the main responsibility for making decisions in their areas. That may have indicated a lack of responsibility on the part of JJ, but given the situation he was in, it might have been a no win in any case.
[/QUOTE

JJ’s Moral Code has a lot to do with not relieving Bragg. A Generational thing.

Bragg repaid JJ by taking it as a Slight and holding a Grudge against Johnson. When JJ finally takes charge of the AOT, Bragg insures JJs failure. He is Davis’s eyes and ears. So JJ has 2 Commanders who he can’t trust. Johnson made mistakes, but he was doomed from the beginning. Huge mistake in Davis not handling the situation differently and replacing Bragg at Tullahoma.
 

Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Johnston was very conscious of just how outnumbered he was, yet unlike Lee, was no brilliant tactician. Whereas Lee could take on an army twice his size comfortably, Johnston never could. Instead, he was always looking for detached parts of his enemy he could strike. Take Seven Pines for example or even Bentonville. North Anna would have been his version of a wet dream, if he had elected to attack.

I think a bigger problem was his abject refusal to discuss his plans with the government. Take for example Atlanta.

He was planning on doing an attack at Peachtree Creek, similar to what Hood was doing, but never told Jeff Davis when he kept asking him if he had a plan. Then, instead of doing what Hooker or McClellan did where they discussed where the army's forces were when their successor came knocking, Johnston promised to tell Hood only to straight up run off, leaving Hood with no idea of what was going on with his army.

Jeff Davis was a man who had an almost obsessive need to be in the know. Johnston never understood this, or just didn't care, with the latter being more likely. Johnston, who was a prickly individual under the best of circumstances, never could humble himself enough to do so.

Generals in the Civil War rarely understood that they weren't operating in a bubble, a bubble where they existed outside the government oversight and could do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted. They were operating in a democratic society where they were answerable to the government, which meant they needed to not only respect the wishes of the government, but talk to them as well.
To be precise, Johnston claimed in November 1864 that he had been planning to attack at PT Creek when he was relieved. Supporting evidence is thin at best - and butts up against the oddity you point to - that he knew he was being replaced precisely because Davis and Bragg believed he had no intentions of attacking but said nothing to them about his alleged plan. In short, maybe he had such a plan but it's a risky wager to bet on that fact. There is no record that I'm aware of from anyone other than Johnston - Davis, Bragg, Hood, Hardee, other subordinates - that at the time anything had been communicated regarding the plan. And some preparations should have been underway. Once Thomas was across PT Creek and Sherman continued to envelop the city, success would rapidly become less likely.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
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Location
New York City
Befor that Cassville, another good plan, and Hood gets frightened, so no attack.

Hard to figure that one out, given Hood's aggressive nature. Once again, JJ had put together a workable plan to fall on a divided portion of Sherman's army, but the execution by his subordinate flamed out.
 

Saruman

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 10, 2011
Let's not forget Cassville as well. JJ had a great plan drawn up and Hood got jittery and backed out, or did he have another agenda....yep, the same Hood who wrecked the AoT with assaults once he was in command.

I think Hood's actions at Cassville were prudent. Hood didn't have any cavalry of his own to protect his flank. Colonel Taylor Beattie stated that "a dark line" of troops appeared on the right of Hood's corps. Hood halted his corps, recalled the staff officers, and ordered General Thomas C. Hindman to send out skirmishers to identify the unknown body of men. Major J.E. Austin stated that there was a "short and severe engagement" with enemy troops that had unexpectedly appeared "in force in my front, with artillery and infantry." So based on that information, Hood was correct in aborting the attack.
 
Joined
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Location
mo
That's the criticism of Joe Johnston but it overlooks his military thinking. JJ believed that maintaining a fighting force was more important than squandering limited resources in offensive attacks against the enemy. He was a proponent of maneuvering and seeking favorable positions where his forces could seize on an enemy's weak points particularly where enemy forces were divided (Seven Pines, Bentonville, Peachtree Creek). Granted, the execution of those assaults were often flawed but the concept was not. (Peachtree Creek was actually executed under the command of General Hood after JJ's relief). Whether or not the Confederacy was best served by this strategy is of course a valid question. Johnston's doctrine was in direct contrast to Lee, but neither of the two military dogmas succeeded. As far as Vicksburg is concerned, JJ's only significant force in the Mississippi Valley was in fact Pemberton's, who was directed by JJ to save his army (again in keeping with Johnston's doctrine), and not getting trapped in the Vicksburg entrenchments. But Pemberton was stuck between Johnston's direction and that of Davis.
Preserving a fighting force while defending nothing is rather self defeating.........as the purpose of the fighting force was to defend.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Preserving a fighting force while defending nothing is rather self defeating.........as the purpose of the fighting force was to defend.

I don't think that JJ would disagree with that. Looking at his record, the case can be made that he hope to preserve his force while looking for opportunities to successfully attack the enemy, although there may be valid criticism of JJ for his lack of seizing favorable opportunities and being too quick to withdraw from positions.
 

damYankee

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 12, 2011
That's the criticism of Joe Johnston but it overlooks his military thinking. JJ believed that maintaining a fighting force was more important than squandering limited resources in offensive attacks against the enemy. He was a proponent of maneuvering and seeking favorable positions where his forces could seize on an enemy's weak points particularly where enemy forces were divided (Seven Pines, Bentonville, Peachtree Creek). Granted, the execution of those assaults were often flawed but the concept was not. (Peachtree Creek was actually executed under the command of General Hood after JJ's relief). Whether or not the Confederacy was best served by this strategy is of course a valid question. Johnston's doctrine was in direct contrast to Lee, but neither of the two military dogmas succeeded. As far as Vicksburg is concerned, JJ's only significant force in the Mississippi Valley was in fact Pemberton's, who was directed by JJ to save his army (again in keeping with Johnston's doctrine), and not getting trapped in the Vicksburg entrenchments. But Pemberton was stuck between Johnston's direction and that of Davis.
He was like McClelland in that he didn't want to squander resources, the only difference was McClelland practiced this even when he had overwhelming numbers.
Joe Jackson was correct in that under the circumstances, giving up ground for time, and surviving to fight again was as important as winning battles. Very much like George Washington's tactics.
 

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