The Greatness of General Joseph Johnston CSA

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Was General Johnston great?

  • Yes,

    Votes: 6 13.0%
  • Johnston did the best he could with what he had

    Votes: 23 50.0%
  • No Johnston was to timid.

    Votes: 17 37.0%

  • Total voters
    46

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
I believe all three of the answers provided, are true. He had elements that under better or different circumstances, i.e., if he had a similar command with the Union, with more men and supplies, I believe, he would have been counted as one of the better, if not a 'Great' Military Commander.

With fewer men and less equipment and supplies, Johnston was too timid(too conscious, of what the enemy would do, rather than what he would do)
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I believe all three of the answers provided, are true. He had elements that under better or different circumstances, i.e., if he had a similar command with the Union, with more men and supplies, I believe, he would have been counted as one of the better, if not a 'Great' Military Commander.

With fewer men and less equipment and supplies, Johnston was too timid(too conscious, of what the enemy would do, rather than what he would do)
Arguably the biggest controversy of Johnston is the debacle at Vicksburg which has @7th Mississippi Infantry has pointed out has been discussed in several threads.
Yes Johnston arguably had a victory at Bentonville but it was far to little and far to late to affect the course of the ACW.
I get it that Johnston could of used more men and supplies as did any other Confederate General. Not quite understanding how Johnston was a great general but then we need to define great.
I would argue winning victories is a good start.
Leftyhunter
 
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Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
I can't pin myself down by voting either, unfortunately. Joe Johnston had some very commendable qualities. The men in the ranks apparently loved him, even though he was not lax about dispensing military justice, he was seen as doing it fairly. Fighting on the defensive as he did was a good approach as long as it was in preparation for delivering a decisive counter punch. That is I think where his primary weakness lay. The circumstances were never "just right" to deliver that counter punch against Sherman. He came close at Cassville, but a few Federal cavalry spooked Hood out of delivering the blow. I think Johnston showed he could finally commit when his back was up against the wall as he did at Bentonville. However, by then it was a matter of too little, too late. Too bad he and Davis didn't get along a bit better...
 

alan polk

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 11, 2012
I’m largely only familiar with Johnston in the Vicksburg Campaign, so my understanding is therefore limited - and is the reason I did not vote.

However, it is my suspicion that whatever greatness existed in Johnston as a commander could never have been realized under the Davis Administration or the Confederacy in general.

If War is an extension of politics, Johnston’s philosophy of warfare never meshed with the political aspects of the regime. Politically, The Confederacy needed quick victories. I believe Lincoln had the same problems with many of his commanders, and for different political aspects of warfare’s peculiar application to politics. It seems we find this with McClellan on the one hand, and with Fremont out in Missouri early on in the conflict, on the other.

For the Confederacy, however, it seems there was a shallow bench of talent when it came to qualified soldiers who Davis thought could inherit the responsibility that comes with high-level command. Lincoln appears to have been able to reach into his depth chart to replace commanders until the commander and the politics coalesced. Davis not so much.

With a limited bench, Davis felt forced to play Johnston throughout the war. Their philosophies on how the game should be played never matched and it proved disastrous- at least in my opinion.
 

Eric Wittenberg

1st Lieutenant
Keeper of the Scales
Joined
Jun 2, 2013
Location
Columbus, OH
Johnston showed his greatness at Bennett Place, where his primary concern was avoiding having his army disintegrate into becoming guerrillas. The war was over, he knew it, and he was determined to do all within his power to begin the healing process. That he and Sherman bonded into a very close friendship as a result ought to tell you all that you need to know.
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
My own opinion aside, both General Sherman and General Howard, who fought Johnston all the way to Atlanta and later at Bentonville, considered him a better general than Robert E. Lee.
That's interesting and counterintuitive at the same time. If you have time can you articulate their arguments regarding their unique viewpoint of Johnston.
Thanks
Leftyhunter
 
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johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I think as Generals go he was better than some and not as good as others. As CS commanders go I would rank him below Lee but far above any other officer of similar command outside of perhaps Longstreet. I would rank him as superior to Longstreet because I think he had a better idea of the strategic and logistical aspect.

When he took command of the AoT he rebuilt a weakened and demoralized army that had been soundly routed from their position around Chattanooga. I would say for that single action alone he gave the CS another year. It has already been mentioned that his men generally adored the man. He didn't waste them in useless frontal assaults and saw to it that they were supplied by keeping a tight rein on the QM.

His actions post war also define him; he was one who went home and made himself a US citizen again.

Just my two cents.
 

John S. Carter

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
A poster recently wrote that he now has an appreciation for the greatness of General Joseph Johnston. Maybe I am missing the part where he was great but perhaps I and others can be persuaded.
Anybody wants to argue just why and how General Joseph Johnston was great?
Leftyhunter
Oh! What he could have done with that army of Pemberton's . If Davis would have not ordered him to sacrifice it against Grant's superior forces.Then was not Johnston the commander in the West and therefore could have ordered Pemberton out of Vicksburg?Johnston and Pemberton and Johnston against either Sherman or Grant,imagine the result!
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Oh! What he could have done with that army of Pemberton's . If Davis would have not ordered him to sacrifice it against Grant's superior forces.Then was not Johnston the commander in the West and therefore could have ordered Pemberton out of Vicksburg?Johnston and Pemberton and Johnston against either Sherman or Grant,imagine the result!
An interesting what if? Unfortunately we can't prove or disprove a hypothetical question.
Leftyhunter
 
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Tin cup

Captain
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Location
Texas
Grant said of Johnston:

"I never ranked Lee as high as some others of the army. That is to say, I never had as much anxiety when he was in my front as when Joe Johnston was in front. Lee was a good man, a fair commander, who had everything in his favor. He was a man who needed sunshine. He was supported by the unanimous voice of the South; he was supported by a large party in the North; he had the support and the sympathy of the outside world. Lee had this in a remarkable degree. Everything he did was right. He was treated like a demi-god. . .. The illusion that nothing but heavy odds beat him will not stand the test of time. . ."

"I do not know that there was any better than Joe Johnston. I have had nearly all of the Southern generals in high command in front of me, and Joe Johnston gave me more anxiety than any of the others. I was never half so anxious about Lee. By the way I saw in Joe Johnston’s book that when I was asking Pemberton to surrender Vicksburg, he was on his way to raise the siege. I was very sorry. If I had known Johnston was coming, I would have told Pemberton to wait in Vicksburg until I wanted him, awaited Johnston’s advance, and given him battle. He could never have beaten that Vicksburg army, and thus I would have destroyed two armies perhaps. Pemberton’s was already gone, and I was quite sure of Johnston’s. I was sorry I did not know Johnston was coming until too late. Take it all in all, the South, in my opinion, had no better soldier than Joe Johnston – none at least that gave me more trouble. "
Around the World by J. Russell Young 1879 - pg 213

Sherman said:
"I was anxious to reach Goldsboro', there to make junction with General Schofield, so as to be ready for the next and last stage of the war. I then knew that my special antagonist, General Jos. E. Johnston, was back, with part of his old army; that he would not be misled by feints and false reports, and would somehow compel me to exercise more caution than I had hitherto done."

Kevin Dally
 
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