Saturday, September 27, 2008

Albert Sidney Johnston

Civil War buffs (yes, they're always "buffs") like to ruminate over the "what ifs" surrounding Albert Sidney Johnston.

I've come to believe that A.S. Johnston was overrated. He was no doubt a tremendously impressive man in person -- witness the tremendous respect that Jefferson Davis and others held for him. But like everyone before the War, he had never really been tested. He handled Donelson poorly, and I was particularly stunned to learn that he had no idea that Nashville had been left undefended until he arrived there during his retreat from Bowling Green. His inexplicably excessive delegation to, and failure to supervise, Beauregard also contributed mightily to the confusion, delay and failure during the first day of Shiloh.

One of the great ironies of the War is the fact that it showed that prior reputation meant nothing. The crucible of war exposed the shortcomings of highly-respected men such as Jefferson Davis and George McClellan (sorry again, Dimitri!); "losers" such as Ulysses Grant, William Sherman and Stonewall Jackson turned out to be the men who had what it took. (Robert E. Lee was the exception that proved the rule.)

I don't mean to be too harsh on General Johnston. Virtually all generals, on both sides, appointed to major commands at the beginning of the War failed, probably because they had no opportunity to absorb the reality of how different the War was from their prior experiences. Second-generation leaders such as Grant and Sherman (and Lee?) had the luxury of absorbing the scale of the war and learning from their experiences before they took command.

1 comment:

  1. Johnston never had an opportunity to grow as a general, as did the others. Lee's first campaign in western Virginia was a disaster. Johnston came as close as any Confederate in the entire war to destroying a Union army in a compete surprise attack. As the void in leadership in the West after his death shows, his loss was a disaster. No one will ever convince me that his death at such a critical moment deprived him of a great victory. No army can sustain the death of the commanding general during the battle and not be affected. Thi is especially true in the case inexperienced troops and officers in their very first major battle. The withdrawal to Chattanooga and movements to Corinth was brilliant by any standards. You should study this some more before opining.


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