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tv   The Civil War Confederate General Joseph Johnston  CSPAN  March 5, 2021 2:50pm-3:56pm EST

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1946 speech and take your calls and tweets live on the air. at 10:00 a.m. the late margaret thatcher's lecture at westminster college as she marked the 50th anniversary of churchill's speech then on sunday at 2:00 p.m., artist edwina sands, reflect on their grandparents, and at 4:00 p.m., "real america" features an audio recording of churchill's entire speech accompanied by brief motion picture segments. exploring the american story. watch american history tv this weekend on cspan3. author craig simons talked about joseph johnson,
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highlighting his difficult relationship with confederate president jefferson davis. he talked about the generals we love to hate, looking at more controversial military leaders of the civil war. >> welcome back to our next speaker, our next session. just going to go right into an introduction. our next speaker is craig simons. craig was the retired professor and chairman of the history department at the united states naval academy, but he told me that his retirement failed, that he was no good at it at all, and so he is now the earnest j. king distinguished professor of
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merritime history. he's written several books of course about the civil war. his book "lincoln and his admirals" received the lincoln prize, and the abraham lincoln book award. he also has just -- or actually done a biography of joe johnson and that's what his talk is about today, so let's welcome craig simons. [ applause ] >> thank you, everyone. good morning. >> all: good morning. >> you know, i will start by putting our subject up on the screen here. here's old joe, and i will happily acknowledge to this audience and the speakers who come before me at this podium that controversy and dispute hovered about the civil war careers of both ambrose burnside and carlos baiul, but on either
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side, none evoke more controversy than joseph e. johnson with a possible exception of george mcclellan. that's for you, george. jonston's critics argue that his timidity with the enemy and his combativeness with the confederate government in richmond so undermined the southern war effort as to make him a contributive factor in confederate defeat. to these critics, johnston was the real mcclellan of the west. he took to battle unless he could be certain of victory, and since those circumstances never obtained, he seldom, if ever, sought battle at all. and also like mcclellan, johnston feuded with his own government, and there became the rallying point for enemies of the administration.
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now johnston does have his defenders in the civil war community then, as well as now, but their support is often a product of their admiration -- less a product of their admiration for johnston, and more of using him as a blunt instrument to which to assail jefferson davis. davis' determination to defend the confederacy everywhere they argue, made it impossible to defend it anywhere, and the confederate president's presidency made it important to promote and protect personal favorites, weaken the army and also made a contribution to confederate defeat. because johnston favored acting on the defensive, his view, that view they insist was the more realistic one, and his ineffectiveness in the field was less his fault than davis'
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interference and lack of support. so those are the arguments on the two sides, and there's plenty of ammunition for either of those positions. unquestionably johnston often seemed a reluctant warrior. he voluntaily evacuated manassas johnstown, and gave up in 1682 almost to the proverbial gates of richmond, before finally attacking at seven pines where that attack was marked by confusion and misdirection and where he was wounded pretty severely actually. after his recovery, he went west where he delayed too long before trying and not very hard, to rescue johns c.pemerton in 1683 and of course, where he fell back repeatedly before william
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t. sherman started his atlanta campaign. of all these events, the one that is at the heart about the most controversy of joe johnston is that 1864 campaign from dalton to atlanta. so let's do that first. it was johnston's failure to stop sherman that led davis to dismiss him of his command in july of 1864 and replace him with john bell hood. now that did not work out so well for the confederacy as sam is going to explain to us this afternoon. hood's continuing to tennessee, and the virtual destruction of the army of tennessee proved that johnston's strategy had been superior. of course, it's impossible to know what might have happened. we all do this. all civil war students say, well, if this, then that, and we can never know for sure what
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would have happened had davis stuck with joe johnston. my friend richard mcmurray has often claimed that johnston would have turned and fought the decisive battle of key west. which is possible. but part, at least, of johnston's justification for avoiding open slug fest with sherman was based on his insistence that he was greatly outnumbered. now that of course, was also mcclellan's excuse in virginia, but at least in johnston's case it was true. sherman according to the official records had something in excess of 100,000 men, 103,000, 105,000, depending on how you count, but only 80,000 of those were what we would call effectives, that is they could hold a musket and stand in the line. and how big was johnston's army?
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that turns out to be a bit of a controversy too. his official returns in may of 1864 at the outset of the campaign showed an aggregate total of 60,000 men in all branches, infantry, cavalry or artillery, and an effective total of about 42,000. now in richmond, davis looked at these, and the number that popped into his mind was that 60,000 figure which is roughly the size of robert e. lee's army in virginia. johnston emphasized the smaller number, the number of effectives, 42,000. using the even number, the odds were about two to one between sherman and johnston. of course, as davis noted, the confederacy faced long odds everywhere. lee also faced long odds, so johnston's inferiority to sherman was not significantly greater than lee's to grant. johnston certainly knew what
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davis expected of him in this campaign, from his base in dalton, in northern georgia. he was supposed to advance north ward to recover chattanooga, lost the previous fall, and then move into central tennessee. well, johnston was certainly willing to try, but he insisted that he simply didn't have the assets to do it. in particular, he complained that he was short of cavalry. now according to popular culture, the cavalry is supposed to be a confederate strength, and that was probably true in 1862, and it may still have been mostly true in virginia as late as 1864, but it is not true in the western theater, and certainly not by 1864. johnston's cavalry force was headed by a young 28-year-old major general named joe wheeler, and on paper, he had about
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10,000 horsemen, but again, such official numbers are suspect. the number of mounted troopers that could take the field was less than a quarter of that number, around 2,400. it's not that wheeler and johnston lacked for volunteers to join the cavalry. lots of infantrymen were willing, even eager. there's that old infantryman's jive, who ever saw a dead cavalryman? you got to ride places and you could run away faster. but the confederacy did not have enough horses to carry them. sherman too had problems with this cavalry, but he had some 12,500, so about five times the number of mounted forces. the problem was for sherman that he parcelled his cavalry out among the various divisions and core, and even armies, you know, sherman commands today what we have been calling army group.
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three different armies cooperating together rather than the single army as johnston did. so wheeler thought that given those circumstances, if he could concentrate his 2,400 horsemen against one of these pockets of federal cavalry, he could win a decisive victory, a signal victory, and that vision so tempted him that he often issued his primary duty of scouting and reporting, seeking a clash with his counterpart, and that proved crippling. for an army on the offensive needs a capable screen to advance and johnston quite simply didn't have one. so instead, johnston decided to defend his position, and that left the initiative to sherman, but johnston hoped that once sherman attacked him and was repulsed from strong defensive positions, he could then counteract and launch that offensive into tennessee that
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davis expected. at least this is what he said in his infrequent reports to richmond. now his critics both then and later insist that johnston never really planned to do this, that he was constitutionally incapable of mounting an offensive, that all he did was dig in, hope that sherman would attack him where he was strongest so that the disparity in numbers could be minimized. one of his famous quotations following the battle of fredericksburg which george wrote about was that when johnston read about this in the papers, he said, what luck some people will have. no one will ever attack me in a position like that. johnston positioned his 40,000 men along the ridge line dauntingly and appropriately named rocky face ridge, north and west of dalton. this was going to be the wall against which sherman broke his armies before johnston's
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supposed counteract. sherman, of course, was not so obliging as to follow johnston's script. he took one look at the rebel lines, actually several looks and decided instead to go around. much like lee at chancellorsville, sherman left a strong force on johnston's front to hold them in place and sent james b. mcpherson's army of the tennessee named for the river, not the state, on a long roundabout march to find johnston's exposed flank through snake creek gap. and mcpherson's men slithered through that gap. you like that? never mind. okay. to find themselves on johnston's left flank near rasaka on the railroad line in the first week of may 1864. this is the first week that grant and lee are slugging it out in the wilderness in
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virginia. now it was the job of wheeler's cavalry to alert johnston to this kind of move, but lee was busy on the north of dalton on the other side of all this was going on, looking for an opportunity to launch a dramatic cavalry charge, and mcpherson was nearly to rasaka south of dalson before johnston appreciated the threat to his left and sent a number of brigades marching to block him. they got there just in time. mcpherson hesitated, and the battle of rasaka fought three days in mid-may. johnston's army held on and their line on the railroad, but of course, he also had to give up those strong defensive positions on rocky face ridge. that railroad by the way, the western and atlantic, a single track line from chattanooga down to atlanta was the fibrous core
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of this entire campaign. both armies needed it for supply and support. sherman needed it to advance. johnston needed it to keep his soldiers supplied and fed. it was an iron thread that was critical to both sides, and johnston knew that if sherman got behind him and broke that thread, he would have to give up all of north georgia. so over the next two weeks, sherman employed his flanking ploy again and again, moving always to the right around johnston's left, seeking to get ahold of that railroad. he never broke through. he never got to johnston's rear, but he forced johnston to fall back again and again until he had fallen back 100 miles. incidentally the distance from dalton to atlanta, roughly 100 miles, about the same as from the rapid river to petersburg. so it was easy for davis watching all this
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telegraphically in richmond to make a comparison with how his two generals were performing, one in virginia, one in georgia. now johnston never lost a battle in all this, but with the exception of the mountain where he once again, acted on the tactical defensive -- he didn't win any either. more importantly by mid-may, he had fallen back over the river. so to davis watching this from richmond, it looked like johnston simply wasn't trying very hard. his casualties were less than a tenth of lee's losses in virginia over the same period. these were the weeks as i mentioned of the wilderness, the mule shoe, fighting the press to what happened in the trenches in 1914, 1915 in europe. the casualty lists in virginia were positively horrifying, and
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in the 19th century and perhaps in the 19th century south, heavy casualties served as evidence that the men were trying. johnston it seemed to davis, had forgotten how to do that. for jefferson davis, johnston's retreat south was the last straw. the confederate president believed he had practiced patience with johnston until it was no longer a virtue. in the highly charged political environment of wartime richmond, the news of johnston's repeated withdrawals sharpened the antagonism between the champions and the critics of the administration. davis' political enemies in the confederate congress were led by this fellow. louis t. wickfall, the senator from texas and close friend of joseph e. johnston. they put all of the blame for
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the bad news from georgia on davis who they said failed to provide joe johnston with the support he needed. davis' defenders insisted the long retreat through georgia was evidence that the general simply lacked the will to fight. meanwhile, the disaffection that he provoked and even encouraged as mary chestnut put it in her diary, aided to the very vitals of the distraction of our country. so here are the real combatants in the atlanta campaign, and through much of the war in the west, i would call this the tool of -- duel of goatees. but this began way before 1864, and it began in the first summer of the war in 1861. in a dispute about rank. now we might think this is a
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silly little argument, and, in fact, it was from the 21st century perspective, but in the 19th century, rank affected honor and honor was at the center, at the core of many officers who wore uniforms of both blue and gray. early on, the confederate congress passed a law authorizing the president to name five full generals in the confederate army. only five. and he was to rank them according to law in order of their seniority in the old army. well, of those five, the only one of them who had been a general in the old army was joseph e. johnston. he was a general by virtue of being quarter master general of the army. that was a staff rank, and davis ranked them in order of their graduation from west point. first cooper from 1815, and then lee from 1827, and so on. lee and johnston were classmates. so that's a hard one.
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they both graduated in 1827, but lee graduated second and johnston graduated 17th, so lee was ranked ahead. so johnston ends up in this list being ranked fourth out of five. he says, wait a minute. the law says, and you yet you demoted me. this affects my honor. so he wrote a long letter about how my honor and my family, and all this kind of can 19th century stuff. davis thought this was just absurd and wrote back a dismissive note, and from then on, the two were simply not compatible. they were not partners. they were on the same side, but barely allies. davis might have been willing to tolerate johnston's peak as long as he won battles, but now it seemed to him especially after the atlanta campaign that he was unwilling even to fight one much less to win one. johnston's explanation all sounded like excuses and they
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grew more labored every day. and all the while, johnston's allies in richmond, his friends like louis t. wickfall, attacked the administration in congress and used joe johnston as an instrument to do it. if he were a decent president, he would give the support to joseph e. johnston that he deserves. well, this didn't help much in terms of the relationship between the two men. and then johnston's enemies in the confederacy, and there were many, including braxton bragg, maybe especially braxton bragg. more about him in a minute. john davis' elbow, he was there, and insisting, if you took all the numbers in the western theater, he has 150,000 men out there. he's got absolutely no excuse not to be attacking sherman and driving him back to ohio. the men in the ranks, bragg insisted, and he had commanded that army before. so he had some justification for
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saying what he did. that the men in the ranks were eager to fight. if only johnston would unleash them, and he wouldn't do it. he wouldn't strike a blow. davis could see for himself, he had become as mary chestnut put it in her diary. johnston is the core around where all restless, half-hearted people concentrate. davis decided that johnston was a liability he could no longer afford. so on july 17, 1864, he sent a telegram to johnston dismissing him from command and ordering him to turn his army over to john bell hood. so how do we assess joe johnston in this pivotal campaign? he himself argued both at the time and later in a very self-serving memoir that his defensive moves were in carefully, calculated gambit by
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beating his head against these defensive lines, so extend his own lines of communication, sherman would grow weaker as he moved south. johnston would grow stronger as he fell back onto his base until the moment came, but the moment never came. some observers have argued that johnston was one of the few who recognized that warfare was changing until it merged into philanders and belgium in 1914 and 1918. this was an argument made in his post-war memoir. yet contemporary evidence suggested this was at least partly, and maybe even mostly a hindsight. his initial instinct -- he was a 19th century, so his instinct was to attack. it was only after sherman's various moves around his flank had forced him to fall back that he reconsidered what was
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happening. he said, you know what? this is kind of working out okay because sherman had to leave troops behind to guard that railroad all the way back to chattanooga, and as a result, his numbers at the front got smaller and smaller, and meanwhile i'm using him up as he tries to attack my defensive position. this is -- this is a good strategy, but not one that he had in mind from the beginning, one that was forced on him by william t. sherman. and the other error that johnston made, and this may be even more serious than his behavior, was his unwillingness to write letters to jefferson davis. the men didn't like each other particularly. johnston wrote monthly because he had to do a monthly report, but he didn't do what robert e. lee did in virginia. robert e. lee, if you look at his letters, they're wonderful. he wrote davis nearly every day, and they're really kind of hard
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to read these days because they say things like, dear mr. president. i desperately crave your advice and guidance because you are a brilliant strategist, and the most wonderful man, and handsome too, i might add. they're a little thick, but davis loved this. lee kept in touch. johnston wouldn't do it, and i think it hurt him. so johnston's dismissal in the summer of 1864 might have been the end of the story, but much against his better judgment, davis was forced to give johnston another chance. in the spring of 1865, spring of '65 now, the last months of the war with confederate forces controlling over a small fraction of southern territory, and federal armies closing in on richmond, the southern public desperately sought a miracle, and a number of individuals called for johnston's restoration to command.
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they were grasping at straws. johnston's rivals within the confederate high command with braxton bragg and john bell hood noted that things must be desperate indeed if the nation looked to joe johnston as a savior. nevertheless, in a deliberate slap in the face to jefferson davis, the confederate congress in february, 1865, passed a law naming robert e. lee by name as commander in chief of all confederate forces, even though of course, the constitution said that jefferson davis was the commander in chief of all confederate forces, and that same legislation recommended and i'm quoting the assignment of joseph e. johnston to the commander of army of tennessee. congress is telling davis, appoint him. the congressional act didn't require it, but lee did
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recommend it to davis, and not merely because of the congressional suggestion. lee and johnston as i mentioned earlier, had been classmates at west point and remained friends all that time. they had known each other for four decades, and despite all that happened, lee retained confidence in johnston's reliability, and in particular he knew that his name was almost a tall talisman to throw soldiers into battle only if they would win. davis refused to do it. he prepared a lengthy and carefully argued bill of indictment 15 pages long, which tediously outlined all of the general's shortcomings. that's why it had to be 15 pages long. and concluded with this. my opinion of general johnston's unfitness for command has
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ripened slowly and against my inclinations into a conviction so subtle that it would be impossible for me again to feel confident in him as a commander in the army of the field. he composed that memo intending to submit it to congress in response to the legislation, but he didn't do it. lee convinced him that if nothing else, johnston's appointment would boost sagging morale in the army, and it was a measure of davis' trust in lee, and his commitment to the cause that he was willing to violate every personal instinct, swallow hard and make the appointment. now the news brought no pleasure to joe johnston. when he got lee's order to concentrate your forces and drive back sherman, he replied, these troops form an army too weak to cope with sherman. of course, davis had heard that before. the next day, the day after he wrote that response, johnston
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who was then living in south carolina, chanced to run into mary chestnut who apparently happened to be everywhere that anything happened during the confederacy, and she wrote in her diary that night, johnston was very angry to be ordered to take command again. he didn't see this as a recon -- reconfirmation of his skill as a general. he saw himself as the guy who finally had to surrender. in spite of that, he did accept it, and it is interesting to speculate why. the military's circumstances were so bleak it can hardly be imagined that he thought victory was still possible. in theory, he was in charge of all confederate forces east of the mississippi other than lee's beleaguered army here in petersburg, but in reality, that command consisted of isolated groups of soldiers scattered across the mid-atlantic and
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facing them as an overwhelming and deeply nearly irresistible army over his old nemesis, william t. sherman. if johnston believed he was setting him up for failure, with prospects so bleak, why did he accept it? most likely he just -- he was a soldier, and this was his duty. the soldier didn't choose his assignments. he accepted the burdens given to him by his government, even such a government as the one headed by jefferson davis. perhaps too, he saw it as a chance to prove that he was a bigger man than davis, a chance to redeem himself before the court of public opinion. you folks. whatever it was, johnston formally took command of charlotte, north carolina on february 25, 1865. the confederacy had less than two months to live. after the debacle of hood's campaign in tennessee, there were about 18,000 men from a
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once proud army of tennessee who answered the roll call in tupelo, mississippi in january. after the long retreat from tennessee, only about half of them made their difficult way east to find old joe and make the last stand of the confederacy. adding all of his forces together, johnston could claim about 20,000 men on paper, but it was hardly an army, and in any event, those men were scattered across three states. as the cavalry commander put it, it would be hard to disperse more effectively. johnston's first thought is to bring together these widely scattered forces so they could not be picked off one by one. his chances of doing so were problematic at best because the transportation system in the south had completely broken down, and the logistic networks of the confederacy hardly existed at all. the supply system didn't even
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pretend to function anymore. when johnston got command, he wrote to the quarter master general, and all breckenridge could go was offer a verbal shrug and write that he should make the best of it. for his part, lee wrote to johnston to suggest he should try to live off the land as sherman's men did. that, of course, only added to the hardship of the citizens of north carolina for they would not only have to fear yankee cavalry, and sherman's so-called bummers, but a confederate cavalry as well. joe wheeler's horsemen were likely to strip them of their last pig or chicken as the bluecoats. johnston ordered his command to focus in fayetteville, and he moved there on march 4th. the problem was it was advancing so swiftly, the army would get
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there before the southern troops could get there. they shifted the rendezvous site and went closer to raleigh. he was acutely aware of how this would look in richmond. his first order was to retreat 60 miles, but there was nothing for it. in addition to the logistical problem he inherited, johnston also had to deal with all the personal baggage, and there's a lot of it by now, including his own that several generals in his command theater brought with them, including this guy. now i'm really astonished that at a conference, it's about generals we love to hate. we've got nobody talking about braxton bragg here. so let me take a few kicks. back in 1864, braxton bragg had written several secret and rather poisonous letters to jefferson davis attacking joe johnston. he had replaced him in command,
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and bragg frankly resented it. johnston didn't know about these letters at the time, and only learned about them later. now bragg found himself under johnston's command. that's embarrassing, and bragg begged davis to get him out of it. davis refused. learn to work together, he says, and johnston, rather than seek some measure of revenge for bragg's back stabbing which he now knew about, instead ordered d.h. hill to reinforce bragg. well, that led to another quandary because hill hated bragg too. almost everybody did, and he asked to be excused from this. he has made me the scapegoat once, hill wrote to johnston, and would do it again. johnston, like davis, and there's a phrase you don't hear very often, ordered them to put aside their grudges and learn to work together, and they did.
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with hill's support, bragg turned on the federals and inflicted a sharp reverse on one of the advancing columns of kinston. a scratch force of 6,500 men fought another delaying action against sherman's left wing on the 16th, and then johnston ordered them to concentrate on smithfield, halfway between goldsborough and raleigh. on march 19th and 20th near the small village of bentonville, north carolina, johnston fought his last battle. indeed the last whole scale battle of the war. four years of war and especially the bitter retreat from tennessee had reduced the once powerful army of tennessee to a shadow of itself. officially the men advanced and they do advance. this is a confederate offensive, and they advanced on a four-division front, but if you looked at it and even in the
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paintings that survive the regimental standards are only about ten yards apart because the regiments have become the size of companies. still, the attack had both surprise and momentum, and for a moment, it was 1862 again with the yankees fleeing. it's a moment that didn't last. the federals brought up reinforcements, formed a defensive line. johnston's men bumped up against it and had to recoil. despite repeated assaults, that held, and near midnight, johnston pulled his men back to their original positions. i wanted to add this slide. here's the statue of joe johnston on the battlefield at bentonville, and i might add here as an editorial comment, this is my personal opinion. this is where they belong, on the battlefield. here's johnston on the ground he contested. although a smart alec might look
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at it and say, is he saying charge that way, men? or look, a line of retreat. sorry. bentonville was not a confederate victory, but in some respects, it was a satisfying day. johnston had surprised his old foe. his tactical plan had worked. sherman would have to advance more carefully now. he could not spread out over the countryside, advance on a broad front just spoiling the countryside. he would have to advance in concentrated units, fearing a counteract, and having accomplished that much, johnston should have moved off to fight another day, but instead, he stayed at bentonville. while his army endured several federal probing attacks, one of which took the life of a 16-year-old son, and he needed to evacuate his wounded from the
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field, which he did. he also hoped that an incautious federal counteract would reconcile itself on his defenses, but another factor may have been his reluctance to reinforce the criticism that he always was too ready to retreat, so he stayed for a day. and then on march 20th, having made his point and recovered his wounded, he ordered the army to fall back. johnston boasted to richmond that the courage and enthusiasm of the troops at bentonville disproved the lies that hood had written in his report that the men in the ranks had forgotten how to fight. yet the battle in north carolina did nothing to relieve lee's beleaguered force in the lines around richmond and petersburg. throughout the campaign in north carolina, johnston believed that lee was holding his own successfully outside richmond, and that his responsibility and johnston's responsibility was to
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protect lee's rear and keep open that vital railroad length between the two armies. in his view, it was possible the two armies might possibly combine and turn one on the other to defeat both grant and sherman. a pipe dream of course. but even as johnston fell back from bentonville, lee was planning a desperate stroke of his own at ft. steadman, east of petersburg. lee hoped that the capture there would make grant pull his forces back from the flanks and buy time for the rebel defenders, but like the grand charge at bentonville, the well-planned attack by gordon on steadman was a forgone hope. afterward, grant accelerated his efforts on lee's right, stretching the thin rebel lines even further, and some of these lines that we see outside this building. it was only a matter of time now before those lines broke.
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on april 10th, johnston learned that lee and his army had evacuated richmond. amidst his disappointment, there flared a new hope that with lee now on the move perhaps the two armies could be unified somewhere and these two west point classmates could together, still turn this thing around. he was thinking along those lines on april 11th when he received an order from jefferson davis to meet with him at greensboro, north carolina. johnston dutifully turned the army over to hardy and went off to meet the president. after an all night ride, johnston arrived in greensboro at 8:00 in the morning on april 12th. there he learned that lee had surrendered his army three days before at the courthouse. he didn't record his feelings at the time, but he later asserted that from that moment, he
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assumed the war was over. consequently, he was astonished minutes later when he arrived at the house where davis was still holding and would turn out to be the last cabinet meeting of the confederacy. davis greeted his least favorite general with what amounted to a pep talk. things weren't so bad, davis told him. southern soldiers could still be recalled to the colors and a new army could be formed. the war could still be won. johnston was appalled, and he replied it seemed unlikely men who left the army when our cause was not desperate, would return upon invitation to do so. johnston met separately with several members of davis'
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entourage, steven mallory, john reagan and even general beauregard, with the most pie in the sky scenarios. even beauregard meant that lee's surrender meant the war was over. the continuation of the war now, they all asserted would be nothing less than murder. mallory and beauregard told johnston it was his responsibility -- he was the only serving general left in the confederacy, and it's his job to make the president see reality, and johnston agreed to try, telling mallory, we must stop fighting at once, and secure peace on the best terms we can. mallory replied it was johnston's duty as a soldier to make that clear to the president. so it was in that frame of mind that johnston attended the final cabinet meeting with davis at 8:00 that night, and according to the notes that were kept by postmaster reagan, davis began the meeting by addressing
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johnston directly. i have requested you and general beauregard to join us this evening that we may have the benefit of your views. before inviting them to give their views, however, he offered his own opinion that while the situation while serious was not fatal. i think we can still whip the enemy if our people will turn out. everyone waited for johnston's reply, and after a poignant pause, he said, my views, sir, are that our people are tired of the war, feel themselves whipped and will not fight. our country is overrun. its military resources greatly diminished while the enemy's powers were never greater, and decreased to any extent desired. men are stealing my artillery teams to aid in their escapes back to their homes. since lee's surrender, they regard the war as at an end.
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while johnston finished speaking, it was quiet again. all the heads in the room turned to see how davis would respond to that. after a moment, davis turned to beauregard. what do you say, general? >> i concur in everything general johnston has said. >> davis looked down. his hands fidgeted with a piece of paper he had in his lap, folding it and refolding it. finally he looked up, well, general johnston, what do you propose? he asked he be given the authority to open negotiations with sherman to bring about an end to the war. davis doubted it would do any good, but he gave johnston permission to try. but to try what exactly? what davis believed he had given johnston the authority to do was to negotiate an end to the war which meant getting sherman to
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agree to confederate independence. no wonder he didn't think it would do any good. once again as throughout their relationship, the two men failed or perhaps refused to understand one another. back with his army, johnston sent sherman a note suggesting that they meet to negotiation an armis tas which would promote the civil authorities for needful arrangements to terminate the existing war, end quote. curious phrasing, and the reference to civil authority implied the recognition however informal that there was such a thing as the confederate government. still sherman was unwilling to give up a chance to end the war on such a technicality, and he returned a polite, even conciliatory note of acceptance. on april 17, 1865, sherman and johnston met in the home of james and nancy bennett near
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durham station, north carolina, seen here in a modern photograph. by then, each man had spent many hours, days, months, thinking about the other. what plans might lurk in the mind of that foe of mine across the battlefield? they had served in the military together for decades, yet they had never met until this day. they went into the house where you see in the paintings the staff members, huddled around, and the two of them went inside alone. once inside, sherman reached into his vest and wordlessly handed johnston a telegram he had received upon leaving camp. johnston read it, turned white, and looked up at sherman in horror. he had announced that abraham lincoln had been assassinated the night before.
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johnston said it was the greatest possible calamity to the south, and expressed a hope that sherman did not think the south had a hand in such an act. sherman replied that he was confident the rebel army had no part in it, but he was less sure that davis' government had not played a role. to that, johnston made no reply. then they got down to business. sherman offered johnston the same terms that grant had offered lee at appmatics. johnston suggested they could go further than that, and arrange the terms of a permanent peace. sherman asked johnston if he had authority to make such an agreement. johnston said, well, secretary of war breckenridge would arrive that afternoon, and he could represent the rebel government. sherman said, well, i cannot enter into negotiations with a member of the rebel government, but breckenridge is also a major general in the army. so you could treat with him as a major general even as he
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represents the cabinet. well, anxious for the bloodletting to end, sherman agreed. so sherman, johnston and now breckenridge met in the same day, april 18th, and sherman had prepared a memorandum. it called not only for the disillusion of all southern armies, but also the restoration and recognition of state governments, and after some conversation and a few inundations, the three men all agreed and signed the document. johnston left the meeting believing the war at last was over. but the political leaders in washington, especially in the wake of lincoln's assassination. grant himself was sent south to bring sherman to heel, to held him he had overstepped his authority, and repudiate the agreement at once. sherman sent the note that
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hostilities would resume in 48 hours, but in which he also invited johnston to another meeting where they could discuss the surrender of the army alone, without reference to political issues. johnston knew that the renewal of hostiliies would have only one result for what was left of his army was rapidly disintegrating as men left for home with the belief that the war was over. 4,000 of them had left just that day. seeking to share the burden of the decision he knew he had to make, he asked breckenridge for guidance. breckenridge told him that if he had to surrender, he should at least bring off the cavalry, but of course, if he did that, it meant the war would go on, and for how long? a week? a month? and to what end? johnston was not willing to risk the blood of his soldiers so that jefferson davis could stay in office for another week. so he notified sherman that he would meet with him in order to
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surrender his army, which he did on the 26th of april. given the long and often bitter relationship between jefferson davis and joseph e. johnston, it's hardly surprising that the confederate president never forgave him for what he considered an abject and unnecessary surrender. to be sure, lee had surrendered too, but lee had been surrounded. he fought as long as he could and as hard as he could, and then he accepted the inevitable. johnston in davis' view had just quit. to davis, johnston's surrender at durham station was simply another manifestation of a defeatest and contrarian general who had from the first, been a reluctant warrior, but whatever may be said of his retrograde movements since 1862 or the
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trading space for time in 1864, his decision to lay down his arms in 1865 was the reasonable act to someone who knew the time had come for the killing to stop. thank you very much. >> do you have time for questions? >> i'm told we have time for questions. >> there's a couple down here. microphones are on their way. whoever gets the microphone first. that's the rule. okay. right here. yes, sir. >> craig, at bennett's place, did not joseph johnston propose a set of firms to sherman before sherman pulled out his alternatives, and did not sherman kind of look at them and say, oh, these aren't too bad? and it was johnston's proposals
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that kept the state governments in. >> johnston made that verbal recommendation to sherman. johnston thought to himself, the one problem we're going to have after the war is the instability and chaos. the war ends, there's no authority in charge. people will run amok. they'll be rioting. they'll be looting. we need to have some authority in place, and the state governments are already there. he made this argument to sherman orally, and sherman put it in the working document that he presented, but it was -- i think johnston was a little bit farsighted here. he knew there had to be an authority of some kind in place, and if it wasn't the state governments, it would be the military occupiers, and he kind of wanted to avoid that if he could. so the argument has been made that johnston was looking out for the interests of the citizens of the south in the post-war period, and that may be true. here. >> could you go over those -- the ranking of the five generals, one, through five? >> yeah. i hope i can do this from
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memory. cooper. what's cooper's first name? samuel cooper from the class of 1815 was actually the highest ranking general in the confederacy. a lot of people overlooked this, because, of course, he never served in the field. he was a little bit long in the tooth certainly for those days, but he did remain on active service in richmond for most of the war. so he was ranked first. number two from the class of 1824, somebody help me. albert sidney johnston was number two, and of course, he was jefferson davis' favorite general. he had been what they call the first captain, the commander of the corps at west point when davis himself had been a cadet. he had reverence for johnson from the beginning, and after he had been killed at shiloh, he appointed his son on his staff in richmond to kind of keep that connection with him. so he was number two. number three was robert e. lee, class of 1827, graduating
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second. number four was joseph e. johnston, and last of all was beauregard from the class of, i think, '38. is that right? so those are the five. they were in that order. so if the two of them ever served in the same theater, one would have command jurisdiction over the other, and it wasn't the command jurisdiction that bothered johnston so much because he had authority in virginia. he was the top ranking field commander in virginia, but it was the idea that the law said i should be number one, and you made me number four, that requires an explanation. by the way, the argument against johnston's position here was that he was quarter master general, and therefore had a one-star rank, but it was a brevet appointment, or a rank that went with the job. anyone who was quarter master general of the army became a one-star general, but when he left that job, he would revert
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to colonel. that doesn't count, but he's not a real general. that was part of the mix as well. yes? will has a question. oh, i'm sorry. >> let me ask you -- >> oh, the boss is going to ask me a question. >> just based on the fact that a lot of people believe that johnston was just defensive-minded on the way from dalton to atlanta, there was one instance in castville that's interesting. do you want to comment on that? >> castville, he had planned carefully throughout. so he said, both at the time and later, that when the time came, he would turn and strike, and there was a moment when the roads diverged. the railroad, the western atlantic went down this way, and you can't move an army of 80,000 men along a single track, so sherman had divided his forces and they were separating themselves, and johnston had taken up a good position on the flank of the eastern most prong of that -- sherman's advance, and he had it all set up.
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he was going to attack, and block him with hardy, and attack with hood. it was going to be the shield and the sword, and he had it all -- great. the orders went out and john bell hood who was to execute the assault wrote back and said, can't do it because my cadets have just reported a strong federal force coming on my own flank. well, it turned out to be not a strong federal force. it was a lost brigade or something, but it was hood who said, we can't do it. cancel it, and it was canceled. hood never bothered to mention that in his letters saying, this guy won't fight because this was the moment when he planned to and didn't, but didn't because the person who was to execute the assault said it could not be done. so yeah. castville was the great what if of the georgia campaign. that's true, and sam hood can explain all this, this afternoon about why john bell hood did that. we got another one?
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yeah, will. >> i have to confess, i have always been sympathetic to joe johnston, but there's one case where i just can't find any way to excuse his behavior, and that's during the vicksburg campaign after he retreats from jackson. he sends the orders to pepperton to come out through vicksburg and perform a sandwich routine on grant. >> right. >> johnston coming from the east. >> right. >> but johnston has no intention whatsoever to act on those orders, and pemperton comes out. can you explain -- >> i can explain it the way joe johnston would have explained it. first of all, it's hard to know exactly what intentions anybody had. it looks from the way johnston positioned his army that he was not on the cusp of launching an assault to relieve him, but i think if you back that up a
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couple of weeks, maybe even a couple of months, the problem is that johnston has command authority over two armies in the western theater, braxton bragg's, and the army in the mississippi, and he's supposed to coordinate the movements of these two, and it's a command that he can't really understand because for a 19th century general like johnston, a general's job is to command an army. if he shows up and tells bragg what to do, he's superseding that army. so that problem existed from the beginning, and finally davis interferes with that, and sends him an order and says, look. take 3,000 men. 3,000 men, and go rescue pemberton, and he says, look. 3,000 men aren't going to do anything against grant's 40,000 to 45,000 coming from the southwest up toward jackson. the only way this is going to work is if i combine my forces well. berton's forces, and he sends him in order to say, evacuate
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vicksburg. now this is long before the vicksburg that is, you know, besieged. he's still got -- and pemberton calls a council of war. what else would you do? he says, i've got orders to evacuate to join with johnston, so we as an army can attack, and this was before the battle of raymond. it would have been possible perhaps, but he says, i don't want to do it because i know jefferson davis wants me to hold vicksburg at all costs. vicksburg is the key. we've got to hold it and we can't let it go. so he says no. i won't do it. but he's, like, i can't just stay here because that's, you know, that's too passive. so what i'll do is i'll go out and i'll fight sherman at the big black river. so pemberton was doing what he knew davis wanted him to do. johnston was trying to do what according to the theories he had been taught at west point told to do, and that is concentrate
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your forces in the face of the enemy. don't let the enemy pick you off one by one and get in between, and that's what grant did. when you say johnston had no intention of attacking. he did not intend to attack after the -- it was he did not intend to attack after it was besieged from outside. the moment was before it was besieged when pemberton could have come into the field and collectively had an opportunity, perhaps, to turn back grant who would have been in a pretty difficult position south of vicksburg without a secure line of supply. that's the way johnson would have explained it. and once pemberton refused his orders and said i won't do it, johnson was kind of trapped. i don't know if that's a satisfactory answer but that's johnson's answer. somebody down here. well, right here. did i get everybody else? okay.
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yes. >> prior to johnson's wounding in 1862 at seven pines, was he prepared, was his plan to give up richmond or was he planning to do a decisive battle. >> johnson's view was always to fight an offensive battle. people who know joe johnson, including jefferson davis said i don't believe it. his plan was to fight a non-defensive battle but the way to do was to hold a citadel with a holding force, militia, smaller troops, artillery batteries, for example. and then use a mobile field force to strike at the advancing enemy. so he didn't want to fall back within richmond and let himself get besieged. he wanted to maintain that fluidity but he was willing -- he wanted to fortify the city so that it could be held by a small group while he maneuvered. once the orders come back, as he's falling back to peninsula, orders arrive in richmond build fortifications around the city.
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well, what does that mean? you're going to fall back into the city and fortify yourself. that's only partly what he had in mind but the fault here goes to joe johnston's inability, or unwillingness to meet with davis, explain it to him, send him those regular letters like lee did, explain what he's doing and why he's doing it so that he might have gotten the political support from the government to execute his strategy. instead of that he allowed davis to come to his own conclusion, he's fortifying the city, he must be going to give it up. i'll pair that with as he's dropping back to the river, he sends orders back to atlanta, fortify the city so it can be held by a small group so that i can maneuver. and davis concludes that's it, he's not going to fight a battle, he's going to fall back into the city. we done? everybody's hungry. it's time for lunch. thank you.
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you're watching american history tv. explore our nation's past. american history tv on c-span 3, created by america's cable television companies and today we're brought to you by these television companies who provide american history tv to viewers as a public service. weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. on march 5th, 1946 former british prime minister winston churchill performed his iron curtain speech. his stark assessment of where relations stood between the soviet union and its former world war ii allies in the west is one of the most iconic speeches. to mark the anniversary we begin
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with soviet leader my kale gorbachev, speaking at the college in may -- watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3. american history tv on c-span 3, exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend. coming up this weekend we're marking the 75th anniversary of winston churchill's iron curtain speech regarded as one of the cold war's most iconic speeches, starting saturday at 9:00 a.m. eastern on american history tv and washington journal. a live discussion with timothy riley, director of america's national churchill museum and chief curator. he'll join us from fulton, missouri, the location of the 1946 tweet and take your calls and tweets live on the air. at 10:00 a.m. the late margaret thatcher's 1996 lecture
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at westminster college as she marked the 50th anniversary of churchill's speech and spoke about how the world changed in the 50 years and the 1991 collapse of the soviet union. then on sunday, at 2:00 p.m., artist edwina sands and author clifton daniel reflect on their grandparents, winston churchill and harry truman. and at 4:00 p.m. reel america features an audio recording of winston churchill's entire march 5th, 1946 iron curtain speech accompanied by images and brief motion picture segments. exploring the american story, watch american history tv. this weekend, on c-span3. up next author and historian gary gallagher discusses the wartime experience of edward porter alexander who served on the staff of r


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