Question of the Week: 4/8-4/14/19

What if Albert S. Johnston had not died at Shiloh? What do you think he might have attempted for defense in the Western Theater?

12 Responses to Question of the Week: 4/8-4/14/19

  1. He may have pressed the attack with better coordination at Shilo and gained a victory, but we’ll never know. Even if he would have suffered defeat at Shilo, I believe that he would have pressed Davis for more troops so that he wasn’t outnumbered by the Federal forces and would have concentrated his forces much as Lee did in the eastern theatre.

  2. Greg Mertz has an excellent examination of this question in our “Turning Points of the Civil War” book, published as part of our “Engaging the Civil War” series with Southern Illinois University Press.

  3. Johnston did not respond well at all to the Federal move against Fort Henry, so I’m afraid it is difficult to have confidence that he would prove to be the general Davis needed (and thought he was).

  4. Albert Sydney Johnston was the supreme example of the Peter Priciple that people get promoted to their level of incompetence. His mismanagement of the defense of Tennessee is a case study in incompetence. As his officers rightly observed at the time, he was spectacularly unfit for high command. In any case, Beaugard had written the attack orders & was managing the battle from HQ while Johnston rode around acting the part of a brigade commander. He was, in reality, not actively in command during the first day’s fighting. There is absolutely nothing in Johnston’s record to indicate that he could have done anything to frustrate Grant’s attack. The best thing he ever did for his reputation is get killed at the right time. The retreat from Shiloh would have secured the reputation as the imbecile that Southern papers had already branded him with.

    1. Good points. Johnston’s Civil War record before Shiloh was mediocre at best. His decision to turn over the attack plan at Shiloh to Beauregard and then to approve it was consistent with that. Even “getting killed at the right time” should not have led to the post-death reputation he acquired because despite looking the part he had shown nothing to warrant that belief.

      1. Johnston’s reputation is a mystery to me. There is a lot to be said for looking good on a horse. I am baffled by people who speculate on how great things would have been if only Johnston had lived. The spooky thing is that no matter what, Jefferson Davis would have kept him in command like he did Bragg.

  5. There is no realistic expectation that had Johnson lived, that anything he did would have been any more successful than what had already transpired in the West under his direction. He was certainly having a good day at Shiloh when he was struck, but there is nothing that leads to any assumptions that the Confederates good fortune or performance would have been maintained to the point of victory there. .

  6. First, it must be realized that Shiloh was NOT supposed to happen at Pittsburg Landing. The highly anticipated engagement, touted as the Battle that would end Rebellion in the West, was to be initiated by Federal forces under overall command of Major General Henry Halleck. And that battle was to take place in vicinity of Corinth, Mississippi. So certain was General Halleck of the progress and outcome of his Grand Strategy, that he issued orders, prohibiting U.S. Grant from “doing anything to bring on a General Engagement.”
    But what everyone expected Albert Sidney Johnston to do (sit and wait at Corinth) was “out of character” with what he did: launch a pre-emptive strike against Union forces camped at Pittsburg Landing. IF General Johnston won at Shiloh, this Victory had potential to garner RECOGNITION of the Confederate Government from European powers; and this may have led to a negotiated Peace Settlement.

    1. That “IF’ is a big assumption. Despite how things transpired in the morning, by the time Johnston fell things were already bogging down on the Rebel side, due to terrain and the poor offensive design by Beauregard which Johnston had approved. And there is good reason to believe that an assault on Grant’s final line would not have succeeded, regardless of who was in charge. I think that is Mr. Pauly’s point as I read it, and I also think he correctly raises skepticism. He accurately notes that up to that point Johnston’s other performances were thoroughly mediocre.

      1. I have to admit that I don’t have much interest in should have, could have, would have & might have anymore. It is hard enough to keep straight what actually happened without indulging in fantasy.

      2. I don’t disagree. But if somebody wants to do that, he/she needs to use the available evidence. It’s the same with the Stonewall/Ewell July 1 exercise. Fun, although pretty much a waste of time. But if you’re going to do it, work with the available evidence on Jackson’s tactical shortcomings rather than inventing a skill set he never demonstrated.

  7. I think his reputation is what it is because he was killed in battle. He would have done no better that Bragg or Lee (if placed in the western theater). The rivers were beyond Confederate control and avenues of invasion. The west was largely indefensible.

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