Albert Sidney Johnston was one of the most respected generals on either side at the start of the civil war, but the first days of fighting didn’t go his way.
Ulysses S. Grant proved a thorn in his side almost from the very beginning. Grant marched into Paducah, Kentucky, the same day the Confederates planned to move on the city. After that, he captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, then positioned his army to march into Mississippi.
Johnston concentrated his army around Corinth, Mississippi. Grant inched closer, moving his army to Pittsburg Landing just twenty miles away. Then, early in April, Johnston learned General Don Carlos Buell’s army planned to meet up with Grant, then launch a concentrated attack on Corinth.
On April 3rd, Johnston ordered General P. G. T. Beauregard to attack Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing before the two armies could hook up. It might have worked—except for the weather. It stormed so bad on April 4th that it slowed the army’s progress, so they could not attack until the 6th. That allowed Buell to arrive in time for the second day of the fighting.
Johnston died early in the fighting on the first day. Later, Jefferson Davis would say Johnston’s death was “the turning point of our fate.” It shows the faith he placed in his old West Point classmate, but it also makes one wonder—Did Davis have doubts about the war’s outcome almost from the beginning?
Grant had reservations about Albert Sidney Johnston. However, he didn’t “question the personal courage of General Johnston or his ability.” While “he did not win the distinction predicted for him by many of his friends,” wrote Grant. “He did prove that as a general, he was overestimated.”
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