AT THE END OF HIS LIFE, few people could boast a more dynamic Civil War career than Confederate Major General EDWARD "ALLEGHANY" JOHNSON. It is unfortunate, though, that for someone so near the action and so often mentioned in official reports, memoirs, and diaries, little has been done to place him within the historical context of the events that surrounded him and on which he had so great an impact.
EDWARD JOHNSON was born on 16 April 1816 at the family estate, "Salisbury," in Chesterfield County, Virginia. At an early age his family moved to Kentucky and after attending Kenyon College and Grammar School in Gambier, Ohio, JOHNSON was a Kentucky appointment to the United States Military Academy, admitted on 1 July 1833.
At West Point, JOHNSON'S record was less than stellar. In 1835 he performed so poorly, 63rd of 73 academically (224th of 240 in conduct), that he was declared deficient and was subsequently turned back to repeat his third class or sophomore year. In repeating his third class, he improved somewhat academically, finishing 37th out of 51. In conduct, though, he accumulated 200 demerits ranking him 211th of 216, his worst year. In his junior year, with his new classmates, he improved to a respectable standing of 28th of 46. His conduct was also markedly improved, 163rd of 190 with only 154 demerits. JOHNSON finished his senior year at the academy, 32nd of 45; in conduct he posted 127th out of 218 students with 119 demerits.
After his graduation in 1838, JOHNSON was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the 6th Infantry. He then quickly advanced to 1st lieutenant in a little over a year. Once in the regular army, JOHNSON served in the Seminole Wars in Florida and then on the western and southwestern frontier. In the war with Mexico JOHNSON saw action at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Ray, and Chapultepec. In each of the last two battles JOHNSON won brevets, to captain and major, respectively. In recognition of the distinguished performance of Lieutenant JOHNSON, the Commonwealth of Virginia voted him a sword, as did the citizens of his native county, Chesterfield. After three years sick leave, during which time he was promoted to Captain, JOHNSON was again assigned to duty on the western frontier, serving in Dakota and California and quelling the border disturbances in Kansas and on the Utah Expedition.
In 1861 Captain JOHNSON was stationed at Governor's Island, New York. A 12 April 1861 New York Herald article, under the subheading "Resignations in the Army Since April 9," lists "Brevet Major Ed. JOHNSON, of Kentucky, Sixth Infantry," as one of the number. There is some evidence that he was detained by Federal authorities. One newspaper account states that, "having avowed strong secession sentiments," JOHNSON was "arrested and thrown in prison." The same article asserts that "he contrived to make his escape and embark in disguise on board of a vessel bound for some port in Central America. Thence he contrived to reach home in July." JOHNSON'S friend, Richmond diarist, MARY BOYKIN CHESNUT reiterates the tale in her famous diary: "For some cause, before he could evade that potentate and power, SEWARD rang his little bell and sent him to a prison in the harbor of New York. I forget whether he was exchanged or escaped of his own motion."
However he got there, EDWARD JOHNSON found his way to Richmond. JOHNSON'S first Confederate commission, that of lieutenant colonel, took rank from 16 March 1861. On 2 July 1861, EDWARD JOHNSON was assigned command of the 12th Georgia Infantry with the rank of full colonel. JOHNSON then commenced training the regiment into a fighting organization that, according to Army of Northern Virginia authority, ROBERT KRICK, "went on to become one of the most renowned Georgia units in LEE'S army." Almost immediately, the 45 year old JOHNSON began to develop a reputation, as a diligent officer and oddly-charismatic character.
As colonel of the 12th Georgia, in the Confederate Army of the Northwest, JOHNSON participated in the fighting at Rich Mountain, Cheat Mountain, and Greenbrier River. On 13 December 1861, while commanding six infantry regiments garrisoned on a mountain top, he won the rank of Brigadier General and attain his nom de guerre in his victory at Alleghany Mountain. In the winter of 1861-1862, EDWARD "ALLEGHANY" JOHNSON and his small Northwestern Army cooperated with "STONEWALL" JACKSON in the early stages of that general's Valley Campaign. A severe ankle wound in the Confederate victory at the Battle of McDowell ended his service with the Army of the Northwest and put him in Richmond for nearly one year where he was active on the social scene. In the reorganization of the Army of Northern Virginia following THOMAS J. "STONEWALL" JACKSON'S death, JOHNSON was promoted to Major General and given command of the Stonewall Division in RICHARD S. EWELL'S 2nd Corps.
JOHNSON was healthy enough to take command of his division in late May 1863 and played an active role in the Confederate Army's invasion of the north. On the way to Pennsylvania his division, along with EARLY'S, routed the Union General ROBERT H. MILROY'S command at the Battle of 2nd Winchester. The early evening arrival of JOHNSON'S division at Gettysburg on 1 July was integral in EWELL'S confusion on that day and was the subject of some controversy after the war. JOHNSON'S command fought conspicuously on the Confederate left at Culp's Hill on both the second and the third days of the battle at Gettysburg. In the fighting of the following winter JOHNSON'S division had a major role in LEE'S Mine Run Campaign, arguably his best performance with the Army of Northern Virginia. His units also played a conspicuous part in the series of battles that began in the spring of 1864. In the fighting at the Wilderness, when LONGSTREET was seriously wounded, EDWARD JOHNSON was actually considered by LEE as a candidate to temporarily replace the fallen corps commander. A few days later, on 12 May 1864, at a spot known as the "Bloody Angle" or "Mule Shoe" in the action around the Spotsylvania Court House, JOHNSON, along with almost his entire division, was captured during hand-to-hand combat in the trenches.
After his capture at Spotsylvania, JOHNSON was incarcerated at Fort Delaware. He was later moved to the Federal prisoner of war encampment at Morris Island, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. In the late summer of 1864 JOHNSON was exchanged and sent to Tennessee where he commanded a division in STEPHEN D. LEE'S Corps in the Army of Tennessee. His participation in HOOD'S Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville fiasco was somewhat limited by his capture at Nashville on 16 December 1864. He was again held in a Union prisoner of war camp, this time at Johnson's Island. As the War concluded, JOHNSON was moved to Old Capital Prison and, along with other Confederate officers, was accused of somehow conspiring in the LINCOLN assignation. He was soon released as the accusations proved to be unfounded.
It is odd then, that JOHNSON, a modestly respectable player in the Confederate high command, is so neglected as a subject of Civil War literature. Although he left no papers or personal recollections, those that surrounded him rarely failed to mention JOHNSON in their writings. He was described as a man of great warmth and peculiarity. He was very highly regarded by men such as LEE, JACKSON, and EWELL as well as the men who he led into battle and those he opposed there. After his capture at Spotsylvania he breakfasted with GRANT, another old friend. He seemed devoid of vanity and had little untoward ambition. He was genial and friendly, and at the same time he was gruff, unpolished, and well-versed in army profanity. Although born in Virginia, he was raised in Kentucky and in character and by nature was more of a westerner. All of his peccadilloes, his no-nonsense attitude, and his devotion to the cause and to his troops seem to have endeared him to everyone who served with him. He was rarely referred to in a bad light; he never failed to do his duty and he proved to be one of the Confederacy's best division commanders.
After the War JOHNSON returned to Chesterfield County, Virginia and took up farming. He was frequently in Richmond and active in Confederate veteran functions, including the early efforts toward construction of a ROBERT E. LEE monument in that city. He never married. On 2 March 1873 he died in Richmond where he was mourned throughout the city as flags flew at half-staff. His body lay in state at the capital until moved for burial at Hollywood Cemetery on 4 March 1873.
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