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"THE ENEMY AT RICHMOND": JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON AND THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT Richard M. McMurry The confederacy, historians have long recognized, was torn by intramural quarrels among its leaders. Generals, congressmen, state officials, and members of President Jefferson Davis's administration carried on bitter feuds that diverted attention from their real enemy, consumed inordinate amounts of their time and energies, and weakened their country 's bid for independence. None of these debilitating disputes reached the magnitude of that between General Joseph E. Johnston and the Confederate government. Johnston was of a prominent Virginia family. His father served with distinction in the War for Independence, and his mother was a niece of Patrick Henry. His boyhood ambition was to be a soldier, and in 1829 he graduated from the Military Academy, standing a respectable thirteenth in a class of forty-six. In 1845 Johnston married Lydia McLane, the daughter of a United States senator who had been Andrew Jackson's secretary of the treasury and secretary of state. For thirty years Johnston served in the United States Army, receiving wounds and citations for bravery in the Seminole and Mexican wars. In 1860 he became quartermaster general of the Army, a selection carrying with it promotion to the grade of "brigadier general, staff." As long as he served as quartermaster general, Johnston would be a brigadier general; should he leave that staff assignment, he would revert to his "permanent grade" of lieutenant colonel. By 1861 when he followed Virginia into the Confederacy, Johnston was regarded as a competent military leader. He owed this reputation to his wartime bravery, to the almost unanimous Southern belief that Confederate generals were natural military leaders, and to the widespread assumption that anyone holding high rank, especially military rank, is ipso facto well qualified for the position. Until wounded in May, 1862, Johnston commanded the major Confederate army in Virginia. During his long convalescence, Robert E. Lee, who replaced him, won such vicCivil War History, Vol. XXVII, No. 1 Copyright©1981 by The Kent State University Press 0009-8078/81/2701-0001 $01.00/0 6 CIVIL war history tories that there could be no question of his relinquishing command in Virginia to anyone. Meanwhile, Johnston began to quarrel with Jefferson Davis—a quarrel worsened by the exaggerated sensitivity of both and the unwillingness of either to entertain the possibility of personal error. Little is known of the origins of this quarrel. There are improbable reports that the differences originated at West Point (Davis was in the Class of 1828) when the two are alleged to have been rivals for the attentions of a local belle. Some writers have asserted that the differences grew from Davis's treatment of Johnston while Davis was secretary of war in Franklin Pierce's cabinet. Others suggest that harsh feelings arose when Johnston became quartermaster general, winning the position over Albert Sidney Johnston, whose claims were supported by Davis, then chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee. Some accounts trace the quarrel to differences over strategy or to a squabble between Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Johnston in the early days of the Confederacy. Johnston seems also to have resented the praise that many newspapers gave to Davis and others after the First Battle of Manassas—a battle in which Johnston had commanded the Southern armies.1 Whatever their origins, the differences between the president and the general were rekindled in the late summer of 1861. A May, 1861 law stipulated that Confederate officers would be ranked within each grade in accordance with the relative rank they had held in the Army of the United States. The intent was to prevent a Confederate officer from being subordinate to officers of the same grade who had been his juniors in the "old Army." When Davis implemented this law in August, 1861, he decided that Johnston's position should be determined by his "permanent grade" of lieutenant colonel. Johnston had believed that his rank would be based upon his "staff grade" of brigadier general. The difference was crucial. Under Johnston's interpretation he ranked first among Confederate generals; if Davis's ranking of the generals prevailed,Johnston stood fourth. Because Davis was president and because...


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