On this day in 1803, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston is born in Washington, Kentucky. Johnston was considered one of the best Confederate commanders until he was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, the first major engagement in the West.
Johnston grew up in Kentucky and received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1822. While there, he became acquainted with Robert E. Lee and future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, two men who shaped Johnston’s career. After graduation, Johnston served in the Black Hawk War of 1832 and resigned from the service in 1834 to care for his invalid wife. After her death, he moved to the new Republic of Texas and enlisted in the army as a private. Within three years he rose to general of the army, then secretary of war for his adopted country. After Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, Johnston served in the Mexican War (1846-48) and was commended for bravery at the Battle of Monterrey.
Johnston retired to his Texas plantation after the war, but struggled financially. He returned to themilitary as paymaster for the forts in Texas, and in 1857 was appointed to lead an expedition against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormons) in Utah Territory. The Mormons disagreed with the government on issues of the territory’s governance, and some officials thought a rebellion was in the making. Johnston arrived and found no opposition, andspent the next three years occupying the territory.
When the Civil War erupted, Davis appointed Johnston commander of the Confederate department that stretched from the Appalachians to Texas. On April 6, 1862, Johnston attacked Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s army at Pittsburgh Landing (Shiloh), Tennessee. The Confederates enjoyed great success initially. Grant’s army was surprised and nearly destroyed until the afternoon, when the 59-year-old Johnston rode forward to supervise the battle. He was mortally wounded, and the tide turned against the Confederates. The armies struggled into the next day but the Union held the field.
Johnston and Union General James McPherson were the only two army commanders killed in action during the Civil War. Johnston’s death left a void in the leadership of the Western armies that was never effectively filled.