December 16

This Day in History

Civil War

Dec 16, 1863:

Johnston named commander of Army of Tennessee

On this day in 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis names General Joseph Johnston commander of the Army of Tennessee. Johnston replaced Braxton Bragg, who managed to lose all of Tennessee to the Union during 1863.

A Virginia native, Johnston graduated from West Point in 1829 along with future Confederate leader Robert E. Lee. Johnston fought in the Black Hawk, Creek, and Seminole wars of the 1830s before serving with distinction in the Mexican War (1846-48). When Virginia seceded from the Union shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in April 1861, Johnston accepted a commission in the Confederate army. He fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861, and commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the early stages of the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. When Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines, Virginia, on May 31, Lee replaced him.

After recovering from his wounds, Johnston was sent to coordinate the operations of the armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi regions. Since he did not have a command of his own, Johnston resented this duty. In 1863, he made a futile attempt to relieve John C. Pemberton's army at Vicksburg, Mississippi. He wanted Pemberton to fight his way out of Vicksburg, but Union General Ulysses S. Grant had Pemberton trapped. The surrender of Pemberton's army put additional stress on the already strained relationship between Johnston and President Davis.

After the campaigns of 1863, however, Davis felt he had little choice but to name Johnston commander of the Army of Tennessee. The Confederates were losing large sections of territory to the Union. Bragg was literally maneuvered right out of Tennessee during the summer, although he engineered a victory at Chickamauga before laying siege to Union troops at Chattanooga. When Grant broke the Confederate hold on Chattanooga in November, Bragg resigned his command.

Davis reluctantly appointed Johnston to save the situation in the West. Johnston took the field with his army in the spring of 1864, when Union General William T. Sherman began his drive toward Atlanta. Johnston employed a defensive strategy that avoided direct battle with Sherman but which also resulted in lost territory as Johnston slowly backed up to Atlanta. Johnston's command lasted until July 1864, when Davis replaced him after the Army of the Tennessee was backed into Atlanta.

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