In a significant contribution to interpretive Civil War scholarship, Symonds (History/US Naval Academy) paints an engrossing...


JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON: A Civil War Biography

In a significant contribution to interpretive Civil War scholarship, Symonds (History/US Naval Academy) paints an engrossing portrait of one of the most enigmatic and important figures of the war. Contemporaries regarded Joseph E. Johnston as one of the greatest military talents in the Confederacy, in some estimates outranking even Johnston's friend and West Point classmate Robert E. Lee. Nonetheless, posterity remembers him only for commanding Confederate armies in a few inconclusive battles, including some nominal Southern victories--First Manassas (1861), Seven Pines (1862), Kennesaw Mountain (1864), and Bentonville (1865)--and for his failure to stop Grant at Vicksburg and Sherman at Atlanta. Johnston lacked Lee's brilliance, and his victories were more the result of careful planning and diligence than of genius. Yet without endorsing Johnston's tactic of avoiding battle with superior Union forces, Symonds articulates the case for Johnston's strategy: Johnston's army suffered considerably fewer losses than Lee's, and but for Jefferson Davis's giving the aggressive but foolhardy John Bell Hood command of the western army after the fall of Atlanta (which caused disastrous Confederate defeats at Franklin and Nashville), Johnston's Army of Tennessee would have remained intact longer than Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. While Symonds shows that the intensely reserved Johnston enjoyed close friendships with his brother officers, he also recounts the general's tragic failure to work harmoniously with the prickly Davis, which resulted in open enmity by the end of the war. Symonds relates how Johnston entered into the unseemly ""Battle of the Books"" after the war, denouncing Hood and Davis (whom Southerners regarded as a martyr) in his memoir and suffering denunciations in turn. A stimulating and absorbing biography of an undeservedly neglected warrior.

Pub Date: March 30, 1992

ISBN: 0393311309

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1992