Cover image for Joseph E. Johnston and the defense of Richmond
Joseph E. Johnston and the defense of Richmond
Newton, Steven H.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, [1998]

Physical Description:
xiii, 278 pages ; 24 cm.
Format :


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E467.1.J74 N49 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Most often viewed as a prelude to Robert E. Lee's Civil War victories of 1862, Joseph E. Johnston's campaign in Virginia early that year has been considered uninspired at best, catastrophic at worst. Steven Newton now offers a revisionist account of Johnston's operations between the York and James Rivers to show how his performance in the "Peninsular War" contributed to a crucial strategic victory for the Confederacy.

Newton acknowledges the limitations usually attributed to Johnston by other historians but suggests that assessments of the general's performance in Virginia have been colored by later controversies. He argues that contemporary sources portray Johnston as conducting his operations competently and within the strategic framework laid down in Richmond, even when he personally disagreed with those decisions. By holding his outnumbered army together and delaying the advance of Union forces, the general bought critical time for the Confederacy to recruit, organize, and arm the expanded army that would drive the Federals away from Richmond soon after Johnston himself was wounded at Seven Pines.

Focusing on the period between mid-February and late May 1862, Newton examines in detail the high-level conferences in Richmond to set strategy and the relationship of the Peninsula campaign to operations in the Shenandoah Valley and the western Confederacy. What emerges is a portrait of a general who was much more complex in thought and action than even his advocates have argued. By examining what Johnston actually accomplished rather than speculating on what he might have done, Newton shows that his overall conduct of the campaign holds up well under scrutiny.

Marked by painstaking research and analysis, Newton's reconsideration of Johnston is a key account of Confederate operations in the pivotal eastern Virginia theater in 1862. It provides an important new look at an episode in the war that until now has received little attention and helps rescue an unduly maligned leader from the shadow of Lee.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Armchair strategists of the US Civil War will welcome another opportunity to second guess the generals who might have succeeded had they followed historians' analyses of 135 years. Newton (Delaware State Univ.), author of The Battle of Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862 (1991), focuses on that event again in chapter 11, one component of the 1862 Union Army offensive against Richmond, Virginia. Newton links himself to the thin ranks of the defenders of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, whose command was permanently assumed by Robert E. Lee when Johnston was injured in a fall from his horse in this action. Johnston's critics, a much longer list of current and past historians, emphasize the general's "inability to risk defeat on the battlefield." Newton suggests that "it is almost necessary to pretend that Johnston's wound at Seven Pines indeed proved fatal in order to reach a judgment on his capacity as a general at that time." The speculation and extraordinary use of detail will limit readers of this book to those partisans of all military action and/or those who want to explore fully several political/military/personality struggles in the Confederate States of America. General readers. N. J. Hervey Luther College