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Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography (Norton Paperback) Paperback – June 17, 1994

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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 17, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393311309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393311303
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #912,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Symonds offers a well-written annotated biography of one of the more controversial generals of the Civil War. Johnston is often considered to be the greatest Southern field commander, while others rank him second only to Robert E. Lee. Yet his personal faults deprived him of many opportunities for leadership. He fell into disfavor with Jefferson Davis due to Johnston's insistence that he should be the senior field commander rather than Lee. Johnston also tended to be very vague and indefinite in giving orders to his subordinates, and this cost him victory in several battles. Johnston was a military person and did not understand or appreciate the importance of political factors in military planning. He also believed that cities should be sacrificed to save manpower, which brought him into disfavor with the loss of Vicksburg. This is the best biography that has been written about Johnston, as it treats his war and political experiences evenly and without bias. Academic libraries as well as those with Civil War collections should purchase.
- W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

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. (Illustrations; maps.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Craig L. Symonds is Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy where he taught naval history and Civil War History for thirty years.
A native of Anaheim, California, Symonds earned his B.A. degree at U.C.L.A., and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida where he studied under the late John K. Mahon. In the 1970s he was a U.S. Navy officer and the first ensign ever to lecture at the prestigious Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. After his naval service, Symonds remained at the War College as a civilian Professor of Strategy from 1974-1975.
He came to the Naval Academy in 1976, and during his thirty-year career there he became a very popular professor whose Civil War classes were always over-subscribed. He was named teacher of the Year in 1988, and the Researcher of the Year in 1998, the first person ever to win both awards. He chaired the History Department from 1988 to 1992. He also chaired the Naval Academy Self Study for institutional accreditation, the Curriculum Reform Committee, and served on the Naval Academy Admissions Board. In addition to the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal, he was awarded the Civilian Meritorious Service Medal three times. From 1994 to 1995 he served as Professor of Strategy and Policy at the Britannia Naval College in Dartmouth, England.
Symonds is the author of twelve books and the editor of nine others. In addition he has written over one hundred scholarly articles in professional journals and popular magazines as well as more than twenty book chapters in historical anthologies. Five of his books were selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and six have been selections of the History Book Club. His books have won the Barondess Lincoln Prize, the Daniel and Marilyn Laney Prize, the S.A. Cunningham Award, the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize, and the John Lyman book Prize three times. In 2009 he shared the $50,000 Lincoln Prize with James M. McPherson. He also won the "Annie" Award in Literary Arts given by Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Symonds was a Trustee of the Society of Military History, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Lincoln Forum, and the board of Directors of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. He was a member of the Lincoln Prize Committee and chaired the Jefferson Davis Prize Committee. He is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Committee. From 2005 to 1007 he was Chief Historian of the USS Monitor Center at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, helping oversee the opening and promotion of that exhibit.
Now retired, Symonds is much in demand around the country as a speaker on Civil War subjects. He has spoken at Civil War Round Tables in twenty-seven states and two foreign countries, given tours of battlefields and other historical sites, and helped conduct leadership workshops based on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Craig and his wife, Marylou, live in Annapolis, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

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Joe E. Johnston, along with Gen.
Amazon Customer
A must read for all people interested in the civil war, or the life of an old world general!
M. J. Brown
Johnston fought well during the Peninsula campaign and one the first battle of Bull Run.
Lehigh History Student

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Robinson on March 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Symonds, who also wrote a great bio of Patrick Cleburne, weaves a tremendous story of Johnston's life. This book is one of the few on Johnston and it is easily the best. This book delves into Johnston's personal life, his time in the military before the Civil War and during the war, his famous feud with Jefferson Davis, his association with Senator Louis Wigfall (a hater of Davis), and many other things. It seems Symond believes Johnston was a good general who has gotten somewhat of a bum rap, but he doesn't take sides in any battles or any of Johnston's disputes with Davis. To make a long story short, this is one of the best bios of any Confederate general and certainly the best on Johnston.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Darryl L. Walker on January 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Symonds presents a well-balanced account of Johnston the man, the soldier, and the friend and husband. This book is interesting, not overly complex and contains as much detail of Johnston's life as one would require to render an objective opinion of Johnston.
Not until I read this book did I understand the impact that Johnston's leadership had on the Confederate army's achievements and set-backs during the Civil War. Johnston could be cautious in his execution of battle plans and overly sensitive to criticism of his leadership and the strategic use of his army. However, Johnston understood that winning battles against numerically superior odds required picking the right circumstances in which to use his men. Johnston's first priority as a soldier was always the well-being of his men. The book also explores in depth the antipathy that Johnston and Jefferson Davis shared toward each other, indeed for a lifetime. This biography provides an easy-to-read account of all significant events in the life of Joe Johnston.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on October 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
I would have to agree with the previous review. This is one of the best Civil War biographies I have read in some time and I have not seen one better on Johnston yet. The author, I believe, offers a non-baised account of this Confederate leader and writes in a style that just keeps you turning the pages. The book is well researched and very well written, it was a joy to read. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who enjoys reading a decent history book. Well done to the author.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By B. O'Neill on August 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
I must say that I have always been interested in Joe Johnston and having finally read such a good biography of him I am even more interested. As others have said you can't help but feel a bit sorry for "Old Joe." He was blamed for Vicksburg, even though it was Pemberton who disobeyed his orders and got his army trapped in the city. It was Davis who refused to allow Johnston the use of the troops west of the Mississippi. Johnston was blamed for not being able to stop Sherman in Northern Georgia when all facts show that he had done an incredible job of holding his army together against a superior force and perhaps the best general in the Union Army.

Symonds has done a great job with this biography. You can't help but get interested in and just keep reading. I read this book in 2 days it was so good. Symonds reveals Joe Johnston to be a complex, yet overall admirable general. I liked how he included the jealousy Johnston felt for Lee at one time, and the eventual end to that jealousy when Johnston took command in North Carolina. I loved reading about the constant fighting between Joe Johnston and Jefferson Davis. I think Symonds did an excellent job writing about this conflict that lasted for some 25 years. Only real complaint would be that I would have liked a bit more on Johnston before the war, specifically in Mexico. I felt that was rushed a bit. Besides that though this biography was excellent. I strongly recommend it to all.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Manray9 on January 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
"Joseph E, Johnston: A Civil War Biography" is another worthwhile effort by Craig Symonds. It is a straightforward, even-handed, and well-researched volume assessing Joseph E. Johnston's storied military career. Symonds does not gloss over Johnston's numerous shortcomings, his bad judgment or lack of political sensitivity, and he examines well his successes as a battlefield tactician, a leader of men and a builder of armies. Symonds exposes Johnston's crucial failure to grasp that war is politics by other means. His purely tactical approach to campaigning on the Virginia peninsula and across Northern Georgia prevented his coming to appreciate the limitations imposed by geo-political realities upon the prickly Jefferson Davis. Couple this failure with his unwillingness to placate Davis' delicate ego, and Johnston's tenure in command was shaky from the start.

The peak of Joseph E. Johnston's career was his Fabian campaign across Northern Georgia in 1864. It was brilliantly executed in the face of enormous odds. Sherman's forces dominated the field in manpower, war materiel, provisions, and livestock. Johnston adroitly maneuvered his inferior army so as to avoid pitched battles, minimize losses, and maintain his army in the field as a force in being. This is not at all dissimilar to the contemporaneous Overland Campaign conducted by R. E. Lee in Northern Virginia. The major difference was Lee's willingness to engage in preemptive assaults (Battle of the Wilderness) in vain attempts to forestall Grant's offensives. Lee was unsuccessful and, like Johnston, was eventually pushed back into his defensive works and inevitable defeat -- but Lee suffered considerable casualties en route to the same end.
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