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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 348


This is the grave of the vile traitor Albert Sidney Johnston.

Born in 1803 in Washington, Kentucky, he was educated first at Transylvania University in Lexington and then at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. He was at both places the same time as future traitor-in-chief Jefferson Davis and they got to know each other well. He entered the military as a 2nd lieutenant, served in the Black Hawk War, and was assigned to posts in various parts of the country. He grew up in the Kentucky elite and married into it as well, the sister of future traitorous general William Preston. She died in 1834 of tuberculosis. He had resigned from the army to take care of her and they moved to Texas. That state was engaged in committing treason in defense of slavery against Mexico in the mid-1830s. Johnston supported this war. In fact, he wanted to be the commanding general in it. So did a guy named Felix Huston. So they acted in the most southern elite way possible to decide the thing: they fought in a duel. In that duel, Huston shot Johnston in the pelvis. Huston became the commanding general. But Johnston remained in Texas. Mirabeau Lamar, the second president of the treasonous republic, named Johnston Secretary of War for Texas in 1838. He had to repel another Mexican invasion to reclaim its rightful territory and, of course, murder Native peoples. He remained in that position until 1840, when he decided to return to Kentucky.

There, he married his widow’s cousin and they decided after a short time to return to Texas, starting a plantation in Brazoria County, called “China Grove.” One at least presumes this is not the inspiration for the Doobie Brothers song. Anyway, after the U.S. annexed Texas in 1845 and then went to war with Mexico over Texas’ absurd and completely ridiculous claims that its land extended to the Rio Grande, something not recognized by anyone, Johnston joined the military. After all, stealing half of Mexico to expand American slavery was just his cup of tea. He fought at Monterey and Buena Vista. He went back to the plantation after the war, but Zachary Taylor named him a major in 1849 and he became an army paymaster, which he did for the next five years, largely traveling around the Texas and western frontiers to various forts. He became a colonel in 1855, heading the newly formed 2nd Cavalry. In that position, not only did he “serve” to protect the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas from scary abolitionists, but he was involved in the military campaign to institute a non-Mormon government in Utah. He became a brigadier general for that. In 1860, he was sent to California to lead the Department of the Pacific.

Of course, Johnston was also a slaveholder. He was also a coward. He would not personally whip the slaves, but he was more than happy to let his wife do it, who evidently enjoyed it. When his daughter’s personal servant came from the Kentucky plantation to Texas (no acknowledgement of the family she likely was forced to leave behind), he noted, “She has the easy nonchalance of fraternity and equality, from free negro association which must be gotten rid of at this latitude.” Maybe he set his wife upon her. Evidently, he used to teach his son to be gentle to those below him and not inflict “unnecessary pain” on others. Of course, having others inflict that pain, whatever. And profiting off people enslaved to you, well, that’s just the way things should be!

In 1861, Johnston had the opportunity to commit treason in defense of slavery. And he did. He was quickly assigned by his old friend, the traitor Davis, to command Confederate treason armies in the West. He was involved in some small early actions in east Tennessee, an area that would change hands many times in a particularly nasty side of the war, and then headed west to Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. There, he was on hand when Ulysses S. Grant provided the Union’s first major victories of the war in taking these forts and then moving on to occupy Nashville. In the aftermath, there were calls to fire him, but he remained in charge. Until he was shot and killed at Shiloh. He was shot in the back of knee. He didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but it turned out it clipped the major artery in the leg. Later speculation is that his being shot in the duel may have caused nerve damage and he didn’t realize the seriousness of it. Anyway, he soon bled to death. As it was in the back of knee, it was probably friendly fire. Too bad really–if a Union solider had shot the traitor, it would have been a glorious, heroic act. Still, you take your killing of Confederate generals any way you can find it.

Albert Sidney Johnston is buried in the Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas. He was initially buried in New Orleans, but the Texas legislature paid for his removal to Austin and this ridiculous grave in 1867. The state also put a big ol’monument of Johnston on the University of Texas campus. It was removed last year.

This grave visit was funded by LGM reader contributions. As always, I thank you greatly. I will be using any resources available to go to Nashville in a few weeks; I assure you the resulting grave posts will be excellent. If you would like to donate to maximize these grave visits, you can contribute to the required expenses here. No shortage of slavers to remember with disdain in that area. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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