Book Review: Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond


by Steven H. Newton

Lawrence, Ks.,: University Press of Kansas, 1999. xxiii, 278 pp. Illus, maps, append, notes, bilio., index. $29.95. ISBN:0-7006-0921-0

A somewhat revisionist treatment of Joe Johnston's command of Confederate forces in Virginia in the opening phases of the Peninsular Campaign, until he was wounded at Seven Pines, 31 May 1862, which led to Robert E. Lee's assumption of command.

Observing that heretofore treatments of the campaign were essentially dismissive, seeing Johnston as a relatively ineffective commander, and Lee as the brilliant savior of the Confederate capital, Newton proceeds to demonstrate that, in fact, Johnston was quite effective, marshaling considerable evidence to back his claim. Not only was it Johnston who created what would become the Army of Northern Virginia, complete with Longstreet, Jackson, and all the rest in its senior command slots, but Johnston's operations were much less costly in lives than Lee's. Newton also very correctly observes that it was Johnston's victory at Seven Pines which essentially set the stage for Lee's "emergence" as a commander during the Seven Days, which followed shortly thereafter.

The appendices are valuable, particularly one which addresses the problem of Johnston's manpower resources during the campaign. The work is well documented, and the footnotes are worth reading.

Although it is an important work, Joseph E. Johnston and the Defense of Richmond does fail to address the question of what Johnston would have done if faced by a more aggressive and capable commander than the disappointing George B. McClellan.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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