Previous Quartermaster Commandants

Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston
13th Quartermaster School Commandant
June 1860 - April 1861

13th Quartermaster Commandant - BG Joseph E. Johnston

The death of Thomas S. Jesup in June 1860, after forty-two years of service as Quartermaster General, ended the long period during which the Quartermaster's Department was dominated by the personality of its chief. General Joseph Johnston, who succeeded Jesup, was the first West Point graduate to become head of the Quartermaster Department, but he served only ten months and left virtually no imprint upon it. Feeling that he owed his first allegiance to his native state, Johnston resigned his post when Virginia seceded from the Union. He cast his fortunes with the Confederacy, and became one of the South's most noted military leaders during the Civil War.

Joseph Eggelston Johnston was born at the family estate of "Cherry Grove" in Prince Edward County, Virginia, on February 3, 1807. His father, Peter Johnston, had left college to serve under Light Horse Harry Lee in the closing years of the Revolution, and later became a distinguished jurist. His mother was a niece of Patrick Henry.

At eighteen, he received an appointment to West Point where he met and cemented an enduring friendship with Robert E. Lee, a fellow classmate. He graduated in 1829, thirteenth in a class of forty-six.

Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Fourth Artillery, he served his at various military posts and participated in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and the Seminole War in 1836-37, serving as aide-de-camp on the staff of General Scott. After seven years he was promoted to first lieutenant, but, the prospect of active service and advancement seeming remote, he resigned from the Army and began a career as an engineer. However, the war against the Seminoles did not end. He volunteered for service, was assigned to duty as a topographical engineer, and regained his former rank as first lieutenant as a result of the skill he displayed in covering the retreat of an expedition routed by the Indians and in which he was twice wounded. His gallantry in the war won him the brevet rank of Captain on July 7, 1838. During the next eight years the War Department assigned him to various duties involving topographical engineering.

Four months after war was declared against Mexico, Johnston was promoted to the rank of captain on September 21, 1846. He accompanied General Scott to Mexico, where on April 9, 1847, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of a new organization of regulars, known as the Voltigeur Regiment. His gallant and meritorious conduct at the battles of Cerro Gordo and Chapultepee, in both of which he was again wounded, won for him within a period of five months the brevet ranks of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. After the war ended, his regiment was mustered out of service. This had the effect of retiring him from the Army in the summer of 1848. Unwilling to reward his untiring service in this manner, Congress passed a special act reinstating him in his former permanent rank of captain of topographical engineers, to date from September 21, 1846. For the next nine years he continued in topographical service in Texas. When Congress added two regiments of Cavalry to the Army in March 1855, Johnston was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 1st Cavalry, a rank he continued to hold until appointed Quartermaster General when he was 53 years of age.

The War Department selected Joseph E. Johnston as Quartermaster General and the Senate promptly confirmed the appointment, on June 28, 1860. As Quartermaster General he was raised to the rank of brigadier general. During his short occupancy of the post, Johnston's attention was devoted largely to routine matters. The theme of most of his letters to subordinates in the Department was the need for economy. He urged various assistant quartermasters, for example, to reduce the salaries of their clerks, to discharge some, and to decrease the number of buildings rented as warehouses and offices.

Following his resignation as Quartermaster General, Johnston accepted the rank Brigadier General offered by President Davis. It was then the highest rank in the Confederate army and he was assigned to the command of Harper's Ferry.

Opinions differ as to the quality of Johnston's generalship, but men who were his bitter enemies during the war admired and esteemed him. Next to Robert F. Lee, probably no man was more beloved in the South. He had the greatest gift a leader can have, magnetism. A simple man, caring nothing for display, he shared the fare and hardships of his men and protected their interests. Courageous to the point of recklessness, he "had the unfortunate knack of getting himself shot in any engagement," as General Scott had remarked even before the Civil War.

After the war he becoming president of a railroad, then of an express company, and finally agent of an insurance company. In 1877 he moved to Richmond and the Richmond district elected Johnston to the House of Representatives in 1878 where he served one term. At the end of his term in office, Johnston continued to reside in Washington, and was appointed Commissioner of Railroads in 1885 by President Grover Cleveland.

When his former foe, General Sherman, died early in 1891, Johnston served as a pall bearer as he had at the funerals of Grant and Sheridan. He was then 84 and unusually feeble. In the inclement weather, he contracted a cold, his strength gradually failed, and on March 21 he died of a heart attack. He was the last of the great leaders of the Civil War, both Federal and Confederate, with the exception of Beauregard. He was buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore.

This page was last updated on: November 30, 2020