Madness Rules the Hour: Southern Press Reaction to Joe Johnston's Removal in July 1864

 “It may be true, as the clerks who reflect the opinions entertained in high official circles declare, that the day for old fogies like Lee, Beauregard, and Johnston is past, and the time has come for young men of the Dick Taylor, Hoke, and Hood stamp to lead our armies to Napoleonic victories.” ~ Richmond Whig


A few days ago, on the Atlanta Campaign History and Discussion Group, a lively debate developed over the merits of the removal of General Joseph E. Johnston from command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864. The discussion made me wonder what the Southern press thought of this seminal event in the history of the war in the western theater, so I’ve assembled this quick survey showcasing the diversity of editorial opinion throughout the South regarding Johnston’s removal and Hood’s promotion.


General Joseph Eggleston Johnston

 “The present perilous state of affairs has led us to musing in the trustful hope that all is not bad as seems so. The questions we hear most frequently asked on the streets today is will Atlanta fall into the hands of the enemy? Will General Johnston give up the city without a fight? Will Sherman force him to retire again by flanking? However, all these may be answered, we think that unless the victory for us is certain, General Johnston should not, and we are satisfied will not, hesitate to march out of from Atlanta and permit Sherman to march in. And if he should do so, he has done nothing new, nothing unwarranted by true military genius and the history of war, nothing assuredly which would force the conclusion that Governor Brown would leave on the minds of the people that the state has been given up by President Davis.”

~originally published in the Augusta Constitutionalist (Georgia), reprinted in Montgomery Daily Mail (Alabama), July 20, 1864, pg. 2


“Removal of Gen. Johnston- The news in another column will be read with profound regret by every lover of his country. Madness rules the hour at Richmond. The President in an infatuated moment has relieved from the command of our great Western army the gallant and almost inspired chieftain on whose genius, skill, and courage are centered mainly our hopes of deliverance from a cruel foe. Worse than all by a freak of executive caprice a junior lieutenant general has been assigned to the command of the army. Enjoying to an unlimited degree the confidence and enthusiastic devotion of the people and the soldiers, it appears the president displaced General Johnston and put his frenzied whim in the scale against the judgement and instincts of the entire nation. May we all hope and pray that the kind Providence that has so far protected us from the infatuated course of our President may still guide us to a safe escape from this last, worst, and most criminal blunder.” ~ Montgomery Daily Mail (Alabama), July 21, 1864, pg. 1


“The announcement received by telegraph from Atlanta that General Johnston has been relieved and General Hood put in command of the Army of Tennessee, though unexpected by the general public, was not altogether unlooked for by those who had an insight into the condemnation of General Johnston’s retrograde movements by the administration. It is not our purpose to enter into the merits of this matter and endeavor to cast the blame on either party; it is a grave subject, and even if we were in possession of a full and impartial statement of the facts, it might be improper amidst the perils  which surround us to weaken ourselves by disputes which can only be settled justly to the reputations of all concerned by future historians. We think it due to General Johnston to state that the confidence of both the army and the people has remained unshaken in him since his first falling back at Dalton until this time. The confidence of the public has been sustained even to his last movement behind the Chattahoochee by the hope that there was some position between his army and Atlanta where he would turn and whip his pursuers. It is not now known outside of official circles that he had determined to abandon Atlanta without a fight, but the strong presumption is that he had, and that it was for this reason a new successor has been selected whose reputation for ready and vigorous fighting will constitute a brilliant page in the history of the war. General Hood has never before had charge of so large an army as is now in hand, and if he displays equal capacity in commanding an army as a corps, it may not be many days before we shall have the pleasure of chronicling a glorious victory over the boastful enemy that has so long threatened the heart of the Confederacy.” ~ Montgomery Advertiser (Alabama), July 21, 1864, pg. 1


“The dissatisfaction consequent upon the dismissal of this renowned and beloved chieftain from the army in Georgia is too deeply felt by our people not to find sympathy in the chosen vehicles of their sentiments, the newspapers. We do not denounce the unlooked-for shock given the army and people by the War Department, but we may be permitted to add a word towards mitigating the bitterness of that cup which has been thrust to the lips of the nation through the apparent caprice of an executive whose good pleasure overrides the judgment and affections of his subjects who are but automatons in the conduct of a war which is to eventuate in their freedom or slavery. Surely we may speak in sorrow if not in anger. We have been touched in a tender place for one of those whom we loved most is victimized.

General Johnston took the army when it was but the skeleton of the mighty thing it had been; he went to work and made it the grandest that ever stood upon this continent. His men loved him with such ardor that they deemed him invincible. They fought under him with a devotion and heroism that thrilled and cheered the great heart of the Confederacy. General Johnston’s great sin is the preservation of the army intact.

General Hood is a veteran full of scars and stands high in the affections of the army and the people. We dare believe that the triumph which awaited General Johnston will be assured to him. At all events, he deserves our confidence and it should be cheerfully given him. We have no apprehension. God almighty is for us so surely as our cause is just, and it should be borne in mind that He, after all, is the great leader upon whom alone we should rely.” ~Daily Selma Reporter (Alabama), July 22, 1864, pg. 1


General John Bell Hood

“The country has been taken by surprise by the supersedure of General Johnston with General Hood and some of our friends are somewhat disposed to render themselves supremely ridiculous by inveighing against the act, of the causes of which they knew absolutely nothing. They affect to believe that the country is ruined and everything must now drift loosely along. We caution persons pursuing a course which is calculated to get up a panic, to be on their guard, or they may repeat their folly and are in great danger of having their motives very much misconstrued. We know that General Johnston enjoys the love and confidence of the army and we believe deservedly. We believe him to be able to accomplish as much as any other man of what he undertakes. But his policy has been doubted by many and we presume it was upon this policy that the President and himself have differed so widely as to necessitate a change. The policy of the campaign is as important to a successful issue as the good execution of plans. It is the undoubted right of the President as commander-in-chief to regulate that policy and we believe him competent to the task.” ~The Daily Chattanooga Rebel (Griffin, Georgia), July 20, 1864, pg. 1


“The news from Atlanta is not encouraging. We are not disposed to find fault with Mr. Davis for his removal of General Johnston, but it is evident that the old “Pet,” the hero of a hundred defeats, has had something to do with this change. Bragg visits Atlanta and Johnston is removed. When Johnston visits Bragg, under similar circumstances when in command of the same army, Johnston advised the retention of Bragg in command. Misery loves company. Bragg wanted a scapegoat upon which his past actions might rest, that his own shortcomings might be forgotten. We trust it may prove otherwise but we fear the change will prove disastrous and unfortunate. Hood is a splendid corps commander, but no military man will hold that he can handle an army with Johnston. Why not appoint an officer like Longstreet, or where is Beauregard? We have no right to complain of the arrangement, however. We are not a competent judge, but we take the liberty of expressing an opinion. Our faith has not been shaken in Johnston. He is one of our greatest generals and we believe he would eventually have annihilated Sherman’s army if left to himself.” ~The Weekly Intelligencer (Fayetteville, North Carolina), July 26, 1864, pg. 4


“The intelligence which will affect our readers most anxiously is the removal by the government of General Johnston from the army of upper Georgia and the appointment of General Hood in his stead. We know nothing officially of the reasons of the government for this step; but the late conduct of this army by General Johnston we suppose is the cause of his removal. The government thinks that General Johnston has had sufficient troops to have attacked the enemy. General Johnston thinks that he has not had them, and hence his continual policy of retreating before the enemy, doubtless asking for and expecting reinforcements to prevent flanking operations. We frankly confess that we have had great confidence in General Johnston and therefore fear that his strategic movements have been inevitable under the circumstances in which he has been placed. Past events also seem to justify this fear.

Even if matters are as we suppose them to be, they are not irretrievable; for having wrought his will upon General Johnston, the President may now be disposed to cooperate heartily with the new appointee. May we not hope that reinforcements refused to General Johnston may be granted to General Hood, and that General Hood may be enabled to drive back our foes? S.D. Lee, Forrest, and Morgan may be pushed to the rear of Sherman. The raid on Maryland being at an end, why should not the troops that made it be sent to General Hood? Why should not Kirby Smith’s forces be brought over the Mississippi also? General Hood is untried in the independent command of a large army. That he is a brave and dashing officer, we all know, and that he may prove adequate to the great command entrusted to him is the fervent aspiration of us all.” ~ Charleston Mercury (South Carolina), July 20, 1864, pg. 1


President Jefferson Davis surrounded by several of his most senior generals. From left to right: A.P. Hill, John Bell Hood, Davis, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas J. Jackson, Robert E. Lee, James P. Longstreet, Joseph E. Johnston, and Pierre G.T. Beauregard. It is interesting that this post-war CDV depicts Johnston and Beauregard the furthest away from Davis; both men had enormous difficulties with Davis during the war and their collective inability to forge a productive command relationship helped doom the Confederacy. 

“General Hood’s appointment plainly indicates to us that Atlanta is to be defended at every hazard and to the last extremity. If there was to be any more retreating, surely General Johnston would have been retained as commander of the Army of the West as in this particular line of military strategy he is acknowledged on all sides to be without a rival. General Hood’s promotion to the command of the army in Georgia excites much surprise. Few are willing to believe that the appointment is permanent. When and where has Hood displayed the capacity to command one of the largest armies in the Confederacy and to conduct a campaign on which the salvation of the cause in a great measure depends? The secret of this appointment is soon told. Our authorities are diseased in mind, and the craziest of their dreams is the fancied possession of an intuitive knowledge of men, especially military men. The success of the cause is subservient to the gratification of personal feelings, or else an army like that at Atlanta would not be entrusted to an untried general made for the occasion. It is known, too, that Hood alone of Johnston’s lieutenants has been, from the beginning, opposed to the retrograde movement from Dalton. A new policy having been adopted, it was perhaps proper to find a commander whose views accorded with that policy. Hence Hardee was overslaughed.


Hood’s abilities may be adequate to the task assigned him. We trust so. He may possess the confidence of the army to a greater degree than Johnston. We doubt it. But the case does not admit of experiments. Too much is at stake. It may be true, as the clerks who reflect the opinions entertained in high official circles declare, that the day for old fogies like Lee, Beauregard, and Johnston is past, and the time has come for young men of the Dick Taylor, Hoke, and Hood stamp to lead our armies to Napoleonic victories. Nevertheless, we hold to the belief that the situation in Georgia does not demand rash experiments, but on the contrary, calls for an officer of proved ability of the first order. Such as officer would not be hard to find near Petersburg if a malignant jealousy outside the bottomless could be quenched by the love of country. ” ~ Richmond Whig (Virginia), July 20, 1864, pg. 2


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