Share This Article


EDITED BY CHARLES F. COONEYNotes on the Death of Albert Sidney Johnston

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh a perplexing question arose and has continued to be asked. The death of General Albert Sidney Johnston on the first day of that fight created a void in the leadership of the Confederate armies in the Trans-Mississippi area; would the course of the Civil War have changed had Johnston lived beyond April 6, 1862? His loss was no less tragic than Peabody’s.

More immediate reactions to General Johnston’s death are provided in the following extracts from then Colonel William Preston’s pocket notebook. The first item is a letter scribbled in Preston’s notebook by Isham G. Harris, a former Governor of Tennessee and a volunteer aid on General Johnston’s Staff. Harris was right next to the general when he was wounded.

Colonel Preston’s diary entries pick up the story of Johnston’s demise. Colonel (later Major General) Preston also served on Johnston’s staff, and was, as well, the general’s brother-in-law.

Colonel Preston’s notebook forms part of the special collection of Records of the Adjutant General’s Office in the Custody of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


Shilough Battlefield
Apl 6th 1862
Col Wm Preston

Dear Sir

In answer to your verbal inquiry as to the circumstances surrounding Genl. Albert Sidney Johnston immediately preceding his fall. As you are aware, I was acting as volunteer aid to Genl Johnston on the field.

He was upon the right wing where the enemy being strongly posted made an obstinate stand. As you remember, our troops, after a long and desperate struggle wavered for a moment when Genl Johnston rushed in front of the line of battle, rallied the troops ordered and led the charge. The enemy fell back between a fourth & one half mile, when the firing became very heavy on each side. Our advanced position exposed our troops to a raking fire of a battery of the enemy on our left. The last order the Genl gave was to direct me to “order Col Statham of Mississippi to charge that battery.” I immediately delivered the order and rode back to the side of the Genl, said to him “Genl your order is delivered and being executed” just at this moment the Genl sank down in his saddle leaning over to the left I instantly put my left arm around him pulling him to me saying “Genl are you wounded?” He said “yes and I fear seriously.” Capt Wickham being on his left & I upon his right we held him upon his horse until we guided his horse from the crest of the hill to the ravine, where we lifted him from his horse, laid him upon the ground. I took his head in my lap. He never spoke after answering my question though continued to breathe for 25 or 30 minutes. Immediately after dismounting the Genl Capt Wickham sent for the surgeon. I sent a soldier to bring any staff officers he could find to me. [After] some 10 or 15 minutes yourself and other members of the staff arrived. As to what occured after this time you are as familiar as myself.

The country will mourn his death as a national calamity.

Isham G. Harris

[Extracts from Colonel Preston’s entries in his notebook]
[April 6, 1862]
2.30 P.M. Johnston fell at the head of Bowens & Breckinridge’s brigades after being wounded with a shell, & his horse wounded, he was shot in the ravine. . . . I found him in the arms of Gov Harris, wounded as I thought, but he did not recognize me, as he was dying & swallowing a little spirits, I thot he would revive but Govr Harris remarked it was all over. I saw it was so & wrote a note to Genl. Beauregard, instantly informing him. . . .

from 3 to 5 Took Genl. Johnston’s dead body to headquarters, and after arranging it, left it in charge of Capt William Throckmorton & returned to Genl. Beauregards Head Qrs.