New book looks at Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston

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Feb. 27—Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis did not communicate well with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, according to author and historian Richard McMurry. And Johnston did not communicate well with Davis or with his subordinates. That dissension hurt the South's efforts to wage war during a crucial period of the Civil War, McMurry says.

McMurry's new book "The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston: Confederate States Army — Volume I: Virginia and Mississippi, 1861 — 1863" looks at the discord between the men and the lack of trust and communication each had with other Confederate generals.

Johnston has long been celebrated in Dalton because he commanded the Army of Tennessee when it spent the winter of 1863-64 in Dalton. A statue of Johnston is now at the historic Huff House, which was Johnston's headquarters, after being downtown for some 108 years. McMurry's book, which is the first of a two-part series, looks at the period before Johnston came to Dalton.

"I grew up studying the Civil War in Georgia, the Atlanta-Decatur area," McMurry, who spoke at the recent Civil War show in Dalton about the men, said. "My mother was very interested in it and got me interested in it. You ask me when I started on this book, I have no idea. In a sense, I've been working on it my whole life."

McMurry, who received a doctorate in history from Emory University and was a professor of history at Valdosta State College (now University) and North Carolina State University, has written four previous books on the Civil War and edited "three or four others." He has lived in Dalton for about 18 years.

"Johnston is the central figure here in Georgia, on the Confederate side, in 1864, and I make the argument he is the central figure in Confederate military history, although Robert E. Lee was more famous," he said.

Davis placed Johnston in command of the Army of Northern Virginia early in the war. Johnston was seriously wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines in May 1862 and replaced by Lee.

What would have happened if Johnston had not been wounded?

"Probably the Confederacy would have lost the war in the summer of 1862," McMurry said.

Johnston claimed to be the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to join the Confederacy.

"He said he was. He may have actually thought he was," McMurry said. "I'm not sure about that. I've come not to trust him."

He said that distinction actually goes to Georgia's David Emanuel Twiggs. Twiggs was 71 and in poor health when the war began, and he resigned his commission in the Confederate army after just a few months.

"There was a very complicated system of rank in the U.S. Army," McMurry said. "You could hold rank in three different categories depending on what you were doing. You could hold two of them simultaneously, but you could only be active in one. Johnston was a staff officer in the U.S. Army. He did not command troops. When he went to the Confederate army, he commanded troops, and he reverted from his staff rank to his command rank. That put him fourth in rank in the Confederate army."

That perceived slight led to ill feelings by Johnston for Davis.

"He claimed Davis had illegally deprived him of top rank," McMurry said. "But Davis appears to have been right."

"Johnston had recuperated from his wounds by November 1862.

"Davis put him in command of the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, which was actually a more important command. But it was not as publicized or prestigious," McMurry said.

How did he do in that command?

"Terrible," said McMurry. "He was in a bad situation to begin with, and he made it worse."

"He would not take command. He would make suggestions. He would not say 'Do this,'" McMurry said. "His chief subordinate, Gen. John Pemberton, would not take risks. He just sat in a defensive position (in Vicksburg, Mississippi) and when you do that, the enemy is just going to go around you, which is what happened to Johnston in Georgia in 1864."

McMurry said Johnston was an excellent officer at lower ranks.

"He was brave almost beyond understanding," he said. "But at higher ranks he did not like responsibility. He did not want to take risks. Confederate generals had to take risks. When you are outnumbered like they were, you have to take risks. If you just sit there, eventually the other army will find your weakness."

McMurry said the years of researching and writing the book "has changed my opinion of him drastically."

"As I said, I grew up in Atlanta, and he had a high reputation in Atlanta," McMurry said. "But as I came to learn more of him, I began to think less and less of him."

As a general or as a man?

"Both," he said. "I question the truthfulness of many things he wrote and said, and as a general, he made so many mistakes. He just got too high. He may have done well in command of 1,000 men. But when you put him in charge of 50,000 or 60,000 men he couldn't deal with the responsibility."

The book is available in bookstores and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.