Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Albert Sidney Johnston
By William Preston Johnston (18311899)
[Born in Louisville, Ky., 1831. Died in Lexington, Va., 1899. The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston. 1878.]
MR. JOHNSTONS appearance at this period of his life is described as both commanding and attractive. In some respects the bust of Alexander Hamilton is the best extant likeness of hima resemblance very frequently remarked. His cheek-bones were rather high, and his nose somewhat irregular, which, with his clear, white-and-red complexion, gave him a very Scotch look. His chin was delicate and handsome, his teeth white and regular, and his mouth square and firm. In the portrait by Bush, taken about this time, his lips seem rather full; but, as he is best remembered, they were somewhat thin and very firmly set. Brown hair clustered over a noble forehead, and from under heavy brows his deep-set but clear, steady eyes looked straight at you with a regard kind and sincere, yet penetrating. With those eyes upon him, any man would have scrupled to tell a lie. In repose his eyes were as blue as the sky, but in excitement they flashed to a steel-gray, and exerted a wonderful power over men. He was six feet and an inch in height, weighing about 180 pounds, straight as an arrow, with broad, square shoulders and a massive chest. He was strong and active, but his endurance and vital power seemed the result rather of nervous than of muscular energy, and drew their exhaustless resources from the mind more than the body. His bearing was essentially military, and dignified rather than graceful; and his movements were prompt, but easy and firm. He was, indeed, in appearance a model for the soldier.
Sidney Johnstons skill in arms was but moderate, for, though his eye was quick and his hand steady, yet he lacked the dexterity that comes from predilection and practice. He was not only cautious himself in handling fire-arms, but often recommended the same carefulness to others, playfully quoting a saying of John Rowan, the dead-shot of Kentucky, Never point a pistol at a man unless you intend to shoot him. He was a graceful and excellent rider, and no man presented a grander or more martial appearance on horseback. It was remarked of him by Mr. Jefferson Davis, who saw him at the battle of Monterey, that in combat he had the most inspiring presence he ever saw.
Substantially the same remark was many times made by others. There were in his action a certain vigor and decision, in his manner a winning frankness and kindness, and in his whole thought and life a simplicity and directness, that were generally irresistible. His deference to and dignified sympathy with women, his tenderness to children, his reverence for old age, and his forbearance with every form of weakness, were genuine and unvaryinghabits as well as principles. A sensitive interest and the finest judgment were united in his intercourse with children. His indulgence seemed unlimited, and yet they rarely abused it. He observed toward them a careful respect; and many younger friends will remember the benign and ennobling influence of Albert Sidney Johnston on their lives .
He was gentle to women and children; tender to the weak and suffering, gracious to subordinates and dependents, just and magnanimous to equals and rivals, respectful to superiors, and tolerant to all men. Not envious, jealous, or suspicious, yet so high-strung was his spirit that he could ill-brook personal indignity or insult. Such was his self-respect, however, that he rarely had to check a want of respect in others. It has been seen with what patience and fortitude, indeed with what serenity, he bore private griefs and public contumely. His nature, his education, his philosophy, his religion, had so finely tempered his soul that at last he had in him no fear, except of doing wrong.
He had no love for and little need of money, and was generous and liberal in its use. In matters immaterial he was facile; in things of import, scrupulous and just; and his quick intelligence never failed to perceive the doubtful dividing line.
Naturally of a high, courageous, and resolute spirit, he found it difficult to swerve from a line of action he had marked out; and the more so, because his opinions were formed after deliberation. Yet, that his mental processes were rapid is seen by the decision with which he acted. He was not proof against the love of glory; but in him it was transmuted to a fine ambition to be and to do, not simply to seem. Results he left to take care of themselves, if only he could do his duty. All this came from his love of truth, which was with him a passion. He sought the truth, striving to know it, and to live up to it in greater and smaller things. Hence, though perceiving that success is the worlds test of merit, he could square his acts by another standard.
As a general, his tactics were skillful, and his strategy was bold and sagacious. In council, he was enterprising, yet wary; in assault, audacious, impetuous, and unrelenting; in disaster, tenacious, resourceful, and composed. While he knew and regarded all the details of his profession, his skill in handling large bodies of troops was remarkable; and he grasped with ease the broadest generalizations of war. Time will add to his reputation as a general. Above all, his life and character were self-contained, perfectly consistent, and completed in their rounded fullness.
He did many great and noble deeds, and won rank, power, and applause, without tarnish to his modesty and simplicity. He suffered much in mind, body, and estate, without repining; not only with patience, but in silence. Like some great tree, which finds in earth, and air, and storm, and sunshine, nourishment for its growth, he drew sweetness and strength from every element of Nature, and from every dispensation of Providence. He was a man to be loved, to be reverenced, and to be emulated.
General Johnston dared to say in the midst of immeasurable disasters: The test of merit in my profession, with the people, is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it right. Perhaps, with still wider scope, success is the test of merit in a human life. But, even measured by this hard rule, the most adverse criticism cannot pronounce his life a failure. Rejecting patronage, standing on merit alone, inflexible in right, and devoted to duty, a whole people regard him as the very pattern of a noble citizen, an able leader, a splendid soldier, a great general, and an upright man. Millions wept for him. The ablest and the best wrote for him the proud epitaph that on his arm rested the sinking fortunes of the state. Who will, then, dare to say he did not achieve success?