The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army: Volume 1: Virginia and Mississippi, 1861-1863

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Richard M. McMurry
Pub Date:
January 2023
Hardcover, 6 x 9
6 maps, 10 images, 384 pp.
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Click HERE to read the full Front Matter and Parts I and II of Chapter 1.

About the Book

Joseph Eggleston Johnston was one of the original five full Confederate generals. He graduated West Point in the same 1829 class as Robert E. Lee and served in the War with Mexico, the Seminole Wars in Florida, and in Texas and Kansas. By 1860 Johnston was widely looked upon as one of America’s finest military officers. During the Civil War he commanded armies in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas and served as commander of the entire Western Theater during a critical period of the war.

Johnston’s contributions to the war effort, however, remain a lightning rod of controversy. In The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston, Richard M. McMurry argues persuasively that the Confederacy’s most lethal enemy was the toxic dissension within the top echelons of its high command. The discord between General Johnston and President Jefferson Davis (and others), which began early in the conflict and only worsened as the months passed, routinely prevented the cooperation and coordination the South needed on the battlefield if it was going to achieve its independence. The result was one failed campaign after another, all of which cumulatively doomed the Southern Confederacy.

McMurry’s study is not a traditional military biography but a lively and opinionated conversation about major campaigns and battles, strategic goals and accomplishments, and how these men and their decision-making and leadership abilities directly impacted the war effort. Personalities, argues McMurry, win and lose wars, and the military and political leaders who form the focal point of this study could not have been more different (and in the case of Davis and Johnston, more at odds) when it came to making the important and timely decisions necessary to wage the war effectively.

The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston represents a lifetime of study and contemplation that captures Johnston in a way that has never been accomplished. It sheds fresh light on old controversies and compels readers to think about major wartime events in unique and compelling ways. This first installment begins just before the Civil War and ends on the eve of Johnston taking command of the Army of Tennessee in North Georgia.

Here, finally, is the definitive study of how qualities of character played an oversized role in determining the outcome of the Civil War.

Advance Praise

“This is the book Richard McMurry was born to write. For 50 years, he has been one of the most incisive commentators on the Civil War in the Western Theater and the most forthright. In taking on the Confederacy’s most controversial commander, McMurry demonstrates his holistic grasp of a major commander’s duties, from logistics and supply to command relationships and a general’s responsibilities—and limitations—in a constitutional democracy. If the Confederacy ever had a chance of winning its independence, Joseph E. Johnston probably did more than any other man in uniform to lose it, and McMurry gives overwhelming evidence of why. This is a milestone Civil War biography.”— William C. Davis, author of The Whartons’ War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton & Anne Radford Wharton, 1863–1865

“In this meticulously researched and thought-provoking study, McMurry argues that the most dangerous enemy the Confederacy faced was not the Federal army, but the discord within its own military high command. Central to this allegation is General Joseph E. Johnston, who led armies in both the Eastern and Western theaters. His relationship with Jefferson Davis, among others, was poisonous to any chance of a Confederate victory. In Volume I of a two-volume set, covering the years 1861–1863, McMurry provides convincing evidence that suggests this volatile situation had a great deal to do with dooming the Confederacy to failure.” — Dr. Anne J. Bailey, author of The Chessboard of War: Sherman and Hood in the Autumn Campaigns of 1864

“McMurry’s conversational account of Joe Johnston and his role in the Civil War is built on decades of study and contemplation. Until now, his complexities and enigmas have never been fully explored or deeply explained even though the general was one of the war’s most significant uniformed Confederates, second perhaps only to Robert E. Lee in influence and importance to the war’s ultimate outcome. The Civil Wars of General Joseph E. Johnston will surely be viewed as the definitive book on the subject, and Richard McMurry’s magnum opus.” — David A. Powell, author of the award-winning trilogy on The Chickamauga Campaign

“It is as though Richard McMurry spent years personally interviewing General Joseph E. Johnston, partly as critical historian and partly as understanding friend, and he is now emerging to share with all of us the results of his interaction. You may know the facts of Johnston’s life, but you won’t know Johnston until you read McMurry. This work stands as a stunning lifetime achievement from one of America’s foremost Civil War historians.” — Larry J. Daniel, author of Conquered: Why the Army of Tennessee Failed

“Richard McMurry is a national treasure. His prose keeps us turning pages, and his analysis makes us see the conflict of the 1860s in ways we had never envisioned before. He is so convincing, we feel as though we must always have known it was true.” — Steven E. Woodworth, author of Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865

"Thought-provoking and debatable . . . learned and judicious." -- Jeffry Wert, Civil War News




Richard M. McMurry earned his Ph.D. at Emory University in Atlanta studying under Bell Wiley and was a professor of history at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including the award-winning John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence (1982), Two Great Rebel Armies: An Essay in Confederate Military History (1989), and Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy (2000). He makes his home in Georgia outside Atlanta.