BY MICHAEL AUBRECHTApril
The Life and Wars of General Ed Johnson
Gregg S. Clemmer
The Hearthside Publishing Company
HERE in the Fredericks- burg area, otherwise known as "The Crossroads of
the Civil War," it's pretty hard not to be aware of the battlefield
of such great Virginians as Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson and the
flamboyant J.E.B. Stuart. One can hardly drive anywhere in our region
passing a monument or roadside marker testifying to the heritage of
Confederate commanders. That said, for every one of our local
are dozens of others whose stories have fallen through the cracks of
Civil War history. One such individual is Gen. Edward Johnson, also
known as "Old
a Jackson biographer, I was casually aware of Johnson's service to the
States of America, but I must admit that I knew virtually nothing about
rebel. Apparently, I am not alone in my ignorance and this is the
author Gregg S. Clemmer's monumental effort entitled "Old Alleghany: The
Life and Wars of General Ed Johnson."
several of our more highly regarded historians, including Harry Pfanz
Robertson, have briefly glanced into the life of Gen. Johnson, many
filed his story in the "Who?" category of Civil War history. The lack
of literary preservation on Johnson's behalf is understandable, as the
died during the Reconstruction period, leaving behind no family.
have people like Clemmer to maintain the memories of these forgotten
himself, is fully aware of this dilemma and addresses it immediately
front panel of his book jacket. In fact, the first words a potential
are "Who the H#** was Old Alleghany?" in a large, bold typeface. I'm
not exactly sure if this was an intentional marketing ploy, but the
confronts the reader and beckons him to enter the life and times of this
stated, Edward Johnson was the descendant of a prosperous Virginia
resided on an estate christened Salisbury in Chesterfield County. In
lineage can be traced back to a much more famous Virginian named Thomas
Edward's family later moved to Kentucky. After attending Kenyon College
School in Ohio, he was awarded an appointment to the U.S. Military
1833. Like many of his peers and some of his superiors, Cadet Johnson
academically at West Point and required five years to complete his
receiving his commission, Johnson was assigned as a second lieutenant in
Infantry and served in the Seminole Wars in Florida, as well as the
After the outbreak of the War Between the States, he followed the
path of most Virginia officers, choosing duty to his state over that to
the popular notion that Johnson was assigned a command within the ranks
Army of the Valley, he was actually given control of the fledgling Army
Northwest. It was only later, in 1862, that he aligned his forces with
by most of his superiors and subordinates, Johnson's career flourished
was injured during Stonewall's famous Valley Campaign at the battle at
This interruption of service had a huge impact on the general's future
as his extensive recovery time drastically limited his opportunities for
or advancement. Nobody knows for sure how high Johnson would have risen
echelons of Confederate legends, if not for this untimely wounding.
returned a year later to serve under Gen. Ewell's division at
was also at the Wilderness and shortly thereafter he was captured in
After an imprisonment at Fort Delaware, Johnson was released, only to be
again in Nashville and held as a POW in Boston.
the surrender at Appomattox, Johnson returned to Virginia's Chesterfield
and took up farming. He died in March of 1873 and was buried in
Hollywood Cemetery. Ironically, the exact location of Johnson's grave
lost and no one knows for sure where he lies.
of course, is the short version. For the long one, "Old Alleghany"
the reader with an encyclopedic study of the general from the beginning
end--and everything in between. At over 700 pages, this book can be
to even the most voracious of readers, but the author's talents as a
and wordsmith shine through the numerous pages. Each chapter flows very
from one to the next, and the narrative style paints an intimate
portrait of a
real "soldier's soldier."
Clemmer is a native Virginian who now resides in Maryland and also has
other Civil War books, including "Valor In Gray: The Recipients of the
Medal of Honor."
Alleghany" is his fourth effort and, in defense of the size, Clemmer
an argument in the introduction with which I cannot disagree. He states
extensive, his exhaustive study of Johnson does not follow the mold of
military biography. He is referring to the standard in which a writer
pages on the first 25 years of the subject's life; then several hundred
his exploits during the war; only to wrap it up with a "token" postwar
Clemmer leaves no stone unturned, and I must applaud his efforts for
time to dig through the National Archives and a few other caches of
personal letters to compile a most well-rounded portrayal. I also would
mention the inclusion of maps, photos and illustrations that provide
breaks and complement the editorial pages of the text.
a validation of his efforts, Clemmer's book received the 2005 Douglas
Freeman History Award, a citation that, in my opinion, is well deserved.
this is one of the longest studies that I have ever read on a single
but it is also one of the most thoroughly composed biographies that I
seen--in any genre.
you are short on time or prefer to read a conservative synopsis or
"Old Alleghany" is not the book for you. However, if you enjoy in-depth
studies that encompass the entire lives of great military commanders,
and off the battlefield, then "The Life and Wars of General Ed Johnson"
is just the biography you've been waiting for.
AUBRECHT of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, is the author of "Onward
Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier:
The Spiritual Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart."
his Web site at www.angelfire.com/ny5/pinstripepress.
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