Ohio born Bushrod Rust Johnson was a major general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Johnson commanded troops during many of the major battles in the Eastern and Western Theaters of the war.
Bushrod Rust Johnson was born in Belmont County, Ohio on October 7, 1817. Johnson and his family were Quakers and abolitionists who actively participated in the Underground Railroad. Despite his family's pacifist believes, Johnson secured an appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he was a classmate of future Union generals William T. Sherman and George Thomas. Johnson graduated from the academy in 1840, twenty-third in his class of forty-two cadets.
After graduating from West Point, Johnson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry and was sent to Florida, where he participated in the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842). Later, he also served in Kansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri. In 1844, Johnson was promoted to 1st lieutenant. Like many future Civil War officers, Johnson gained valuable combat experience in the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848). He served under General Zachary Taylor at the Battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey. He also served under General Winfield Scott as acting assistant commissary during the Vera Cruz campaign. While serving as a commissary officer, Johnson hatched a scheme to sell government property for his personal gain. When his plan was discovered, Johnson was forced to resign from the army in 1847.
With his army career ruined, Johnson obtained a teaching position at the Western Military Institute, in Georgetown, Kentucky in 1851. He eventually became headmaster and part owner of the school. In 1852, Johnson married Mary Hatch. One year later, the couple had a mentally and physically challenged son named Charles, who remained an invalid throughout his life. That same year, WMI was forced to close due to an epidemic that claimed the lives of two students. In 1854, Johnson relocated to Nashville and merged WMI with the University of Nashville. Bad luck followed him, however, as his wife died in 1858.
When the Civil War began, Johnson was commissioned as a colonel in the Provisional Army of Tennessee on June 28, 1861. One week later, he was commissioned as an engineer in the Confederate Army. Johnson was assigned to northern Tennessee, where he was instrumental in the construction of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. On January 24, 1862, Johnson was promoted to brigadier general. On February 7, he was placed in command of Fort Donelson until the arrival of Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow two days later. During the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11 to 16, 1862), Johnson led a successful assault on the Union right flank. When the fort fell to Federal forces, Johnson was captured but managed to escape.
A few weeks later, Johnson was placed in command of a brigade in the Army of Mississippi, consisting of the 17th, 23rd , 25th, 37th, and 44th Tennessee Infantry Regiments, and the Jefferson Artillery from Mississippi. While leading his brigade during the Battle of Shiloh (April 6, 1862 and April 7, 1862), Johnson was severely wounded by the concussion of an artillery shell.
After recovering from his injury, Johnson was assigned to the Army of Tennessee, serving under General Braxton Bragg. He led his brigade at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) and the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863). Johnson also participated in the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24 to July 3, 1863), during which Union Major General William S. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland drove Bragg's army out of middle Tennessee.
Johnson achieved his greatest military success at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19 to 20, 1863). Six days prior to the battle, Johnson was placed in command of a provisional division in the Left Wing of the Army of Tennessee. On the second day of fighting, Johnson's division spearheaded a Rebel assault that smashed through the Union right just as it was beginning to withdraw. The panic-stricken Yankees fled in disorder, creating a quarter-mile-wide gap in the federal lines. Johnson's men took hundreds of prisoners and captured nineteen guns, as well as a Federal store train.
After the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Johnson's provisional division was disbanded. Johnson was returned to command of his Tennessee brigade, which participated in General James Longstreet's unsuccessful Knoxville Campaign during the autumn of 1863. When Longstreet returned to the Eastern Theater in the spring of 1864, Johnson accompanied him. Placed in command of a division of the Army of Northern Virginia, Johnson served under General P.G.T. Beauregard during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign (May 1864). Cited for his performance at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff (May 15, 1864), Johnson was promoted to major general, effective May 21.
As the Army of the Potomac closed in on the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864, Johnson's division served in the trenches surrounding Petersburg, Virginia. On July 30, 1864, Federal troops detonated an underground mine beneath Johnson's section of the Rebel defenses. The explosion created a huge crater, as well as a temporary hole in the Confederate line. Following some immediate confusion, Johnson's men quickly recovered, killing and capturing hundreds of Northern soldiers while filling the gap in the Rebel lines. Despite the fact that the Federal scheme failed, Johnson's lackadaisical leadership during the Battle of the Crater earned him the displeasure of General Robert E. Lee.
When the Confederate defenses around Petersburg and Richmond began to crumble in 1865, Johnson led his division during the Rebel defeats at the Battle of White Oak Road (March 31, 1865) and the Battle of Five Forks (April 1, 1865). Five days later, Federal forces mauled the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Sailor's Creek (April 6, 1865), prompting General Robert E. Lee to exclaim, "My God! Has the army been dissolved?" The Rebel army suffered over 7,500 casualties, including the capture of nine generals. Johnson and several other Confederate generals who participated in the battle managed to save themselves. Displeased with Johnson's performance during the action, Lee relieved Johnson of his command on April 8, one day before Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Following the war, Johnson returned to Nashville and resumed his career in education. He and fellow Confederate General Kirby Smith secured a contract to operate Montgomery Bell Academy and the collegiate department of the University of Nashville. He became co-chancellor of the University of Nashville in 1870. Johnson's failing health, coupled with the university's financial problems, prompted him to retire to an Illinois farm in 1875. For the next five years, Johnson continued to care for his son. Johnson died on September 12, 1880 and was buried at Miles Station Cemetery in Macoupin County, Illinois. In 1975, his remains were reinterred next to the grave of his wife at the Old Nashville City Cemetery in Tennessee.
Johnson was one of six generals in the Confederate Army who were born in Ohio.
Cite this Entry
"Bushrod Rust Johnson," Ohio Civil War Central, 2020, Ohio Civil War Central. 13 Jul 2020 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=921>
"Bushrod Rust Johnson." (2020) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved July 13, 2020, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=921
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Cumberland
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Battle of Chickamauga
- Battle of Drewry's Bluff
- Battle of Fort Donelson
- Battle of Perryville
- Battle of Sailor's Creek
- Battle of Shiloh
- Battle of the Crater
- Battle of White Oak Road
- Braxton Bragg
- George H. Thomas
- James Longstreet
- Knoxville Campaign
- Mexican-American War
- P.G.T. Beauregard
- Robert E. Lee
- Tullahoma Campaign
- Ulysses S. Grant
- William T. Sherman