Richard W. Johnson


Richard W. Johnson (he had no middle name) was born February 27, 1827, near Smithland, Kentucky, a hamlet at the confluence of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers, of parents who had recently removed from Virginia. His elder brother, who procured for him an appointment to West Point, was later a surgeon in the Confederate Army. Johnson was graduated from the Military Academy in 1849 in a class which furnished five generals to the Union and eight to the Confederacy. All of his antebellum service was on the western frontier, first with infantry and after 1855 with the 2nd Cavalry. In keeping with the policy of giving responsible commands to loyal officers from the border states, Johnson was made a brigadier general of volunteers on October 11, 1861. He was assigned a brigade of Alex. McD. McCook's division of the Army of the Ohio before the battle of Shiloh, but he missed the fighting itself because of illness. That summer (1862), while pursuing the rebel General John Hunt Morgan, whom he had vowed to "capture . . . and bring . . . back in a band-box," Johnson himself was defeated and forced to surrender by his numerically inferior adversary near Gallatin, Tennessee. Exchanged in December, he was given command of the 12th Division of the Army of the Cumberland and took part in the battles of Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga and the opening operations of the Atlanta campaign. On May 28, 1864, he was badly wounded at the battle of New Hope Church. Upon his recovery he was appointed chief of cavalry of the Military Division of the Mississippi, serving as such until October, after which he commanded a division under J. H. Wilson in the campaign against General John B. Hood which culminated in the battle of Nashville. For gallant and meritorious service he was awarded the brevet of major general in both the Regular and volunteer establishments. Retired as a major general in 1867 for disability from wounds received in battle, General Johnson had a distinguished postwar career as an educator and author. He was successively connected with the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota as professor of military science; he was the Democratic candidate for governor of Minnesota in 1881; and wrote a number of military manuals and treatises. He died in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 21, 1897, and was buried there in Oakland Cemetery.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.