By Elizabeth Hoole McArthur Dalton-Whitfield Civil War 150th Commission
Part II: The statue and the man
On Saturday at 10 a.m. the stately statue of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, located in downtown Dalton, will be rededicated.
For one hundred years — since 1912 — this impressive memorial to one of America’s finest generals has stood in a small park at the intersection of Crawford and Hamilton streets. Now, on its centennial anniversary, it will receive a special tribute once again.
On Oct. 24, 1912, the day the monument was first dedicated, The North Georgia Citizen, Dalton’s newspaper, declared, “It has been stated … that he (Johnston) was the most successful strategic general of the Civil War, on either side. If General Sherman were alive no doubt he would bear witness to this fact, for it was Johnston who gave him the most trouble in his march to the sea.”
A native of Virginia, Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807-1891) was a career army officer, trained as a civil engineer at West Point Military Academy. He was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, Seminole Wars and the American Civil War, serving as a brigadier general in the United States Army and, later, as a general in the Confederate States Army.
During the Civil War, Johnston commanded Confederate troops at First Manassas (Bull Run), defended the Confederate capital of Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862, participated in the Vicksburg and Atlanta Campaigns in 1863 and 1864, and commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas Campaign in 1865.
Dalton was considered a most fitting place to honor Johnston’s memory, for it was here he was appointed on Dec. 27, 1863, by Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, to command the Army of Tennessee, replacing Gen. Braxton Bragg.
During the winter of 1864 in Dalton, Johnston reorganized the dispirited army, strengthened discipline, and created a strong fighting machine. The Confederate Veteran praised Johnston’s effectiveness, declaring, “(His) discipline was so thorough as to electrify the troops; and no matter whether advancing or retreating in the great Georgia campaign, the same implicit confidence was maintained that ‘Old Joe’ knew the best thing.”
Departing Dalton May 12, 1864, Johnston’s Army of Tennessee withdrew toward Atlanta in the face of successive flanking maneuvers by Gen. William Sherman’s vastly superior Federal forces. Though in retreat, it was to Johnston’s credit that Sherman progressed as slowly as he did, a point stressed by The North Georgia Citizen on the occasion of the 1912 dedication: “With a little handful of men, comparatively speaking, he menaced and harassed General Sherman, who had a vast army, until it must have seemed to him impossible to ever make the distance from Dalton to Atlanta, taking him something like a hundred days to go a hundred miles.”
Despite his best efforts, however, Johnston could not stop Sherman’s war machine, and President Davis removed him from command just outside of Atlanta on July 17, 1864, replacing him with the more aggressive Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. It was a decision that became one of the most controversial of the war.
Less than a year later, after Gen. Robert E. Lee was placed in command of all Confederate forces, he called Johnston from retirement to command the Army of Tennessee once again, along with an assortment of other units. In March 1865, near Bentonville, N.C., Johnston gave his best, but, with scarcely 20,000 against Sherman’s 60,000, it was a futile, desperate and final fight.
Following Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Va., Johnston surrendered his Army of Tennessee and all Confederate forces in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, on April 26 near Durham, N.C. His was the largest share of Confederate troops still in the field, and essentially brought the long war to an end.
In planning for the construction of their Johnston monument, the Bryan M. Thomas Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, considered numerous handsome proposals before awarding the contract for the design to Miss Belle Kinney of Nashville and New York.
Construction of the granite base was granted to the Southern Granite and Marble Co. of Dalton, owned by Mr. H.P. Colvard, a decision that was most pleasing to local citizens.
The monument, including the base, stands 16 feet in height, is of the same width, and is 10 feet from front to the rear of the base. The figure was cast by Tiffany Studio of New York City in standard United States bronze, faces east, and stands at “parade rest.” The statue portrays Johnston with an expression of deep thought, with his sword resting at his feet.
Kinney explained her reason for adopting the pose: “General Johnston, in command of an army vastly inferior in numbers to General Sherman’s army, had to use his brains more than his sword; hence I made the sword subservient to the brain.”
The base of Georgia granite forms a semi-circle rising in three tiers, gradually diminishing in size until reaching the block on which the figure rests. Two large arms carved in laurel leaves extend from the rear of the monument outward and forward, joining the base. At the front of the stone on which the statue rests, beneath a laurel wreath, is inscribed: “Joseph E. Johnston 1807-1891, Brigadier General, U.S.A., General C.S.A. Given command of the Confederate forces at Dalton, in 1863, he directed the 79 days’ campaign to Atlanta, one of the most memorable in the annals of war. Erected by Bryan M. Thomas Chapter United Daughters of Confederacy, Dalton, Georgia, 1912.”
After the war, Johnston served briefly as president of the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad, then established a successful insurance company in Savannah. He later moved to Richmond, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1877, and was appointed U.S. Commissioner of Railroads in 1885 by President Grover Cleveland.
Johnston ultimately became close friends with both Ulysses Grant and William Sherman, both of whom he held in high esteem. When Sherman died in 1891, he served as honorary pallbearer at his funeral in New York City. It was a bitterly cold day, but Johnston, out of respect for his old friend, refused to don a hat. Because of the exposure he caught a serious cold and died of pneumonia a month later, on March 21, 1891.
For many years the Dalton monument to Johnston was his sole memorial. Then, during World War II, the United States Navy named a Liberty Ship (cargo vessel) in his honor, and in 2010 a statue was erected by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on private land near the Bentonville Battlefield in North Carolina.
The Dalton monument today is cared for and preserved by the Pvt. Drewry R. Smith Chapter, UDC, which is sponsoring the event Saturday. The public is invited to attend the ceremony honoring this distinguished veteran who played an important role in Dalton and Whitfield County’s history.
The program begins at 10 a.m. at the monument on Crawford Street, followed by a reception from 11 a.m. to noon at the Southern Railways Freight Depot.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton-Whitfield Civil War 150th Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or email@example.com.