Commemorating Joseph Johnston In His Final Hour

A statue of Confederate General Joseph Johnston was dedicated today on private land as part of the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville.  The Smithfield Light Infantry, a local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, asked the property owner to donate land for the memorial and launched a private fundraising effort to pay the $100,000 cost of the statue.  One of my readers was kind enough to share this photograph, which he took at the dedication.

Can someone tell me what Johnston is supposed to be pointing to?  Have some fun with it.

The statue depicts Johnston with his left arm raised. It’s a call for his troops to hold the line against Yankee forces, Booker said. “And,” he added, “to hold the line against political correctness.”  Political correctness, in Booker’s view, has recast Confederate symbols and distorted history. “These days, political correctness means a lot of things aren’t mentioned or aren’t defended in the proper way,” he said. “But that will not happen in this case, I assure you.” Booker pointed out that the plaque at the foot of the statue did not require anyone’s approval. It reads: “Defender of the Southland to the End.”John M. Booker, Lt. Commander, Smithfield Light Infantry, SCV

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37 comments… add one
  • Jerome Spencer Feb 14, 2013 @ 10:30

    Well said, Walter Ring. Johnston was a distant relative of mine via my paternal grandmother (a Johnston).

    One must remember that Johnston had no command in early 1865. Davis had removed him before Atlanta and left Hood sacrifice the bulk of the Army of Tennessee in hopes of some sort of victory. Lee in Feb. 1865 asked Johnston to resume command. Here are Uncle Joe’s own words from his book “Johnston’s Narrative”.

    When Lee requested Johnston (living in Lincolnton, NC) on Feb 23, 1865 to assume command, once again, of the Army of Tennessee, Johnston had the following to say:
    “I therefore accepted the commnand, confident of the same loyal and cordial suppport from that distinguuished officer, in the final operations of the war, that he had given me at its commencement. This was done with a full concsciousness on my part, however, that we could have no other object, in continuing the war, than to obtain fair terms of peace; for the Southern cause must have appeared hopeless then, to all intelligent and dispassionate Southern men. I therefore resumed the duties of my military grade with no hope beyond that of contributing to obtain peace on such conditions as, under the circumstances, ought to satisfy the Southern people and their Government.”

    He felt the war was lost and peace should be sought.
    Many years after the war, he had maintained friendship with Sherman and attended Sherman’s funeral. Out of respect, he stood in the rain with no hat and some days later contracted pneumonia and died. A gentleman and soldier to the end.

  • FRANCESCO May 12, 2012 @ 11:42


    I need to know if you prefer, as a strategist, General Johnston or General Hood and why?



  • FRANCESCO May 11, 2012 @ 3:00

    Hi Friends!

    Why General JEJohnston them today is much criticized for the campaign of Vicksburg and Atlanta.

    Thanks for your answers.

    Francesco from Italy


    (Sorry for my English)

  • Walter Ring Feb 15, 2011 @ 10:08

    I could kick myself for just now finding out about this statue of Joe Johnston, or “Uncle Joe” as his men affectionately called him. Although I personally believe Robert E. Lee was a far better commanding general than Johnston in all aspects save defensive strategy (especially when teamed up with the mighty “Stonewall Jackson”), Johnston may have had the right idea for the South from the start: keep patiently retreating in the face of an enemy that is far superior in manpower and war material; hit the enemy when he gets impatient and puts himself in a bad position; and do NOT get trapped in a siege. Do this long enough and the North may have gotten sick of the war and let the South go in peace. It might, and I stress might, have worked. Johnston was loved by his men wherever he served. He was NOT loved by Jefferson Davis, which proves the old adage it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. Joe Johnston will always be one of my favorite generals no matter what his critics say about him. He has been constantly underrated since before the war ended and it is high time he got the recognition he deserves. Of course he had his faults but who doesn’t?

    BTW, all these smart aleck comments are okay because I consider the source of them-the maturity level of those arrayed against us is really amazing. Having a little fun at our expense is fine, but when we hit back I hope y’all don’t start crying “racism” and such !!!

    Southern Solidarity.

  • John Buchanan Mar 23, 2010 @ 10:32

    Perhaps it caotures the moment in the battle when he was getting ready to unleash the newest diabolical weapon in the Confeerate arsenal and telling his ADC….”Pull my finger!”

  • cwlivinghistory Mar 23, 2010 @ 9:22

    Perhaps he’s saying to a young, brave rebel soldier…
    “Son, put your dang hat on, do you want to catch your death?!”

    • Margaret D. Blough May 12, 2012 @ 5:06

      Good point. What do they think the 84 year old “Defender of the Southland to the End” was doing serving as a pallbearer at Gen. Sherman’s funeral, making sure that Sherman was dead?!?!?

  • Lee White Mar 22, 2010 @ 17:41

    He is pointing to the other statue of Johnston, in Dalton, GA, and bemoaning how that one actually looks like him and not a reenactor trying to be him.

  • TF Smith Mar 22, 2010 @ 17:35

    That’s supposed to be Joe Johnston? And it cost $100K? Someobody got rooked…

    He looks more like Col. Sanders….

    “Original or extra crispy, ma’am?”

  • JE Mar 22, 2010 @ 12:37

    This statue no doubt commemorates when Johnston rallied his men and said “Look…there stands Davis in women's clothing! Rally around your President!”

  • heidic Mar 22, 2010 @ 8:20

    Why do we need a statue of Joe Johnston? And just a question I’m proposing to the bloggers…has any controversy come from this statue yet (other than that it’s ugly and vague)?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 22, 2010 @ 8:23

      I haven’t heard of anything but you could easily find out by doing a Google News search.

  • Bubba Mar 21, 2010 @ 17:14

    Nice statue ; But I wonder if everything the SCV does over the next 5 years will be made fun of. Regardless I wonder myself what in the heck he is pointing at …. may be it is the local BBQ Shack.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 22, 2010 @ 9:35

      I sure hope that we don't end up making fun of everything they do. I agree with one commenter who suggested that the money would have been better spent on battlefield preservation. Why we need a statue of Joseph Johnston is beyond me. Read the post for an explanation of what he is pointing to.

    • robertwelch Mar 22, 2010 @ 7:35

      He’s actually pointing in horror to the use of mustard in Carolina-style barbecue.

  • Timothy Orr Mar 21, 2010 @ 19:00

    No! No! No! You're all wrong. The statue is depicting a famous scene when a Union soldier from the 10th Illinois attempted to capture Johnston at his headquarters. The Union soldier stuck his Henry repeating rifle in Johnston's face and called on him to surrender. But Johnston gamely placed his index finger in the muzzle of the Union soldier's rifle. A bolt of lightning shot forth from Johnston's extended digit, exploded the infernal Yankee weapon like a banana peel, and sent its cartridges careening backwards into the advancing Union column, killing twelve bluecoats, halting Mower's attack (as referred to by Harry Smeltzer), and allowing Johnston a chance to escape. . . . I think this account is in one of Shelby Foote's narratives . . . or maybe not . . . my memory is foggy.

  • Ken Noe Mar 21, 2010 @ 13:13

    C'mon, it's Joe Johnston. He's pointing the finger of blame at Hood or Davis.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2010 @ 13:58

      Even with solid competition from other readers you always come through in the end with a sharp and witty response. 😀

    • Bill Brown Mar 22, 2010 @ 15:30

      He’s pointing the finger of blame at Davis. “See, this would not have happened if Davis appointed me senior to Lee.”

  • Leonard Lanier Mar 21, 2010 @ 3:33

    “Look! Look! I told you Sherman was coming. He's such a great general that only someone of my superior intellect and breeding could lose to somebody like him (and I will spend the last twenty years of my life trying to prove it).”

  • bobhuddleston Mar 21, 2010 @ 3:12

    And they spent $100,000 for a poor statue, money which should have been spent on land preservation.

  • robertwelch Mar 21, 2010 @ 1:29

    Look! There! Away down south in the land of Cotton! Old times THERE are not forgotten!

  • Harry Mar 21, 2010 @ 0:57

    If I remember the battle correctly, Johnston's probably pointing toward Mower's advance, which overran his HQ. The attack was checked by a cavalry charge including the 8th Texas (Terry's Texas Rangers) which I wrote about here:

    Pretty slick how I snuck that in, huh? For what it's worth, I don't think the statue is all that good looking. I'm pretty sure there's only one other statue of Johnston, in Dalton, GA.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2010 @ 1:02

      Stop showing off Harry and say something funny. 😀

      I agree. I think it's a pretty ugly statue. Why the hell we need a statue of Joseph Johnston is beyond me.

  • Tom Mar 21, 2010 @ 0:43

    The local volunteer fire department was at the reenactment selling biscuits and funnel cakes. Perhaps General Johnston is directing his famished legions to the vittles tent.

  • chrismeekins Mar 21, 2010 @ 0:29

    “Over there. Way, over there. Its the office of the state Historic Site. You know, the official interpretation of the wawah that does not include a statue of me!”

    Although dedicated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans today, the statue is not part of the Historic Site. When the Historic Site let it be known there would be regulations and rules to follow about erecting any statue the SCV decided to do this on their own. On private land.

    • Richard Mar 22, 2010 @ 14:44

      Hi Chris

      What are the rules and regulations in regards to monuments on state historic sites? Also, what objections were there to this monument, was it the appearance of the monument, the plaque, what?

      • Chris Meekins Mar 23, 2010 @ 2:54

        Hey Richard, thanks for the question.
        I am not privy to the entire discussion between the site manager and the folks who wanted to honor Johnston. I do believe one issue was the size of the monument (larger than life scale). Another might have been the exact location on the historic property (was Johnston actually at this place, etc.). As a general rule sites have moved away from solitary monuments and more towards wayside exhibits which allow for context and interpretation. Which is not to say that any and all monuments would be rejected. It may have also been an issue of balance – there are several monuments and memorials to Confederate forces already at the site. Recent history includes a back-lash against a Sherman monument (late 90s early 2000s). Whatever the exact discussion between parties it was clear that the group sponsoring the monument decided that by remaining private they retained more control of the monument and the message. More power to them.
        You should probably contact the North Carolina Historic Commission for rules and regs about monuments, plaques, wayside exhibits, sandwich boards, handbills, or bumper stickers. They have an app for that I am sure.

        • Richard Mar 23, 2010 @ 4:42

          Thanks for the response Chris

          I would be very interested in finding out who has tried to erect modern monuments and why they were rejected. Never understood the uproar about the Sherman monument either. I find it fascinating that a group of people will raise $100,000 for a monument, its got to be alot of work. I also find it interesing that people will attack this monument simply because its based on a southern general or a dislike of the SCV. It really shows the fight about who is going to tell the story. I recently heard a young African American lady make a comment that has stuck with me. She said: “its sad that all these men lost there lives but all Americans have been the winners of this war.” We need monuments that reflect that view instead of this North/South nonsense.

          • chris meekins Mar 23, 2010 @ 6:06

            Hey Richard,

            I would agree about monuments. more unity. less division.

            Probably the minutes of the North Carolina Historical Commission would be the place to find such materials as applicants for monuments and rejections or approvals. I am sure they follow archival best practices and retain such records.

            It is no small thing that such money can be raised. As John Mellencamp sang, you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything. I guess those folks have found where they stand.


  • Jonathan Dresner Mar 21, 2010 @ 0:19

    Based on the wikipedia description of the battle, I suspect he's either directing the retreat or pointing out the arriving second federal wing to his subordinates.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2010 @ 0:25

      Very good Jonathan, but not very funny. You are, however, probably correct.

      • Jonathan Dresner Mar 21, 2010 @ 1:15

        I don't know: I think the fact that they're commemorating a guy whose claim to fame seems to be that he lost badly but not catastrophically is pretty funny.

        Actually, if it wasn't so tragic, the whole battle sounds like a comedy of errors — nobody knew where the enemy was, how many of them there were, where they were coming from or when they'd left. I suppose that's par for the course for pre-radio battlefields, though.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 21, 2010 @ 1:19

          I agree. It is hilarious, but it's par for the course in the world of Civil War Memory.

        • Becky Goetz Mar 22, 2010 @ 2:15

          “We lost badly but not catastrophically” is the story of the South. After all, if the South had lost catastrophically, it wouldn't be able to rise again, now, would it?

          Gotcha there, Jon. 🙂

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