Old Johnston Thought It Rather Hard
DESCRIPTION: "Old Johnston thought it rather hard To ride over Beauregard; Old Johnston proved the deuce of a battle, And it's clear beyond a doubt That he didn't like the rout, And the second time he thought he'd try another." The Great Galena is also mentioned
EARLIEST DATE: 1952 (Brown)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar soldier battle
July 21, 1861 - First battle of Bull Run/Manasses fought between the Union army of McDowell and the Confederates under Johnston and Beauregard
April 6-7, 1862 - Battle of Shiloh. The army of U.S. Grant is forced back but, reinforced by Buell, beats off the army of A.S. Johnston. Johnston is killed. Both sides suffer heavy casualties (Shiloh was the first battle to show how bloody the Civil War would be)
May 15, 1862 - Battle of Drewry's Bluff
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
BrownII 224, "Old Johnston Thought It Rather Hard" (1 fragment)
NOTES [668 words]: The editors of Brown conjecture that the first verse of this song, at least, refers to the Battle of Shiloh, at which Albert Sidney Johnston commanded (and died). Given the fragmentary state of the text, this is possible, and A. S. Johnston had suffered much criticism in the aftermath of the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson (McPherson, p. 405) -- but I wonder.
There were two battles in the Civil War in which a southern general named Johnston was in command over Beauregard: At (First) Bull Run/Manasses, where the Johnston involved was Joseph E. Johnston (Boatner, pp. 99-101), and at Shiloh, where the Johnston was A. S. Johnston (Boatner, pp. 752-757).
To me, the song seems slightly more likely to refer to Bull Run. J. E. Johnston, arriving on the field with reinforcements, could have taken command over Beauregard, but generally deferred to his junior as Beauregard knew the ground. In addition, the Confederates at Bull Run were wavering when Johnston's troops arrived; there was no such rout at Shiloh. (There, it was the Union troops which ran.)
I hasten to add that this is pure conjecture. If true, however, the song may link vaguely with the "Bull Run" song of Cox; there are some metrical similarities.
If the song refers to the eastern campaigns, it would also explain the references to the Galena, a Union ironclad launched in 1862. She operated on the James River during the Peninsular Campaign, and she and the Monitor (either of which, though probably the latter, could be the "Naval Wonder" of the song) tried to ascend the river to attack Richmond after the destruction of the Merrimac/Virginia on May 9. (There were naval vessels involved at Shiloh -- the Lexington and Tyler were on the Tennessee River supporting Grant's troops; McPherson, pp. 410-411 -- but there was nothing unusual about either ship. To be sure, there had been ironclads in the fighting at Forts Henry and Donelson which led up to Shiloh.)
The attack on Drewry's Bluff failed; the Union vessels could not elevate their guns high enough to attack the Confederate works. The Monitor suffered little damage (except that her crew was driven inside by sharpshooters, leaving them breathing foul and very hot air; Holzer/Mulligan, p. 48), but the Galena proved very unsafe. Nelson, p. 89, records an officer writing of her, "She is not shot-proof; ball came through, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron."
Soley-BL, p. 270., writes that in the battle of Drewry's Bluff, "In this position the Galena remained for three hours and twenty minutes until she had expended all her ammunition. She came out of the action badly shattered, having been struck 28 times and perforated in 18 places." In the end, she was converted to an unarmored gunboat.
Another perspective on Drewry's Bluff, however, comes from John Taylor Wood, who was first a lieutenant in the Confederate Navy and then a Colonel in the army. He declares that Drewry's Bluff had not been fortified until the Virginia was scuttled, and manned only by a few guns, served mostly by the Virginia's former crew. He considers the Galena to have been very skillfully handled, But his summary of the battle (Wood-BL, p. 108) is as follows:
"The Monitor, and others anchored just below, answered our fire deliberately; but, owing to the great elevation of the battery, their fire was in a great measure ineffectual, though two guns were dismounted and several men were killed and wounded. While this was going on, our sharp-shooters were at work on both banks.... Finding they could make no impression on our works, the Galena, after an action of four hours, returned down the river with her consorts.
"This was one of the boldest and best-conducted operations of the war.... Had Commander Rogers [of the Union navy] been supported by a few brigades,landed at City Point or above on the south side [of the James River], Richmond would have been evacuated. The Virginia's crew alone barred his way to Richmond...." - RBW
Last updated in version 2.6
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Holzer/Mulligan: Harold Holzer and Tim Mulligan, Editors, The Battle of Hampton Roads (a collection of nine essays; Fordham/Mariner's Museum, 2006)
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era), Oxford, 1988
- Nelson: James L. Nelson, Reign of Iron: The Story of the first Battling Ironclads, the Monitor and the Merimack, Perennial, 2004
- Soley-BL: Professor James Russell SOley, U. S. N., "The Navy in the Peninsular Campaign," article in Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson, editors, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, four volumes, 1888 (this article in in volume II, pp. 264-270)
- Wood-BL: John Taylor Wood, Colonel, C.S.A., "The battle was a drawn one: The first fight of iron-clads," article in Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson, editors, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, four volumes, 1888. For some reason this is not in the same Volume II as Soley-BL, so for convenience of transport, I used the version of the article printed in the abbreviated one-volume edition "edited" (read: hacked down almost to uselessness) by Ned Bradford, 1956; page references are to the 1979 Fairfax Press edition.
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