The death of Thomas S. Jesup in June 1860, after 42 years of service as quartermaster general, ended the long period during which the Quartermaster Department was dominated by the personality of its chief. Gen. Joseph Johnston, who succeeded Jesup, was the first West Point graduate to become head of the Quartermaster Department, but he served only 10 months and left virtually no imprint upon it. Feeling that he owed his first allegiance to his native state, Johnston resigned his post when Virginia seceded from the Union. He cast his fortunes with the Confederacy, and became one of the South’s most noted military leaders during the Civil War.
The War Department selected Joseph E. Johnston as quartermaster general and the Senate promptly confirmed the appointment on June 28, 1860. As quartermaster general he was raised to the rank of brigadier general.
During his short occupancy of the post, Johnston’s attention was devoted largely to routine matters. The theme of most of his letters to subordinates in the department was the need for economy. He urged various assistant quartermasters, for example, to reduce the salaries of their clerks, to discharge some, and to decrease the number of buildings rented as warehouses and offices.
Following his resignation as Quartermaster General, Johnston accepted the rank brigadier general offered by President Davis. It was then the highest rank in the Confederate army and he was assigned to the command of Harper’s Ferry.
Opinions differ as to the quality of Johnston’s generalship, but men who were his bitter enemies during the war admired and esteemed him.
Next to Robert F. Lee, probably no man was more beloved in the South. He had the greatest gift a leader can have, magnetism. A simple man, caring nothing for display, he shared the fare and hardships of his men and protected their interests.
Courageous to the point of recklessness, he “had the unfortunate knack of getting himself shot in any engagement,” as General Scott had remarked even before the Civil War.