During his relatively brief life, Albert Sidney Johnston lived in many places, from army barracks and encampments to brief periods in civilian residences, but though he wasn’t from originally from Texas, he considered this his home.
Born in Kentucky, he had spent much of his life in various other parts of the United States, including three years in Brazoria County.
Here, he and his family – including his second wife and their young children – in a cabin on the China Grove Plantation, just north of what would eventually be Angleton.
It would later be described by his eldest son, William Preston Johnston, who was sixteen when he spent several months there, as having been a peaceful place.
This seems a strange choice for a man who had been trained as a warrior and spent most of his life defending the country in which he lived.
Johnston had graduated eighth in a class of 41 cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and was commissioned as a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry.
He was stationed at Jefferson Barracks in 1829, living there with his first wife, Henrietta Preston, and their newborn son, whom they named William Preston.
In 1834, while he was serving as chief of staff to Bvt. Brig. Gen. Henry Atkinson during the Black Hawk War, Johnston’s wife contracted tuberculosis. He resigned his commission to return to Kentucky to care for her during her illness.
Devastated by her death two years later, he spent some time near St. Louis, leaving their son and an infant daughter in the care of their maternal grandmother.
He was still considering different careers in various places when the Texas Revolution began, and Johnston answered the 1836 plea of Stephen F. Austin for help in the struggle for Texas independence.
The seminal biography of Johnston, penned by his son, notes that Johnston had been approached “with representations of the heroism and sufferings of the emigrants from the United States to that country,” a plea that “speedily enlisted his sympathies.
Another biographer, Charles P, Roland described his motives in a different way, saying that the Texas Revolution awakened Johnston’s “hunger for adventure” as well as his instinct to strike a blow against despotism, along with his vision of the United States’ expansion to the southwest.
Just when Johnston’s career “was in shambles and his life without meaning,” Roland wrote, service in Texas gave him opportunity for personal fame and fortune.
Boarding a steamboat to New Orleans, Johnston visited for a few days with his brother, then rode with a group of volunteers to Nacogdoches.
By the time he reached Texas, Gen. Sam Houston and his troops had defeated the much larger Mexican army at San Jacinto, but Mexican troops were reported to be gathering on the border.
He spent several days in Nacogdoches, discussing the military situation with Houston and others, then left with Leonard Groce, a wealthy Texas planter, for Groce’s home on the Brazos River.
While there, he and others heard the family’s dogs barking and fighting something near the house. Hurrying to the scene, they found that the dogs had treed a puma, which had badly injured several of them.
Taking quick aim at the puma, Johnston fired, breaking the animal’s jaw, but the fight continued, with the plantation dogs getting the worst of the encounter.
At Groce’s excited behest, Johnston intervened, wading into the fight and clubbing the puma with his rifle stock. Johnston was uninjured by this action. His gun’s wood stock was less fortunate, emerging with a splintered wood stock and bent barrel.
Groce viewed the puma’s extremely large carcass, and decided to have it mounted for display. The incident marked the beginning of a warm friendship between Johnston and his host.
A number of other Texans were also impressed by Johnston during this period, including several former army officers and politicians, from Sam Houston to Stephen F. Austin and others.
This resulted in many of them writing introductions and vouching for his character and military expertise. Although gratified by his new friends’ approval, Johnston refused to use these recommendations in order to seek a higher rank in the Texas Army.
Instead, he rode to the Texas Army’s headquarters near Goliad, where he signed up as an enlisted man in the cavalry, but was soon appointed to a much more important post.
His early months with the Texas Army were discouraging ones, as he suffered from homesickness, particularly missing his two children.
He also contracted a fever, probably the then-prevalent, mosquito-borne malaria that was common among Texas’ newcomers.
Although the typical “chills and fever” of that disease left him weak, he wrote in September that he was finally “entirely recovered” and considered himself acclimated.
Like many others with previous service in the U.S. Army, he found its Texas counterpart suffering from “little organization or discipline,” and was concerned that the men in his command would fail to remain constant to their duties.
He worked diligently, however, retaining faith that the government of the new Republic of Texas would strengthen its regular army to the standards he felt were needed.
After a short time, Provisional President David Burnet took notice of his efforts, appointing him as adjutant general of the republic, with the rank of colonel.
His work was also recognized by John Wharton, who served as Texas secretary of war, calling Johnston to the capital at Columbia, where his most immediate task was to weed through the records.
These were apparently in considerable disarray, and Johnston was directed to straighten out the mess.
By mid-November he had barely had time to begin that task when President Sam Houston reassigned him.
These new orders took Johnston to New Orleans, where he was assigned to recruit men to serve in the Texas Army, and to obtain the forms needed for proper record keeping.
Once more, he was just beginning to handle this assignment when President Houston ordered him to return to Texas without delay, in order to assume his duties with the military.
Next week: General Felix Huston challenges Johnston to a duel.