Josiah Stoddard Johnston

By John Trowbridge

Following the resignation of General Frank Wolford, as Adjutant General on March 7, 1870, Kentucky Governor John W. Stevenson, immediately filled the vacancy with Josiah Stoddard Johnston, who became Kentucky’s Eleventh Adjutant General when he took over the office on 8 March 1870.

J. Stoddard Johnston, Sr., lawyer, journalist, political figure and soldier was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 10, 1833, a son of John Harris, and Eliza Ellen Davidson Johnston.  Following the deaths of his mother in 1833 and his father in 1838, Johnston and his two brothers moved to Kentucky to live with relatives. 

He first attended Samuel V. Womack’s classical school in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and then the Western Military Institute at Georgetown, in Scott County, Kentucky.  In 1850, he began the study of law at Yale University, graduating in 1853.  While at Yale, he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, founded at the university in 1844.  In 1854, he received his law degree from the Law School of the University of Louisville.  On June 13, 1854, he married Eliza Woolfolk Johnson, the daughter of George W. Johnson, of Scott County.  To this marriage two daughters and three sons were born: Mary, Eliza, George W., Harris H., and Stoddard Jr.    

During the Civil War, George W. Johnson became Kentucky’s first provisional Confederate Governor.  On April 8, 1862, Governor Johnson died of wounds he had sustained, while fighting as a private soldier at the Battle of Shiloh.

Soon after their marriage, in 1854, Josiah and Eliza moved to Arkansas, where he became a successful cotton farmer.  In 1859, the family returned to Kentucky, settling in Scott County to farm.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Johnston sided with the southern cause.  After joining Confederate Army in 1861, he served as a Major and Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of General Braxton Bragg until June 1863.  He then served on General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s staff until after the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, and finally serving as General John C. Breckinridge’s Chief of Staff.  Lieutenant Colonel Johnston left the service in May 1865.

Following the war, Johnston initially went to Toronto, Canada.  In October 1866, he had returned to Memphis, Tennessee and by December of that year was practicing law at Helena, Arkansas.

In 1867, Johnston moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, where he became editor of the Kentucky Yeoman, a Democratic newspaper, until it closed in 1886.  He helped establish the Kentucky Press Association and was its president from 1870 to 1886.

A life-long Democrat, Johnston was influential in Democratic Party politics serving as Chairman and Secretary of the party’s state committee, 1868 to 1888.

During the 1870 election for Keeper of the State Penitentiary, Johnston was defeated.  But with the resignation of Frank Wolford, in March 1870, Governor John W. Stevenson appointed Johnston, the State’s Adjutant General, on March 8, 1870.  Johnston served in the position until September 1871.

In 1875, he was a candidate for Governor, but failed to receive the nomination.  J. Stoddard Johnson would go on to serve two consecutive terms as Secretary of State for Kentucky, from August 1, 1875 to September 2, 1879, under Governors Preston H. Leslie and James B. McCreary.

In 1889, Johnston moved to Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, where he spent the remainder of his life.  He was elected President of the Filson Club in 1893, a position he held until his death.  During this time he authored several books including, A Memorial History of Louisville (1896); The Confederate History of Kentucky (1898); First Explorations of Kentucky (1898).  From 1903 to 1908, he was Associate Editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

While at the home of his son, Harrison H. Johnston, in Clayton, near St. Louis, Missouri, J. Stoddard Johnston, died on October 4, 1913.  His body was brought back to Louisville for burial in Cave Hill Cemetery.  Johnston was a nephew of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston and a cousin of Colonel William Preston Johnston.

In 1915, the J. Stoddard Johnston Elementary School opened its doors in Louisville, today the building stands as the Stoddard Johnston Scholar House, providing apartments for low-income households.

One of his comrades in war and friends in civil life once wrote of Colonel Johnston: “In personality there are few men more striking than Col. Johnston.  Always a courtly and dignified gentleman, he never failed to attract attention in any assembly.  Strangers are strongly impressed by his fine bearing, his apparent high intellectually and his manifest right of leadership.  Such impressions are never changed by long acquaintanceship.  His lifetime friends have found him always the same.  His character is real in all its features, and his strong convictions, firm principles and native dignity are in no measure underestimated by the general, open-hearted and frank intercourse of close association.  He is at home anywhere, alike in the drawing room, the camp or the council, and wherever he appears his true nature meets with a fine appreciation.”

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