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June Melby Benowitz

JOHNSTON, ELIZA GRIFFIN (1821–1896). Eliza Griffin Johnston, artist and diarist, the second wife of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, was born in Fincastle, Virginia, on December 26, 1821, the youngest child and only daughter of John Caswell and Mary (Hancock) Griffin. Her parents died when she was about four years old, and she was raised by her grandmother, Margaret Strother Hancock, and later her uncle, Col. George Hancock, who moved to Kentucky in 1830. Eliza completed her education at a prestigious school in Philadelphia. In addition to learning social graces, she became an artist and an accomplished musician. She also developed a familiarity with several languages and could read and speak French fluently.

She was a cousin by marriage of Albert Sidney Johnston, who began courting her when she was about eighteen. They were married on October 3, 1843. In November they went on the first of many journeys to Texas. After dividing the first two years of their married life between Texas and Kentucky, the couple, with their baby son, moved to Galveston. They later settled on Johnston's plantation, China Grove, forty miles from Galveston, where they lived in a double log cabin for about three years. In her free time Mrs. Johnston painted watercolors of birds and flowers. She wrote, "I think myself as much of a fixture in Texas as one of its live oaks." Two children were born on the plantation. Unable to meet mortgage payments, the Johnstons were forced to leave China Grove, and the plantation was sold at auction.

The family returned to Kentucky in the spring of 1850, but moved to Texas once again when Albert became army paymaster for the Department of Texas. They settled in Austin, where Eliza spent her leisure time painting plants and flowers. A daughter was born there. By lobbying President Franklin Pierce and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Eliza and other family members helped Johnston receive the appointment to command the newly formed Second Cavalry regiment. She kept a diary in the fall of 1855 and winter of 1856 as she traveled with her husband and his regiment from Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, to Fort Mason, on the Texas frontier, more than 700 miles away. It is the best source of information on the regiment's journey. She described the hardships of the march, camp life, foods, plants, flowers, illnesses, and death. The diary also gives clues to the personalities of many military men who became famous in the Civil War.

The Johnstons spent the next several years in Texas. In November 1860 Johnston was given command of the Department of California, and the family moved to San Francisco. When Texas seceded from the Union he resigned his commission, and the family moved to Los Angeles, where Eliza's brother, Dr. John S. Griffin, a retired military surgeon, resided. A sixth child was born two months after Johnston left California to join the Confederacy. After he was killed at Shiloh in April 1862, Eliza raised their remaining five children on her own. In 1894 she donated relics of her husband and family to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The donation included a book she had compiled for her husband of watercolors of Texas wildflowers she had painted in the 1840s and 1850s. She continued to reside in Los Angeles until her death on September 25, 1896. Texas Wild Flowers, a book of 101 of her paintings, was published in 1972.


Alberta Johnson Denis, "Mrs. Albert Sidney Johnston," Texas Magazine, May 1897. William Preston Johnston, The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston (New York: Appleton, 1978). Charles P. Roland, Albert Sidney Johnston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Charles P. Roland and Richard C. Robbins, eds., "The Diary of Eliza Johnston," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 60 (April 1957). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, June Melby Benowitz, "JOHNSTON, ELIZA GRIFFIN," accessed July 07, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjoba.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 11, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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