Robert Daniel Johnston was born on March 19, 1837 in Mount Welcome, Lincoln County, North Carolina. His parents were Dr. William and Nancy Forney Johnston. John and William Forney, cousins to Robert, would also become Confederate generals.
Before the war Robert graduated from the University of Virginia and became an attorney. He was also active as an officer in the militia.
On July 15, 1861 he was appointed captain of Company K, 23rd North Carolina State Troops. On April 16, 1862 he was promoted to lieuteant colonel.
The regiment saw its first combat at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862. Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines, but returned from his wound to fight with the regiment at the Battle of South Mountain and to take command of it at the Battle of Sharpsburg when its Colonel, Daniel Christie, took over brigade command.
At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 Johnston temporarily took over the 12th North Carolina after it had lost its field officers. He returned to the 23rd for the Battle of Gettysburg and was wounded in the in the disastrous slaughter of Alfred Iverson’s Brigade on July 1 on Oak Ridge. After convalescing he returned to be promoted to brigadier general dating from September 1, 1863 and took over the brigade.
Johnston commanded his brigade at the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania, where he was again wounded. In August he returned to command his brigade in the Shenandoah Valley, fighting at the Third Battle of Winchester, Fisher’s Hill and the Battle of Cedar Creek.
In the winter of 1864-65 his brigade was sent to the Petersburg defences, where he temporarily commanded his division.
After the war Johnston returned to Charlotte and resumed his legal career. In 1887 he moved to Birmingham and became a banker.
He married Elizabeth Evans, and the couple had nine children. One of his sons, Gordon Johnston, served in the Rough Riders in Cuba, earned the Medal of Honor in the Phillippines in 1906 and the Distinguished Service Medal in World War I.
Robert D. Johnston died on February 1, 1919 in White Post, near Winchester, Virginia. He is buried in Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, part of Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia.
His gravestone is inscribed:
Volunteered a private in Beattissford Rifles, Second Lieut. May 9 1861. Captain, Lieut. Colonel 23rd N.C. Inf. cited for gallantry in action at Spottsylvania C.H. by Gen. LeeBrevitted Brigadier General in the Battle of Gettysburg, Brigadier General Sept. 1, 1863 commanding 5th, 12th, 20th and 23rd N.C. Inf. Early’s Div. Ewell’s Corps. With Gen. Jackson in Valley Campaign and Gen Lee’s Army to the end of the war. Wounded seven times in action.
“I have fought a good fight I have kept the faith.”