In 1829, Johnston graduated from the academy and joined the U.S. Army. He spent most of the next decade at frontier outposts and in Florida. During his time in Florida, he took part in the expedition through the state of explorer John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) and participated in the so-called Seminole Wars (1835-42). This war between the U.S. military and the Seminole Indians eventually forced the Indians off of their ancestral homelands and onto reservations in Oklahoma.
In 1845, Johnston married Lydia McLane, a member of a prominent Delaware family. A year later he traveled west to fight on behalf of the United States in the Mexican War (1846-48). This war was a struggle between Mexico and the United States for ownership of vast expanses of land in the West. Wounded twice during the conflict, Johnston impressed his commanding officers with his coolness and bravery. The Mexican War ended in 1848 when America forced its southern neighbor to give up its claims on California, New Mexico, and other western lands in exchange for $15 million.
With the conclusion of the Mexican War, Johnston returned to the army's topographical engineering branch. This division was responsible for exploring and surveying the geography of the growing nation (topography is the practice of creating maps that show exact geographic features of a re gion). In 1855, however, Johnston received a promotion to lieutenant colonel in order to command a newly created army cavalry unit known as the First Cavalry. Five years later he successfully pushed to be appointed as the army's quartermaster general when that position became vacant. Johnston thus became responsible for supervising all efforts to provide soldiers with food, clothing, and equipment. He also was promoted to brigadier general around this time.
In the spring of 1861, though, Johnston abruptly left the ranks of the U.S. Army when the nation's Northern and Southern regions took up arms against one another. The arrival of war did not really surprise Johnston. After all, relations between the two sides had become tattered by years of bitter arguments and threats over a number of issues, especially slavery. Northern states wanted to abolish slavery because many of their citizens thought that it was a cruel and evil institution. The agriculture-based Southern economy had become extremely dependent on slavery over the years, though, and white Southerners worried that their way of life would collapse if slavery was abolished (eliminated). America's westward expansion during this time made this dispute even worse, since both sides wanted to spread their way of life—and their political views—into the new territories and states. The two sides finally went to war in early 1861, after the Southern states tried to secede from (leave) the Union and form a new country where slavery was allowed, called the Confederate States of America.
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