He attended the common schools. In April 1861, he enlisted in the Confederate Army and served four years in the Seventh Virginia Regiment of Infantry, Kemper's brigade of Pickett's division. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in Giles County in 1867. He began practicing in Pearisburg, Virginia. He moved to Mercer County, West Virginia in 1870.
Johnston served as prosecuting attorney from 1872 to 1876. He became a State Senator in 1878 but resigned. From 1880 to 1888, he was a judge on the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court. He was elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-sixth Congress (March 4, 1899 – March 3, 1901). His candidacy in 1900 for re-election was unsuccessful.
He moved to Portland, Oregon in 1908 and resumed the practice of law. He died in Portland on July 7, 1917 and was buried in Mount Scott Park Cemetery, which is now Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
Charles P. Dorr
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 3rd congressional district
Joseph H. Gaines
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