General James Longstreet (1821-1904) fought on the side of the Confederacy in almost every major battle of the U.S. Civil War. In addition to commanding one of the most noted offensives of the war at Chickamauga, he led troops at both First and Second Manassas and Gettysburg and stood beside Confederate general Robert E. Lee to the assignation at Appomattox Courthouse that brought an end to the war in the spring of 1865.
Despite the fact that he was highly respected by Robert E. Lee and one of the most noted commanders of the Confederate Army, General James Longstreet has been the subject of controversy since the U.S. Civil War. A highly respected soldier whose courage and thoughtfulness gained the respect of all under him, Longstreet fought in the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), Sharpesburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and on the lengthy Wilderness Campaign and commanded the Confederate First Corps from its creation in 1862 to Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in early April 1865. Although Longstreet's military record shows him to be a soldier as valiant as fellow Confederates Lee and Stonewall Jackson, his later criticism of Lee's maneuvers during the battle of Gettysburg was viewed as traitorous by southerners still loyal to Lee after the war. The blame for the heavy losses suffered at Gettysburg was placed squarely upon Longstreet's shoulders, and he was excluded from Confederate circles—even military reunions—through his death in 1904.
No Patience with Bookish Pursuits
The second surviving son of James and Mary Ann (Dent) Longstreet, James Longstreet was born January 8, 1821, at his paternal grandmother's home in Edgefield District, South Carolina. His family was of Dutch descent—the family name had originally been Langestraet—and his grandfather, William Longstreet, moved the family south from its original home in New Jersey in the 1780s. His father was a farmer, and James Junior was raised on the family's cotton plantation in the northeastern Georgia town of Piedmont. On his mother's side, which hailed from Maryland, Longstreet was related to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. Dubbed "Pete" by his family, Longstreet spent the first nine years engaged in farm work or outdoor activities with his older siblings William and Anna, as well as the four younger sisters he accumulated between 1822 and 1829. His father owned slaves and through the combined efforts of their toil and the family's work the Longstreet farm was prosperous. Young James's early education was one gained through hard work and time spent out of doors, and Longstreet developed physical strength, independence of mind, and a strong work ethic. While he dreamed of a military career, his parents recognized that entrance into West Point Military Academy would require preliminary academic training. On October 7, 1830, young Longstreet was removed from the rural life he loved and sent to the Augusta, Georgia, home of his uncle, noted attorney Augustus B. Longstreet, where he enrolled at the prestigious Richmond County Academy.
Three years after moving to Augusta, Longstreet suffered a family tragedy when his father died in a local cholera epidemic while on a visit. In June of 1838 seventeen-yearold Longstreet was admitted to West Point Academy in New York, an appointment obtained through the efforts of his uncle, Augustus. While a cadet at West Point, his interests continued to remain athletic rather than intellectual—he later wrote that he "had more interest in the school of the soldier, horsemanship, sword exercise, and the outside game of foot-ball than in the academic courses"—and he consistently ranked in the bottom third of his class. A sociable young man, Longstreet retained the family nickname "Old Pete" among his fellow cadets, and he gained several friends who he would retain throughout his adult life: one of these was a young man named Ulysses S. Grant, who was in the class behind Longstreet. At the time he graduated from West Point as part of the class of 1842, he ranked 54th in a class of 56, 16 of whom would go on to be Civil War generals.
Following graduation, Longstreet was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant with the U.S. Fourth Infantry, then stationed outside of St. Louis, Missouri. While stationed there, he fell in love with Mary Louisa Garland, the daughter of his regiment's commander; the couple honored her parent's request that they wait until Mary was older and were married in Lynchburg, Virginia, on March 8, 1848. Meanwhile, the ambitious Longstreet undertook tours of duty in Louisiana and Florida before traveling to Texas to join General Zachary Taylor's Eighth Infantry. During the border dispute that escalated into the Mexican War in May of 1846, 25-year-old Longstreet fought at the Battle of Cherubusco under General Winfield Scott, and a severe wound to the leg at Chapultepec prevented him from joining the U.S. troops as they marched into Mexico City on September 14, 1847, to end the war. He remained in Mexico at an army hospital until the end of the year, then returned to his regiment.
Gained Experience in Mexican War
Longstreet continued his career in the U.S. Army for over a decade, serving in Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico, and moved up the ranks through a promotion to major in the paymaster's department in July of 1858. Meanwhile, the political climate between the northern states and Longstreet's native south deteriorated, issues of states' rights, slavery, and economics creating a divide that politics could not mend. When Alabama seceded from the Union in January of 1861, Longstreet, like many other officers with ties to the south, felt the pull of his allegiance to his home in Georgia. He resigned his commission in the U.S. Army in May and joined the forces of the Confederacy as a lieutenant colonel. He traveled to the Confederate capitol at Richmond, Virginia, was appointed brigadier-general in June, and was sent to Manassas Junction, Virginia, to head a brigade of Virginia infantry.
The battle at Manassas, which became known as Bull Run, was the first major fight between north and south. Longstreet and his men participated in fighting on the 18th of July and stood as reserve troops during the actual battle at Bull Run, which occurred three days later. Although a Confederate victory, the battle revealed the bloody nature the war would take. During the fall and winter of 1861, while both sides regrouped, Longstreet was promoted to major-general and wintered with his division in Centreville, Virginia. Despite the lull in the war, the winter would hold tragedy for the Longstreets when the younger three of their four children died within a week of one another during an outbreak of scarlet fever. Longstreet, his wife, and their surviving son, 13-year-old Garland, were devastated.
After Longstreet returned to his command at Centreville, the Confederate Army was ordered to stop a move by Union troops toward Richmond. He showed himself to be a competent leader at skirmishes at Yorkton and Williamsburg in early May of 1862. At the Battle of Seven Pines, on May 31, Longstreet led the Confederate attack, a move that proved costly when he confused his orders. Fortunately, he learned from this mistake, and when General Robert E. Lee was appointed commander of the Army of Northern Virginia by Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Longstreet quickly proved his competency to the new commander, willing Lee's confidence during the Seven Days' Battles near Richmond in late June. In mid-August of 1862 Lee reengaged Union forces at the battle of Second Manassas. A Union victory under Major-General John Pope seemed foregone when, on August 29, Longstreet and his men arrived to support Lee's battered troops and sent five divisions in to storm a two-mile-long section of the Union flank. One of the bloodiest battles of the war, Second Manassas resulted in 25,000 casualties and proved a victory for the south.
Became Lee's "Old Warhorse"
At Sharpesburg, Maryland, on September 15, 1862, Longstreet watched, with General Lee and 18,000 Confederate troops, as 95,000 Union soldiers under General George B. McClellan marched before them. The following morning the armies engaged at the battle of Antietam; that afternoon Lee's valiant effort to make a northern push into Maryland cost him one fourth of his army. As the tide of battle turned against the Confederate ranks, Longstreet boosted moral among the scattered troops by ordering his personal staff to begin rapid fire of unused cannon into the Union line. This move inflicted casualties upon Federal troops sufficient to stop their advance. The Battle of Antietam, which casualties totaled 10,318 Confederate and 12,401 Union, was considered a technical victory for the South due to its battle against superior odds, but the course of the war was radically altered in its aftermath. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. From this point on the war no longer turned on issues of states' rights or economics; it became a war against the enslavement of African Americans and as such, the north claimed the moral high ground.
His performance at Antietam earned Longstreet the epithet "old warhorse" from General Lee, who promoted him to lieutenant-general on October 11, 1862, and gave him command of the First Corps of Virginia. Another officer equally rewarded was Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who became leader of the Second Corps. Relied upon by Lee due to his methodical nature and thoroughness, Longstreet remained a trusted advisor and Lee followed his counsel in many battles. A believer in tactical defense, Longstreet saw greater chance of victory in preserving the lives of his men and resisting the temptation to make heroic assaults on the enemy. Rather, he counseled Lee that a series of counterstrikes against Union offensives were the best chance of winning the war.
Turning back to the south, Lee marched his troops toward Virginia, pursued by General Ambrose Burnside, who had succeeded McClellan. Three months and 75 miles into this withdrawal, on December 13, the two armies collided in the small Virginia town of Fredericksburg. Lee, with Longstreet at his left flank and Jackson at his right, led 75,000 men against Burnside's 120,000. As wave upon wave of Union troops were ordered by General George Sumner to advance upon his 40,000 troops positioned on the high ground to the west of town, Longstreet recalled that the men downed by his firepower were like "the steady dripping of rain from the eaves of a house." Despite the tragic death of Jackson—shot accidentally by one of his own men during the night of May 2—Fredericksburg was a Confederate victory, Union losses numbering 12,600 compared to Lee's 5,300. Most of the Confederate casualties were "missing" men who abandoned their post in order to return to their families for Christmas.
The Tide Turned at Gettysburg
A Confederate victory at Chancellorsville in May o 1863 continued to build the south's confidence in their new general. Determined to give a show of Confederate strength, Lee marched north with Generals Longstreet, Richard S. Ewell, and A. P. Hill, and 70,000 troops. Lee's aim was to invade southern Pennsylvania, attack Philadelphia, and force Union General Ulysses S. Grant to defend the District of Columbia. Under Lee were Generals Longstreet, Richard S. Ewell, and A. P. Hill. On July 1, 1863, Hill's advance corps were spotted by a Union picket as they marched toward the small rural town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. With little intelligence as to the size or location of the opposing army, both Union troops under General George Meade and Lee's Confederates were in the process of resupplying and reorganizing their forces in anticipation of a major conflict. The clash of advance troops that occurred at Gettysburg ignited this conflict and brought about the longest three days of the war.
On July 1, the first day of battle, the Confederate army claimed victory, as Union casualties outnumbered Confederate, and Lee was left with 35,000 men compared to Meade's 25,000. The second day of battle opened with an attack by Lee on the union right flank, a decision Longstreet strongly argued against in favor of taking a defensive position on Seminary Ridge and repulsing Meade's advance. Longstreet believed that an offensive posture should only be adopted when an attack was planned in advance, and victory was probable. Both Longstreet, who opposed the Union's southern flank, and Ewell, equally uncomfortable with Lee's plan and directed by Lee to oppose the Union north, stalled their attacks until the afternoon. According to his chief of staff, Longstreet neglected to send scouts out to study the ground of the proposed battle—a move a prudent general would undertake—and this negligence on his part was later used as evidence of his contravention of Lee's orders. During the hours Longstreet postponed his attack, Union General Daniel Sickle made the probably misguided decision to move his troops from the high ground at Little Round Top and cross the orchard below. At 4:00 in the afternoon, Longstreet ordered his First Corps northeast from Warfield Ridge, attacking Sickle's men in the Peach Orchard in an effort to occupy the strategic advantage at Little Round Top. The battle raged for three hours, Sickle's troops strengthened by reserves led by General Gouverneur K. Warren. At the close of July 2, Longstreet's effort had failed and Union troops retained control of Little Round Top.
That evening Longstreet met with Lee, Ewell, and Hill. In the belief that the Union army was weakened, Lee was determined to stage a frontal assault, and he ordered Longstreet to command this action. In vain, the "old warhorse" attempted to convince Lee that the Union forces were far from vanquished; as he later wrote, "when the [second day's] battle was over, General Lee pronounced it a success … but we had accomplished little toward victorious results." Longstreet also realized—as did others—that Lee's proposed attack—across an open field surrounded by Union troops occupying the high ground—spelled disaster. Longstreet proved to be correct. The following morning Meade, anticipating Lee's attack, reinforced his center, and after an unsuccessful seven-hour effort by Ewell to gain the high ground at Culp's Hill, the Confederates pulled back. Two hours later, at 1:00 in the afternoon, after once again failing to dissuade Lee, Longstreet supervised a 140-cannon bombardment of the Union left flank. This barrage was answered by 110 Union guns, making it the largest artillery battle in U.S. history. After an hour Meade ordered a cease fire, leading Lee to believe the Union batteries had been demolished. When the smoke cleared at three in the afternoon, Lee ordered Longstreet to advance on the Union center, an order Longstreet transferred to his friend, Major General George E. Pickett. Horrified, Longstreet and Pickett watched as a line of well-shielded Union forces armed with highly accurate rifled muskets fired on their 13,000 Confederate troops marching in formation toward Cemetery Ridge. Over 6,500 of Longstreet's men marched to their death, fell wounded on the field of battle, or were captured.
After the Turning Point of the War
A devastating defeat for the Confederacy, the Battle of Gettysburg cost the south 3,903 dead, 18,735 wounded, and 5,425 missing; the Union army suffered 3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, and 5,365 missing. These casualties forced the south into a defensive war and energized the Union into beginning its push south into northwest Georgia. Longstreet and the First Corps were sent by rail to the aid of General Braxton Bragg, who with his ill-kempt force had been holding defensive positions near Lafayette, Georgia, since late December 1862. Union forces collided with Bragg at Chickamauga Creek on Saturday, September 19, 1863, and fought on for hours in confusion. By Sunday morning, when Longstreet and his 12,000 men arrived, he was given an additional 11,000 troops and ordered into the fray. Cognizant of his men's fatigue following their all-night march, Longstreet postponed his assault until 11:00, then ordered five divisions to attack the Union front line. His attack severely weakened the Union array and forced the opposing troops into a large-scale retreat toward Chattanooga. Longstreet's decision to delay his attack resulted in one of the strongest offensive battles of the war; he continued on the offensive for the duration of the Chickamauga conflict, halting the Union advance southward and contributing to what became a costly victory for the South.
In the days following Chickamauga, Longstreet urged General Bragg to pursue the withdrawing Union force and destroy it, but Bragg resisted, thereby losing the south's momentum. Longstreet was so angered that he formally requested President Davis to order Bragg's dismissal, noting: "I am convinced that nothing but the hand of God can help as long as we have our present commander." His efforts proved unsuccessful, and Bragg remained in command. While the Union Army remained entrenched in Chattanooga, Bragg and his generals surrounded the city and awaited the north's surrender. Camped on Lookout Mountain, Longstreet and his men waylaid all shipments of food and supplies into Chattanooga except a meager flow from the north. The arrival of Generals Grant, George Sherman, and Joseph Hooker in late October would spark the battle at nearby Brown's Ferry that broke the Confederate blockade of the starving Union forces in Chattanooga. However, Longstreet would not be there to participate; before the battle at Brown's Ferry he was ordered to Knoxville to engage in an unsuccessful effort to seize that city from Union General Ambrose Burnside. On the 25th of September the Confederate forces at Chickamauga fell to Union advances. Union General George Sherman now began his move south, creating the path of devastation through Atlanta into Savannah that became known as "Sherman's march to the Sea." A Union victory appeared imminent.
Longstreet and his men wintered in eastern Tennessee and joined Lee in Virginia in late April of 1864. In May of 1864 Longstreet helped Lee repulse efforts by Grant to breech the Confederate lines near Chancellorsville, part of a prolonged battle that became known as the Wilderness Campaign. Wounded by a bullet that passed through his throat and into his shoulder, Longstreet was forced to leave his post until October. Meanwhile, stalemates at battles at North Harbor and Cold Harbor continued to draw on Confederate strength. When Longstreet rejoined his command, Lee was defending the Confederate capitol of Richmond against Grant at nearby Petersburg; the battle deteriorated into trench warfare after Union troops finally breached Richmond's fortifications on April 3, 1865. The Army of the Confederacy was now in retreat. On Sunday, April 9, 1865, Longstreet accompanied a tired and beaten Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, West Virginia. There, in the town's small courthouse, the war between the states was brought to a close, the cost the death of over 620,000 Americans.
Became Scapegoat for Lee's Defenders
After the war, Longstreet planned to move his family to Texas, where he had served prior to the Civil War, but ultimately moved to New Orleans where he worked in insurance and became a cotton factor. Grant's election to the presidency in 1869 provided him with a new opportunity: the position of surveyor of customs in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a salary of $6,000 per year. Longstreet accepted and joined the Republican Party of longtime friend Grant, his loyalty to the administration eventually earning him federal appointments as postmaster of Gainesville, minister to Turkey, U.S. marshal, and U.S. commissioner of railroads. He and his wife made their home in Gainesville, where they remained until Mary Longstreet died in December 1889, at the age of sixty-two.
Although the war was over, the battle lines between the republican north and the south were still very much in evidence, and Longstreet's party affiliation—and his surprising conversion to Roman Catholicism—branded him a traitor in the Protestant south. Although continuing to retain Lee's friendship until the general's death in 1870, many southerners—even those who had once hailed him as a military hero—now cast dispersions on his military record and blamed him for the disaster at Gettysburg. In defense of his criticism of Lee's tactical offensive at the Battle of Gettysburg, which Longstreet maintained resulted in the death of thousands of Confederate troops during Pickett's Charge, the former general published From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America in 1896. His position was further defended by his second wife, Helen Dorch Longstreet, who married him on September 8, 1897, when she was thirty-four. Helen continued to defend her husband even after his death from pneumonia on January 2, 1904, publishing Lee and Longstreet at High Tide: Gettysburg in the Light of the Official Record. Through the twentieth century a battle of the books raged as supporters of Robert E. Lee attempted to rest the blame for Gettysburg squarely on the shoulders of Longstreet, and revisionist historians attempted to reevaluate Lee's record as a general after his aura as the leader of the "Lost Cause" began to fade.
Conrad, Bryan, James Longstreet: Lee's War Horse, University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Dinard, R. L, and Albert A. Nofi, editors, Longstreet: The Man, the Soldier, the Controversy, Da Capo Press, 1998.
Longstreet, James, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America, edited by Jeffry D. Wert, Da Capo Press, 1992.
Piston, William Garrett, Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant, University of Georgia Press, 1990.
Wert, Jeffry D., General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier, Fireside Books, 1994.
American History, March 1998, p. 16. □
"James Longstreet." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/james-longstreet
"James Longstreet." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/james-longstreet
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Longstreet was commissioned brigadier general in June 1861, major general in October 1861, and lieutenant general in October 1862. Except for medical leave when wounded in the Wilderness to Petersburg Campaign, he led the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia from its establishment in 1862 to the surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He fought in every major battle in the East except Chancellorsville, and took the First Corps west on detached service to participate in the Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863.
Robert E. Lee selected Longstreet as his second in command, and although authorities differ, it can be agreed that Longstreet, not “Stonewall” Jackson, was Lee's most trusted and perhaps most talented subordinate. Outstanding in combat, Longstreet was an excellent corps‐level commander and one of the most modern soldiers of his day. He helped to popularize the use of extensive field fortifications and foreshadowed later Prussian doctrine by favoring the use of maneuver to compel the enemy to attack at a disadvantage. He argued that Northern civilian morale should be the true target of overall Confederate strategy. Longstreet was immensely popular with his men, who called him “the Old Bulldog.”
During Reconstruction, Longstreet settled in New Orleans and joined the Republican Party. He held a variety of political patronage positions until his death in 1904. Viewing him as a traitor to the white South, many former comrades turned against him and attacked his military record. His enemies' lies and fabrications, particularly in relation to the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was unfairly accused of deliberately delaying the attack on the second day, were accepted uncritically by later historians, such as Douglas Southall Freeman, who misrepresented both Longstreet's personality and his record.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Confederate Army.]
William Garrett Piston , Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History, 1987.
Jeffry D. Wert , General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier, 1993.
William Garrett Piston
"Longstreet, James." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longstreet-james
"Longstreet, James." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longstreet-james
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
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James Longstreet, 1821–1904, Confederate general in the American Civil War, b. Edgefield District, S.C. He graduated (1842) from West Point and served in the Mexican War, reaching the rank of major. At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned from the U.S. army and became a Confederate brigadier general. He took part in the first battle of Bull Run and in the Peninsular campaign. His creditable performance at the second battle of Bull Run (1862), at Antietam, and at the battle of Fredericksburg led to his promotion (Oct., 1862) to lieutenant general. In 1862–63 he held a semi-independent command S of the James River, returning too late to aid General Lee at Chancellorsville. He commanded the right wing at Gettysburg (1863), where his delay in taking the offensive is generally said to have cost Lee the battle (see Gettysburg campaign). He fought at Chickamauga in the Chattanooga campaign and unsuccessfully besieged Knoxville (1863). Returning to Virginia in 1864, he distinguished himself in the Wilderness campaign, where he was wounded. Longstreet participated in the last defense of Richmond, surrendering with Lee at Appomattox. After the war he settled in New Orleans, became a Republican, and held a number of federal posts. He criticized Lee's conduct at Gettysburg harshly and was long unpopular in the South. As a general, he is considered to have been a poor independent commander and strategist but an excellent combat officer. His opinions on the war are expressed in his From Manassas to Appomattox (1896, repr. 1960).
See G. Tucker, Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg (1968); W. G. Piston, Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History (1987).
"Longstreet, James." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longstreet-james
"Longstreet, James." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longstreet-james
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The Chicago Manual of Style
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Born January 8, 1821
Edgefield District, South Carolina
Died January 2, 1904
Controversial military leader whose reputation as
General Robert E. Lee's "old war horse" was
shaken at Gettysburg
James Longstreet is perhaps the most controversial of the generals who served the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Longstreet's supporters point out that he fought courageously at many of the war's biggest battles, and that General Robert E. Lee (1807–1870; see entry) had such high regard for Longstreet that he affectionately referred to him as the Confederacy's "Old War Horse." But Longstreet's critics argue that he devoted too much time and energy to trivial political quarrels, and that he did not always do a good job of supporting Lee. Much of this still-lively debate about Longstreet centers on the Battle of Gettysburg, during which he and Lee had a famous dispute over military strategy.
A Georgia childhood
Longstreet was born on January 8, 1821, in Edgefield District, South Carolina, to James and Mary Ann Dent Longstreet. Within weeks of his birth, however, he was taken to his parents' cotton plantation outside of Gainesville, Georgia. "My earliest recollections were of the Georgia side of the Savannah River, and my school days were passed there," Longstreet recalled.
As Longstreet grew older, he developed a keen interest in fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities. Encouraged by his father, he also dreamed of someday building a career for himself in the military. "From my early boyhood [my father] conceived that he would send me to West Point [Military Academy] for army service," Longstreet remembered. "But in my twelfth year he passed away [from cholera]." Longstreet's mother then moved her family to northern Alabama. A few years later, one of Longstreet's relatives helped him gain admittance to West Point.
West Point and Mexico
Longstreet entered West Point in 1838. He struggled in some of his classes, but his athletic abilities and his outgoing personality helped him to get by. Longstreet's many friends from this period of his life included Ulysses S. Grant 1822–1885; see entry), a boy from Ohio who would later take command of the Union Army during the Civil War.
After graduating from the academy in 1842, Longstreet entered the U.S. Army. He was first stationed to a military outpost in St. Louis, Missouri. During Longstreet's stay in St. Louis he met Louise Garland, the daughter of his regimental commander. The two became close, and in March 1848 Longstreet and Garland married. They eventually had ten children, but only five of them survived to adulthood.
Longstreet's first battlefield experiences came during the Mexican War, a conflict between Mexico and the United States that lasted from 1846 to 1848. This war came about when the United States became interested in acquiring significant sections of Mexican territory in order to expand its own land holdings. In 1845, America annexed (added) Texas to the Union and tried to negotiate the purchase of California and New Mexico from Mexico. But Mexico regarded Texas as one of its own provinces, and it refused to give up California and New Mexico. America's determination to take possession of these lands did not diminish, however, and the two countries ended up going to war over the territories.
Longstreet first served in the Mexican War under General Zachary Taylor (1784–1850) as part of the U.S. Eighth Infantry. His steady performance during the first year of the conflict brought him considerable attention, and he began to rise through the ranks. In early 1847, the Eighth Infantry joined an offensive led by General Winfield Scott (1786–1866; see entry) into the heart of Mexico. Scott's campaign included a successful assault on the Mexican fortress of Chapultepec. During this attack, Longstreet carried the flag of the Eighth Infantry over the fortress walls, only to be shot in the leg. He quickly turned and handed the flag to a fellow soldier named George Pickett (1825–1875), who waved the flag in triumph as he charged into the fort. Longstreet's bravery during the storming of Chapultepec further added to his growing reputation.
As Scott's campaign unfolded, American forces captured most of Mexico's major cities, including the capital of Mexico City. The offensive broke Mexico's ability to resist the American push to expand its territory. When a treaty ending the war was signed in early 1848, Mexico ceded (gave up) two-fifths of its territory to the United States in exchange for $15 million.
Joins the Confederate Army
Longstreet continued to serve in the U.S. Army in the 1850s. But his years of military service under the American flag came to an end on June 1, 1861, when he joined the newly formed army of the Confederate States of America. The Confederate States of America was composed of eleven Southern states which seceded from (left) the United States in late 1860 and early 1861. The root causes of this wave of secession were bitter disagreements between the nation's Southern and Northern regions over the issues of slavery, states' rights, and Federal authority.
Many Northerners believed that slavery was wrong and wanted to abolish (eliminate) it. In addition, they argued that the Federal government had the authority to pass laws that applied to all citizens of the United States. But much of the South's economy and culture had been built on the slave system, and Southerners resented Northern efforts to halt or contain the practice. In addition, they argued that the Federal government did not have the constitutional power to institute national laws on slavery or other issues. White Southerners argued that each state should decide for itself whether to allow slavery. In early 1861, these differences broke out into open war, as the South declared its independence, and the North vowed to use force to keep the country together.
Lee's "old war horse"
After joining the Confederate Army, Longstreet quickly established himself as an able officer and a tough fighter. Assigned to the South's Army of Northern Virginia, he was immediately promoted to brigadier general because of his West Point background and service in the Mexican War. In January 1862, however, Longstreet's concentration on military duties was shattered when three of his children died from scarlet fever. According to some historians, Longstreet never fully recovered from this loss.
Despite his personal problems, Longstreet distinguished himself during the first two years of the war. Emerging as one of General Robert E. Lee's most trusted officers, Longstreet helped secure Confederate triumphs in several major battles, including the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861), the Seven Days' Campaign (June 1862), the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862), and the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862). Of course, not every battle went in favor of the South. But even in engagements like the bloody Battle of Antietam (September 1862), in which the North clawed out a narrow victory in western Maryland, Longstreet's troops displayed great spirit.
Longstreet's divisions filled vital roles in many of these clashes. In some battles, they led offensive charges that sparked rebel (Confederate) victory. In others, Longstreet used his knowledge of military tactics (movement of troops and ships) and strategy to erect strong defensive positions that were difficult for Union forces to penetrate. But whatever the assignment, Longstreet's troops seemed to do a good job of it. As Longstreet's reputation for steady battlefield performance increased, Lee began referring to him admiringly as "my old war horse."
The Battle of Gettysburg
During the summer of 1863, Lee decided to follow up a smashing May victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia, with an invasion of the North. The Confederate general hoped that by bringing the war into the Northern states, he could capture badly needed provisions (food and supplies) and create a surge of antiwar sentiment in the North. Lee knew that President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; see entry) would not be able to continue the war against the South if he did not have the support of the Northern people.
Lee moved his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania. His army of seventy-five thousand troops was a dangerous one. But the extended absence of Lee's cavalry on a raid made it hard for him to obtain accurate information about enemy troop movements. As a result, the Confederate force nearly walked right into the Union's Army of the Potomac, a ninety thousand–man force led by General George Meade (1815–1872; see entry).
On July 1, the two armies finally came together in the vicinity of a village called Gettysburg. Neither side gained a big advantage during the afternoon. Instead, leaders of both armies maneuvered for the best possible strategic position. When the day's fighting was over, Lee gathered Longstreet and his other officers together to discuss their next move. Longstreet believed that the Union Army had managed to secure superior positions. Concerned that the rebels would be unable to push the Yankees (Northerners) from those positions, he urged Lee to leave the area and establish a strong defensive position elsewhere. "[Longstreet] reasoned that because a Confederate army was in Union territory, Meade . . . would be forced by political pressures to take the offensive to drive the enemy out of Pennsylvania," stated historian James M. McPherson in Civil War Journal. "So he recommended to Lee that they find a strong position, wait for the inevitable [unavoidable] Union attack, and then break it to pieces."
But Lee was confident that his army could win, and he disregarded Longstreet's advice. When it became clear that Lee intended to order a large-scale offensive on the Union defensive positions, Longstreet sulked and muttered his doubts about the plan to other officers.
On the following day, Lee ordered his troops forward in a large-scale assault on the Yankee enemy. Longstreet's performance during this attack has been a source of bitter debate ever since. Some historians contend that Longstreet was so mad at Lee that he deliberately did a poor job of leading his troops. But other historians believe that while Longstreet strongly disagreed with Lee's strategy, he did his best to fulfill his commander's wishes.
In any event, Lee's frontal assault of July 2 failed. But after retreating for the evening, Lee decided to attempt another offensive against the Union defenses the following day. Targeting a center of Union defenses called Cemetery Ridge, he told Longstreet to prepare his troops to lead the assault the next morning.
On the morning of July 3, Longstreet once again expressed deep reservations about Lee's plan. Noting that the open terrain in front of Cemetery Ridge offered no protection for his soldiers, he flatly predicted catastrophe. But when Lee refused to change his mind, Longstreet prepared his men for the assault. "Never was I so depressed as upon that day," he later wrote. "I thought that my men were to be sacrificed and that I should have to order them to make a hopeless charge."
As Longstreet had predicted, the attack on Cemetery Ridge ended in disaster for the Confederates. Led by a division of soldiers under the command of George Pickett—Longstreet's old comrade from the Mexican War—Longstreet's corps (a military division) made a heroic but doomed effort to break through the Union defenses. The Union cannons and rifles lined up along Cemetery Ridge cut the advancing rebel force to pieces and brought Lee's dreams of Northern invasion to an end. "That day at Gettysburg was one of the saddest of my life," Longstreet later said.
Longstreet moves West
The failure of "Pickett's Charge," as the July 3 attack came to be known, forced Lee to retreat back to Virginia with the battered remains of his army. Two months later Longstreet was transferred out of the Army of Northern Virginia at his own request. He joined the Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Braxton Bragg (1817–1876; see entry).
At first, the switch to the war's western theater (the region of the South between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains) seemed to rekindle Longstreet's spirits. For example, in September 1863, he helped Bragg gain a decisive victory over Union troops in northern Georgia at the Battle of Chickamauga. But Longstreet became infuriated when Bragg fumbled away a chance to crush the remainder of the enemy army. After that, Longstreet engaged in bitter quarrels with several subordinate (lower ranked) officers and launched a siege of Union-occupied Knoxville, Tennessee, that ended in complete failure.
Rejoining General Lee
After the failed siege of Knoxville, Longstreet became so depressed that he asked to be relieved of command. The Confederate Army refused to accept his resignation, but it did send Longstreet and his troops back to Virginia, where they were reunited with Lee.
In May 1864, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia faced Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac in the bloody Wilderness campaign. During the course of this violent struggle, Longstreet was accidently shot in the throat by his own troops. He eventually recovered from the wound, but by the time he returned to active service, the Civil War was in its final stages. He helped defend Petersburg and Richmond from the advancing Union armies during the spring of 1865, but the Confederate resistance became hopeless. In April 1865, he accompanied Lee when he surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia.
Loved and hated in the South
After the war, Longstreet became a successful New Orleans insurance and cotton broker. But while some Southerners continued to honor him for his wartime efforts, his popularity in the region dropped dramatically when he allied himself with the Republican political party, which had led the fights to end slavery and preserve the Union. Ignoring his critics, Longstreet served in a variety of federal Republican administrations until his death in 1904.
Longstreet also became very unpopular in some quarters because of his postwar criticism of Lee. General Lee was beloved all across the South, and no one liked to hear him criticized. When Longstreet dared to complain about Lee's decisions at Gettysburg, Southerners instead blamed him for the loss.
Debates about Longstreet's performance at Gettysburg continue today. Some historians are among his strongest critics. For example, Steven E. Woodworth wrote in Jefferson Davis and His Generals that "At Gettysburg . . . Longstreet demonstrated that he could be anything but reliable and more than a little childish when the plan chosen by his commander did not meet with his approval." Other historians, however, believe that Longstreet was one of the South's strongest corps commanders, and that he has been treated unfairly. "Corps commander James Longstreet made three mistakes that have denied him his deserved place in Southern posterity," commented Stewart Sifakis in Who Was Who in Civil War History. "He argued with Lee at Gettysburg, he was right, and he became a Republican."
Where to Learn More
DiNardo, R. L., and Albert A. Nofi, eds. James Longstreet: The Man, the Soldier, the Controversy. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Pub., 1998.
Eckenrode, H. J., and Bryan Conrad. James Longstreet: Lee's War Horse. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1936. Reprint, 1986.
Hallock, Judith Lee. General James Longstreet in the West: A MonumentalFailure. Fort Worth, TX: Ryan Place, 1995.
The Longstreet Chronicles. [Online] http://www.chickasaw.com/~rainbow/ (accessed on October 15, 1999).
Longstreet, James. From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1896. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.
Piston, William Garrett. Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet andHis Place in Southern History. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.
Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier—A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Naming Civil War Battles
Many famous Civil War battles are actually known by two different names, because the North and the South used different ways to name the engagements. The Union Army, for example, usually named battles for nearby creeks or rivers, while the Confederate forces often named battles for nearby towns. As a result, some battles came to be known by two different names:
|Union Name for Battle||Confederate Name for Battle|
|Fair Oaks||Seven Pines|
This system was also used by the two sides to name their armies. For example, the Union used river names like the Potomac and the James as names for their forces. The Confederacy, meanwhile, named armies based on the geographic region in which they operated (Army of Northern Virginia, Army of Tennessee, Army of Mississippi, etc.)
"James Longstreet." American Civil War Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/energy-government-and-defense-magazines/james-longstreet
"James Longstreet." American Civil War Reference Library. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/energy-government-and-defense-magazines/james-longstreet