I have endeavored to supply a chasm in history which has always been overlooked

Stiles/Akin

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#1
By Eb Joseph Daniels

“I have endeavored to supply a chasm in history which has always been overlooked—the manners, customs, amusements, wit, dialect as they appear in all grades of society to an ear and eye witness of them”

On this day in 1790 Augustus Baldwin Longstreet was born in Augusta, Georgia.

Longstreet was the son of William Longstreet, an Augusta bureaucrat and small landholder who had tried to make a living as an inventor but failed. He encouraged Longstreet to focus on planting, but Longstreet’s mother, Hannah Randolph Longstreet, had higher aspirations for her son: she insisted that he pursue an academic career, and she sent him to the best local schools, at the Richmond Academy in Augusta and Hickory Gum Academy in South Carolina, before dispatching him to Moses Waddel’s famous preparatory school in Wilmington, South Carolina, which was generally acknowledged as one of the finest places of learning in North America.

Under Waddel’s tutelage, Longstreet thrived, and he soon earned entrance into Yale University. There he studied law, but earned a reputation as a gifted raconteur as he regaled his professors and classmates with tales about his life in Georgia.

Upon returning to his native Georgia, Longstreet passed the bar in 1815 and worked as an itinerant lawyer. During one trip to Greensboro, he met Miss Frances Eliza Parke at a party; they began a lengthy correspondence and in 1817 were married.

Frances was extremely close to her mother, and so she and Longstreet set up housekeeping in Greensboro, where Longstreet established his first firm. In 1821 Longstreet was elected to the Georgia General Assembly but he resigned his office after being appointed to a judgeship in the Superior Court of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit.

During this time, Georgia’s political scene featured two major factions: the populist Jacksonian Democrats led by John Clark and the conservative Jeffersonian Democrats and Whigs led by William H. Crawford and George M. Troup. Longstreet, a good friend of Troup, was a member of the conservative faction and when the Clark party won the General Assembly in 1824, they did not reappoint Longstreet to his judgeship.

Undeterred, Longstreet decided to run for Congress. In September of 1824, however, tragedy struck. Within just two days, the Longstreet family lost both Frances’ mother, to whom Longstreet had grown very close, and their eldest son, Alfred Emsley. Longstreet was heartbroken, and after dropping out of the congressional race he sank into a deep depression.

With support and guidance from his father-in-law, however, Longstreet was able to find solace in religion. He poured over the Bible in his sorrow and found hope, and converted to Christianity. Greensboro, however, was haunted, and so in 1827 he moved back to his native Augusta.

There, Longstreet joined a prominent local firm and continued to practice law. One of his partners, William W. Mann, was an accomplished amateur author, and he encouraged Longstreet to write down and publish some of his stories.

Throughout the 1830s, Longstreet submitted short stories about life in Georgia to local newspapers. The stories were so well-received that Longstreet published a collection of them in a book printed by the same house which handled his legal documents. This rather rough edition found its way into the hands of Edgar Allan Poe, who passed it along to a New York publishing house which offered to produce a higher quality edition, with illustrations. This book was published in 1840 and is generally reckoned the exemplar of Longstreet’s celebrated Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, Etc. in the First Half Century of the Republic.

Having grown even stronger in his faith, Longstreet became a Methodist minister in 1838 and rose quickly in the ranks of that church. Within a year he was named president of Methodist-affiliated Emory College, then located in Oxford, Georgia. Under his guidance, Emory became the center of Methodist intellectual life in the South. While acting as Emory’s president, Longstreet also played a pivotal role in promoting the schism between the Northern and Southern branches of the Methodist church, which split in 1844 over the issue of slavery.

Longstreet believed that Northern Methodists intended to destroy the Southern way of life through their opposition to slavery, and that the two sides were best served as separate entities. By the time that Longstreet left Emory in 1848 the school rivaled Franklin College, which would later become the University of Georgia, in both reputation and enrollment.

Longstreet had left Emory to become president of Centenary College in Louisiana, but found his vision for the school opposed by both the regents and the faculty. He resigned within a few months and instead assumed the presidency of the University of Mississippi in 1849.

The University of Mississippi thrived under Longstreet, who enlarged its enrollment, expanded its campus, and increased its endowments.

During this time, politically, Longstreet gravitated towards the Democrats rather than the Whigs, but his greatest ire would be reserved for the American Party, and its clannish and secretive supporters, the “Know-Nothings.” While president at the University of Mississippi, Longstreet began a protracted campaign to expel Know-Nothing elements from the school, railing at every opportunity against the American Party and its supporters. This zealous campaign disturbed many stakeholders at the University of Mississippi, some of whom were supporters of the American Party, and under mounting pressure from his critics Longstreet resigned the presidency in 1856, announcing his retirement from public life.

This retirement, however, was very short-lived. In 1857 Longstreet accepted the presidency of South Carolina College, which would later become the University of South Carolina. Building upon the divisions he had fomented in the Methodist Church, Longstreet’s reputation as a fervent supporter of Southerner rights was very popular in secession-minded South Carolina. Longstreet was not an advocate, in the late 1850s, of immediate secession, although he insisted, loudly and often, that if Northern interests took any further steps to interfere in Southern affairs, secession was the only solution.

In 1860 Longstreet was the only American asked to participate in the International Statistical Congress in London. He refused the honor, however, upon learning that one of the members from the Canadian delegation was a black freedman.

With the election of Abraham Lincoln, Longstreet saw sufficient justification for secession. He was adamant, however, that if war was necessary the first shot should not be fired by the South. Longstreet wrote several letters to Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard, who in his capacity as commander of the Charleston garrison was overseeing the Fort Sumter situation, strongly recommending that the SS Star of the West and later the relief party led by Captain Gustavus Fox be allowed to resupply the Federal garrison without molestation.

Longstreet was, of course, ignored, and by 1861 South Carolina College closed because nearly all of its students were serving in the Confederate Army. Longstreet moved back to Oxford, Mississippi, where he continued to write both fiction and political tracts while also doing what he could for the Confederate war effort, writing pamphlets and raising funds. He was kept abreast of military developments through his relations; his son-in-law was Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II, a colonel in the 19th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and later Confederate minister to Imperial Russia, while his nephew was famed Confederate general James Longstreet.

In December of 1862 Federal troops entered Oxford, torching large segments of the town, including Longstreet’s home – his personal papers were the kindling for the conflagration. Longstreet and his family fled to Oxford, Georgia, where they remained until 1864, when Longstreet published his first and only novel: it was poorly received.

Later in 1864 Longstreet moved to Columbus, Georgia, whereat he was residing when the war came to a close. Largely destitute, Longstreet returned to Oxford and attempted to start anew, but his life soon devolved into a miasma of genteel poverty, in which he would bide his time sitting on the porch of his crumbling home telling stories. He died on July 9th, 1870.

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