Interview: Longstreet on Lee's Military Attributes

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lelliott19

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On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions on a number of topics. This part of the interview records General Longstreet's analysis of Lee's military attributes.

In answer to a question as to what were General Lee's chief attributes as a commander, General Longstreet, weighing well each word, replied as follows:

"General Lee was a large-minded man, of great and profound learning in the science of war. In all strategical movements he handled a great army with comprehensive ability and signal success. His campaigns against McClellan and Pope fully illustrate his capacity. On the defensive General Lee was absolutely perfect. Reconciled to the single purpose of defense, he was invincible. This is demonstrated by his Fredericksburg battle, and again in the Wilderness, around Spotsylvania, at Cold Harbor and before Petersburg.

"But of the art of war, more particularly that of giving offensive battle, I do not think General Lee was a master. In science and military learning he was greatly the superior of General Grant or any other commander on either side. But in the art of war I have no doubt that Grant and several other officers were his equals. In this field his characteristic fault was headlong combativeness, when a blow was struck he wished to return it on the spot. He chafed at inaction; always desired to beat up the enemy at once and have it out. He was too pugnacious. His impatience to strike, once in the presence of the enemy, whatever the disparity of forces or relative conditions, I consider the one weakness of General Lee's military character."​

Note: This post is Part 10 of a series on Longstreet's opinions of various Generals, expressed during an interview with a Washington Post corespondent in 1893. Longstreet's opinions on various generals are posted in separate threads so they can be easily located - Bragg, Jackson, A P Hill, Early, Ewell, Pickett, Sheridan, Joe Johnston, Beauregard, Hood, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-9, posted previously:
Part 1 - Intro to the article
Part 2 - Longstreet on Bragg
Part 3 - Longstreet on Jackson
Part 4 - Longstreet on AP Hill
Part 5 - Longstreet on Ewell & Early
Part 6 - Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks & the Timing of the Surrender
Part 7 - Longstreet on Joe Johnston
Part 8 - Longstreet on Beauregard
Part 9 - Longstreet on Hood
Source: Reprinted from the
Washington Post of June 1893, the interview appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.
@Eleanor Rose @Union_Buff @FarawayFriend @War Horse @novushomus @GELongstreet @LeesWarhorse @Tom Elmore @Coonewah Creek @Yankeedave @Andy Cardinal @PeterT @Zella If you aren't tagged and would like to receive notification when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones. <This is the first of several on Lee. Up next, Longstreet on Lee's tendency to take chances.>
 

lelliott19

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General Longstreet continues:

"This trait of aggressiveness," continued General Longstreet, after a pause, "led him to take too many chances - into dangerous situations. At Chancellorsville, against every military principle, he divided his army in the presence of the enemy numerically double his own. His operations around Harper's Ferry and Antietam were even worse. It was among the possibilities for a bold, penetrating, fighting commander like Grant to close the war in the East after Antietam. Our previous losses had been heavy; the morale of the army was low, and it was reduced by that battle and straggling to less than thirty thousand effectives, whereas McClellan had fully one hundred thousand. About this time, General Lee officially informed the Richmond authorities of his great fear that the army was in danger of actual dissolution from straggling and desertion."​

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War Horse

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General Longstreet continues:

"This trait of aggressiveness," continued General Longstreet, after a pause, "led him to take too many chances - into dangerous situations. At Chancellorsville, against every military principle, he divided his army in the presence of the enemy numerically double his own. His operations around Harper's Ferry and Antietam were even worse. It was among the possibilities for a bold, penetrating, fighting commander like Grant to close the war in the East after Antietam. Our previous losses had been heavy; the morale of the army was low, and it was reduced by that battle and straggling to less than thirty thousand effectives, whereas McClellan had fully one hundred thousand. About this time, General Lee officially informed the Richmond authorities of his great fear that the army was in danger of actual dissolution from straggling and desertion."​

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Isn’t it interesting how what we rever Jackson and Lee for and even call them audacious for can justifiably be criticized by true military minds. Success grants you the title of audacious, failure grants you the title of boob. Which critic is wrong, better yet, is either?
 
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Eleanor Rose

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"[Lee] always invited my views in moves of strategy and general policy, not so much for the purpose of having his own views approved and confirmed as to get new lights, or channels for new thought, and was more pleased when he found something that gave him new strength than with efforts to evade his questions by compliments.

When oppressed by severe study, he sometimes sent for me to say that he had applied himself so closely to a matter that he found his ideas running around in a circle, and was in need of help to find a tangent."

-General Longstreet in From Manassas to Appomattox
 
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