Interview: Longstreet on Pickett, Sheridan, Five Forks and the Timing of the Surrender

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
6,048
Longstreet on Pickett and Sheridan.JPG

On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions and criticisms on a number of topics. In this part of the interview, General Longstreet opines on George Pickett; laments insufficient troops at Five Forks; maintains that Phil Sheridan "won his spurs without effort" --- and suggests that "the surrender should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." Here is today's section of the interview:

"And now it occurs to me," resumed General Longstreet, suddenly, "that General Sheridan was pretty lucky in his two principal opponents -- Early in the Valley and Pickett at Five Forks. He won his spurs without effort. Pickett was a brave division commander, but was lacking in resources for a separate responsible command. Before Five Forks he expressed doubts of his own capacity to hold the extreme right, and urged me to come over and take charge. I was north of the James and could not join him. I doubt if General Lee at first perceived Grant's object and force in the direction of Five Forks. Sheridan should and could have been met at once with half our army and overwhelmed. Pickett, with his small, isolated command, was an easy prey. Our chief fault at Five Forks was in lack of numbers. But the game was already lost. Every man lost after the 1st of January, 1865, was uselessly sacrificed. The surrender should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did."​

Interesting that Longstreet says in this interview that the surrender "should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." In his memoirs, didn't Longstreet claim to have said, on April 7, 1865, "Not yet." when Grant sent to Lee an invitation to surrender?

Note: This post is Part 6 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, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-5, 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

Source: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the article appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.

@Eleanor Rose e @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 know when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones. <Up next, Longstreet on Johnston.>
 

Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
5,768
Location
central NC
Interesting that Longstreet says in this interview that the surrender "should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." In his memoirs, didn't Longstreet claim to have said, on April 7, 1865, "Not yet." when Grant sent to Lee an invitation to surrender?
In his memoir General Longstreet does indeed recount that when General Lee received a message from General Grant, he showed it to him. General Longstreet says that after reading it he replied, “Not yet.”

I have never read this as General Longstreet not wanting the war to end, but rather as the beginning of an endgame strategy. I think he saw this much the same way he viewed a game of brag when only a few cards remained. He wanted General Lee to "play it out" to his best advantage. Thus Lee sent a message back to Grant inquiring about surrender conditions, while another night march was undertaken.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Messages
8,698
Location
Hannover, Germany
The surrender should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did
I just watched a Gary Gallagher lecture on memory vs. history. Very interesting and he proved that things often are remembered differently than they were. With hindsight, Longstreet sure was right, but back then he still had hope, as they all had hope.
Lee was no madman in blind rage, he tried his best to turn the tide again and hope dies last.

It almost hurts to read how bitter Longstreet had become. It seems he finds a flaw now in everyone and everything. No wonder, he was badly hurt himself by the criticism and attacks of the Lost Causers, but nevertheless, to see him desperately clawing at everyone just hurts.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
6,048
It almost hurts to read how bitter Longstreet had become. It seems he finds a flaw now in everyone and everything. No wonder, he was badly hurt himself by the criticism and attacks of the Lost Causers, but nevertheless, to see him desperately clawing at everyone just hurts.
Interesting. I actually thought just the opposite --- that he was pretty accurate and, in most cases, extremely light handed in his evaluations. Especially given the way he had been treated and the hindsight that comes from the passage of time. I mean saying that Early was a "marplot" was about as vicious as he gets and really, how bad is that? (Especially since it seems to be true) :D
EDIT: Perhaps since I have read the entire article and you are only seeing snippets, the criticism comes off more vicious than it seems in context of the entire article?
 

Carronade

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Messages
4,631
Location
Pennsylvania
Interesting that Longstreet says in this interview that the surrender "should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." In his memoirs, didn't Longstreet claim to have said, on April 7, 1865, "Not yet." when Grant sent to Lee an invitation to surrender?
Interesting point. I expect he was distinguishing between the point in a battle or campaign when an army needs to surrender and the capitulation of the entire nation, ending the whole war. The latter decision of course would be up to the President and Congress, but if they had not chosen surrender, it was the duty of the soldiers in the field to carry on.

Apparently on April 7 Longstreet thought there was still a chance to accomplish their immediate concern, breaking contact with the Army of the Potomac and gaining a brief respite before trying to link up with Johnston or whatever they would do next. That chance was gone by April 9.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Messages
8,698
Location
Hannover, Germany
I actually thought just the opposite --- that he was pretty accurate and, in most cases, extremely light handed in his evaluations.
Yes interesting! I wrote that because it had just occurred to me that he could not find one compliment for any of the men he was asked about, that was not somehow flawed. Whoever he talks about was either lacking skill, knowledge or mental ability. All were morons in one way or another:

Were the Western Confederate generals jealous of your coming, general?" I asked.
"I do not think the subordinates were," he answered, "for they to a man lacked confidence in Bragg's skill and capacity
Jackson was undoubtedly a man of military ability. He was one of the most effective generals on our side. Possibly he had not the requirements in a commander-in-chief, but no man in either army could accomplish more with 30,000 or 40,000 men in an independent command. But in joint movements he was not so reliable. He was very self-reliant, and needed to be alone to bring out his greatest qualities
"Not by any means," replied General Longstreet. "Hill was a gallant, good soldier. There was a good deal of 'curled darling' and dress parade about Hill; he was uncertain at times, falling below expectations, while at others he performed prodigies. A division was about Hill's capacity."
Early's mental horizon was a limited one
Many former commanders said favorable things about their former subordinates and even their opponents.
Longstreet on the other hand, whom I adore because of his stoic courage, being the rock in the surf, chewing on a cigar in the face of mortal danger... here has lost his calm aplomb and deals out against everyone. Sure is he right about Bragg, for example,and Pickett (although he had been a good friend of Pickett's), but it's one thing to be right and another to tell a newspaper reporter (of all people!) how incapable everyone else was...
Don't get me wrong, I really like Longstreet! But he would not have needed to do that, in my eyes. He was not everybody's darling, but so what? Lee's War Horse did not need to be loved by everyone - he did what he thought right, that should have sufficed. Or let's say I would prefer if he had just not let himself be lured into that game of tit for tat.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Messages
19,909
Location
Laurinburg NC
I just watched a Gary Gallagher lecture on memory vs. history. Very interesting and he proved that things often are remembered differently than they were. With hindsight, Longstreet sure was right, but back then he still had hope, as they all had hope.
Lee was no madman in blind rage, he tried his best to turn the tide again and hope dies last.

It almost hurts to read how bitter Longstreet had become. It seems he finds a flaw now in everyone and everything. No wonder, he was badly hurt himself by the criticism and attacks of the Lost Causers, but nevertheless, to see him desperately clawing at everyone just hurts.
He brought it on himself by becoming a Republican during Radical Reconstruction. No one likes collaborators.
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Messages
8,698
Location
Hannover, Germany
He brought it on himself by becoming a Republican during Radical Reconstruction. No one likes collaborators.
Well, we have discussed that before...
He thought the sword had decided: his side must have been wrong because they were defeated. The defeated side in his opinion had to accept that and so he thought joining the winning side was the best thing to do to overcome the rift. It looks like being a turncoat, but I do sincerely think his motivation was different. To me it seems more like a kind of repent, the attempt to put some distance between his present existence and the past, and maybe even the hope that the nation would mend if the rebellion was put behind everybody, him being the first. To raise again from the ashes...
I may be wrong, of course. Sorry, that's just the armchair psychologist in me :D
 

Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
5,768
Location
central NC
I may be wrong, of course. Sorry, that's just the armchair psychologist in me :D
I think you're spot on in this assessment Andrea! I wonder if General Longstreet would be surprised to learn that his decisions after the war are still topics of discussion. I wonder how he would feel about it.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Messages
8,260
Location
Denver, CO
Both statements by General Longstreet could be valid. "Not yet" is consistent with the anticipation that the moment in which the soldiers themselves will see the necessity of events and submit to surrender will arrive in a few days.
With the armies arrayed in the trenches and the generals in position to negotiate terms for surrender, the exile of the government to Britain, and the progress of emancipation state by state, a different situation existed with other options.
The opinion expressed by General Longstreet was probably heavily influenced by General Ewell who expressed a sentiment that the last days of the Civil War were not distinct from murder.
 
Last edited:

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Messages
19,909
Location
Laurinburg NC
Well, we have discussed that before...
He thought the sword had decided: his side must have been wrong because they were defeated. The defeated side in his opinion had to accept that and so he thought joining the winning side was the best thing to do to overcome the rift. It looks like being a turncoat, but I do sincerely think his motivation was different. To me it seems more like a kind of repent, the attempt to put some distance between his present existence and the past, and maybe even the hope that the nation would mend if the rebellion was put behind everybody, him being the first. To raise again from the ashes...
I may be wrong, of course. Sorry, that's just the armchair psychologist in me :D
Joining for forces with the most radical element of his former enemies does indeed make him a turncoat and worse. :thumbsdown:
 

Eleanor Rose

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
5,768
Location
central NC
Aww, but @CSA Today appearances can be deceiving. As I said in another thread, the fact is General Longstreet was as loyal and as devoted to his country’s “cause” as anyone who wore Confederate gray. I sincerely believe a sense of honor and duty drove General Longstreet. I think the politics he voiced were the politics he truly believed in. I think he was a man who sincerely believed that the South would be best served by acknowledging their Northern victors and working to reunify the country. Sadly his words and reputation were not enough to shed light onto the very real condition of the South after the surrender at Appomattox. I readily admit he failed in this effort.

After the Civil War, General Longstreet was an older soldier left to financially support his family in a very different world. I think he did that the best way he knew how. Upon his death, President Theodore Roosevelt attributed to General Longstreet, “the fine and high-souled patriotism which made him, when the war was ended, as staunchly loyal to the Union as he had been loyal to the cause for which he fought during the war itself.”

Check out @Pat Young's thread: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/gen-longstreets-infamous-letter-on-joining-the-republicans-betraying-the-confederates-1867.150624/page-2



Source: Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Helen Longstreet, June 07, 1904; http://www.tennessee-scv.org/longstreet/post1.htm.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Jan 7, 2013
Messages
30,453
Location
Long Island, NY
View attachment 208047
On the occasion of Longstreet's visit to Antietam in 1893, a correspondent of the Washington Post recorded the General's opinions and criticisms on a number of topics. In this part of the interview, General Longstreet opines on George Pickett; laments insufficient troops at Five Forks; maintains that Phil Sheridan "won his spurs without effort" --- and suggests that "the surrender should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." Here is today's section of the interview:

"And now it occurs to me," resumed General Longstreet, suddenly, "that General Sheridan was pretty lucky in his two principal opponents -- Early in the Valley and Pickett at Five Forks. He won his spurs without effort. Pickett was a brave division commander, but was lacking in resources for a separate responsible command. Before Five Forks he expressed doubts of his own capacity to hold the extreme right, and urged me to come over and take charge. I was north of the James and could not join him. I doubt if General Lee at first perceived Grant's object and force in the direction of Five Forks. Sheridan should and could have been met at once with half our army and overwhelmed. Pickett, with his small, isolated command, was an easy prey. Our chief fault at Five Forks was in lack of numbers. But the game was already lost. Every man lost after the 1st of January, 1865, was uselessly sacrificed. The surrender should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did."​

Interesting that Longstreet says in this interview that the surrender "should have taken place certainly four months earlier than it did." In his memoirs, didn't Longstreet claim to have said, on April 7, 1865, "Not yet." when Grant sent to Lee an invitation to surrender?

Note: This post is Part 6 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, Jeff Davis, Lee, McClellan, and more. Here are the links to Parts 1-5, 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

Source: Reprinted from the Washington Post of June 1893, the article appeared in The Times Dispatch. (Richmond, VA.), November 12, 1911, page 3.

@Eleanor Rose e @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 know when these are posted, let me know and Ill tag you in future ones. <Up next, Longstreet on Johnston.>
Great thread.
 

NH Civil War Gal

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 5, 2017
Messages
3,434
Joining for forces with the most radical element of his former enemies does indeed make him a turncoat and worse. :thumbsdown:
I think, just like the Confederate Major that Pat just featured (I can't remember his name at the moment), Longstreet chose to "not sit in temples of the dead past." In other words, he got on with it. He also knew Grant and others and had been friends with them before in the old army. The war was one thing - he didn't overly personalize it.

You be nice about my Longstreet - and that's a lot coming from a northern girl!:sneaky:
 

lelliott19

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Messages
6,048
No one likes collaborators.
Ahhhh I beg to differ....collaboration is a desirable skill and one I value very highly. Especially in seeking employees who are team players. I really can't see how it would be any different in this case. I have found that the most progress is made when people are willing collaborators.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

OldReliable1862

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 2, 2017
Messages
743
Location
Georgia
Ahhhh I beg to differ....collaboration is a desirable skill and one I value very highly. Especially in seeking employees who are team players. I really can't see how it would be any different in this case. I have found that the most progress is made when people are willing collaborators.
Collaboration to achieve positive ends is something everyone would applaud, the question is what is a positive end? In the eyes of most Southerners, the Union were invaders, and for Longstreet to make common cause with them made him anathema.

To use an example of something that I'm sure almost everyone finds ridiculous, if not despicable, I'm actually leaning toward monarchism as a suitable form of government. If we allow ourselves to speculate for a moment that some kind of monarchist invasion took over, how would the traitors who welcomed the invaders be thought of? My belief is earnestly held, but that does not mean it is justifiable in the eyes of my neighbors.

Before anyone worries my monarchist pals and I are preparing a coup, we're far too lazy for that. :smile:
 
Last edited:

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Messages
19,909
Location
Laurinburg NC
Ahhhh I beg to differ....collaboration is a desirable skill and one I value very highly. Especially in seeking employees who are team players. I really can't see how it would be any different in this case. I have found that the most progress is made when people are willing collaborators.
I do, Longstreet was playing with the wrong team during Radical Reconstruction.
 

ErnieMac

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
May 3, 2013
Messages
8,987
Location
Pennsylvania
I think Longstreet was incorrect when he stated "I doubt if General Lee at first perceived Grant's object and force in the direction of Five Forks." As soon as the assault at Fort Stedman failed Lee was moving Pickett west. He had been planning the evacuation of the Richmond / Petersburg front for weeks. Lee anticipated Grant's move west though he probably didn't know the numbers involved. On March 30 Lee met the commanders of the units holding the western end of his lines at Sutherland Station (on the Southside Railroad about 8 miles north and east of Five Forks) to emphasize the necessity of turning back Sheridan.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

WJC

Brigadier General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,646
I just watched a Gary Gallagher lecture on memory vs. history. Very interesting and he proved that things often are remembered differently than they were. With hindsight, Longstreet sure was right, but back then he still had hope, as they all had hope.
Lee was no madman in blind rage, he tried his best to turn the tide again and hope dies last.

It almost hurts to read how bitter Longstreet had become. It seems he finds a flaw now in everyone and everything. No wonder, he was badly hurt himself by the criticism and attacks of the Lost Causers, but nevertheless, to see him desperately clawing at everyone just hurts.
Presentism is probably our greatest obstacle to understanding our forebears.
I don't recall even his harshest critics accuse Lee of being a madman.
As to Longstreet, I am sure he was bitter- he had ample reason to be. Yet I find his opinions of his fellow rebels to be very insightful and generally in line with what respected, objective historians have written about them.
 

WJC

Brigadier General
Moderator
Thread Medic
Answered the Call for Reinforcements
Joined
Aug 16, 2015
Messages
12,646
In his memoirs, didn't Longstreet claim to have said, on April 7, 1865, "Not yet." when Grant sent to Lee an invitation to surrender?
I agree with @Eleanor Rose's assessment. It was clear to most that the struggle was lost- simply considering the desertions underscores that. Pendleton, speaking for a council of senior officers, asked Longstreet to intervene with Lee and advise a surrender earlier; Longstreet wisely knew that was a decision only Lee could make. When the time came, his admission, "Not yet." was simply counseling Lee to 'play his last chip' to get the best possible terms.
We all too often overlook Lee's appreciation of Longstreet's counsel. Perhaps the finest example of this was at Appomattox.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top