Lieutenant General James Longstreet (CSA)
James Longstreet was born on 8 January 1821 in Edgefield District, South Carolina. He was a poor student academically and a disciplinary problem at the United States Military Academy graduating 54th out of 56 cadets in 1842. He was popular with his classmates and befriended many who would become prominent during the Civil War: George H. Thomas, William S. Rosecrans (his roommate), John Pope, D.H. Hill, Lafayette McLaws, George Pickett, and Ulysses S. Grant. He was commissioned brevet second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry spending his first two years of service at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where Grant soon joined him.
Longstreet met his first wife Maria Louisa Garland, the daughter of his regimental commander Lt. Col. John Garland. They married in March 1848. At the same time, Grant was courting Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent.
He served with distinction in the Mexican-American War with the 8th U.S. Infantry. He served as a lieutenant in Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. He received brevet promotions to captain for Contreras and Churubusco and major for Molino del Rey. He was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec on 12 September 1847, while charging up the hill with his regimental colors; falling, he handed the flag to Lt. George E. Pickett, who was able to reach the summit.
Longstreet served on frontier duty in Texas serving as major and paymaster for the 8th Infantry from July 1858. He was not enthusiastic about secession from the Union but offered his services to the state of Alabama (the state which had appointed him to West Point). As he was the senior West Point graduate from Alabama, it was implied he would have a high rank in the state’s forces. He resigned from the U.S. Army in June 1861.
He was appointed brigadier general on 17 June and commanded a brigade of Virginia regiments at Manassas. They saw their first action at Blackburn’s Ford on 18 July. His brigade played a minor role during the First Battle of Bull Run, and Longstreet was infuriated when his commanders would not allow a vigorous pursuit of the defeated Union Army. On 7 October, he was promoted to major general and assumed command of a division in the Army of Northern Virginia – four infantry brigades and Hampton’s Legion.
A scarlet fever epidemic stuck Richmond in January 1862 claming the lives of his one-year old daughter, four-year old son, and eleven-year old son. He was devastated and became withdrawn, both personally and socially. The parties, drinking, and poker games his headquarters were noted for in 1861 faded away following the tragedy. He rarely drank and became a devout Episcopalian.
During the Peninsula Campaign that spring, Longstreet executed well as a rear guard commander at Yorktown and Williamsburg, but during Seven Pines, he marched his men the wrong direction down the wrong road causing congestion and confusion with other units, diluting the effect of the massive Confederate counterattack against Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. Longstreet’s report unfairly blamed Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger for the mishaps. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was wounded during the battle and was replaced by Gen. Robert E. Lee.
During the Seven Days Battles, Longstreet had operational command of nearly half of Lee’s army performing aggressively and well in his new, larger command, particularly at Gaines’ Mill and Glendale. An uncharacteristically weak performance by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson prevented Lee’s army from destroying the Union Army.
Lee’s top lieutenants were often described as Jackson was the army’s hammer and Longstreet its anvil. However, during the Northern Virginia Campaign of August 1862, this stereotype did not hold true. Longstreet commanded the Right Wing, and Jackson commanded the Left Wing. Lee ordered Jackson to place his corps in the rear of Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia, but Jackson took up a defensive position and invited Pope to assault him. On 28 and 29 August, at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Pope pounded Jackson as Longstreet marched north to reach the battlefield.
When Longstreet’s men arrived on 29 August, Lee planned a flanking attack. Longstreet recommended instead a reconnaissance in force be conducted to survey the ground. On 30 August, his preparations paid off. His artillery was a major factor in helping Jackson resist a Union attack, and Longstreet capitalized on Federal confusion by launching his own attack. His performance was criticized by postbellum advocates of the Lost Cause as the seeds of the disaster at Gettysburg were planted at Manassas by his disobedience, reluctance, and slowness to Lee’s orders.
At the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, Longstreet held his part of the Confederate defensive line against twice the number of Union forces. He validated his idea that the tactical defense was vastly superior to the exposed offense. Following the battle, Lee greeted Longstreet, “Ah! Here is Longstreet; here’s my old war-horse!” On 9 October, Longstreet was promoted to lieutenant general and given commanded of the First Corps, consisting of five divisions, approximately 41,000 men.
In December, First Corps played the decisive role at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Longstreet’s men had time to dig in and methodically site artillery behind a stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Heights. During the battle, his men held off fourteen assaults by Union forces inflicting almost 8,000 casualties while suffering only 1,000.
In early spring 1863, Longstreet suggested his corps be sent to reinforce Braxton Bragg in Middle Tennessee, possibly hoping independent command would offer better opportunities for advancement. Lee, however, detached two divisions to Richmond – George Pickett’s and John B. Hood’s – and Longstreet would command them and the Departments of North Carolina and Southern Virginia.
In April, Longstreet besiege Union forces in Suffolk, Virginia. Confederate authorities collected huge amounts of provisions. However, Longstreet and his 15,000 men missed the Battle of Chancellorsville, and he was criticized for not marching his men back in time to join Lee. This event proved, however, that the Army of Northern Virginia could manage with fewer troops for periods of time and units could be shifted to create opportunity in other theaters.
In mid-May, Longstreet again advocated detachment of his corps to Tennessee. Longstreet argued that a reinforced army under Bragg could defeat William S. Rosecrans and drive toward the Ohio River, which would compel Ulysses S. Grant to break his siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lee opposed and advocated a large-scale offensive into Pennsylvania. Following Stonewall Jackson’s mortal wounding at Chancellorsville, the Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized; Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill were promoted to lieutenant general and assumed command of the Second and Third Corps. Longstreet’s First Corp gave up Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson’s division, leaving him with the divisions of Lafayette McLaws, George Pickett, and John Hood.
Longstreet’s actions at the Battle of Gettysburg would become the centerpiece of the controversy that surrounded him for over a century. He arrived at the battlefield ahead of his troops on 1 July 1863. Ewell and Hill had driven the Union Army back into great defensive positions on Cemetery Hill south of town. Longstreet advocated a strategic movement around the left flank of the enemy to secure good ground between the Union Army under George G. Meade and Washington, D.C., to force Meade to attack them in defensive positions like Fredericksburg.
Lee rejected the proposal and ordered Longstreet to attack the Union’s left flank, then Hill would attack Cemetery Ridge near the center, while Ewell demonstrated on the Union right. On 2 July, Longstreet was not ready to attack as early as Lee envisioned. Longstreet’s men were still marching to the battlefield and the attack did not commence until afternoon. Lost Cause advocates say Longstreet purposely delayed to cause the attack to fail.
McLaws and Hood’s division assaulted Little Round Top and the Devil’s Den, but failed to dislodge Union defenders on the hill with heavy casualties. Longstreet did not meet with Lee that night dashing Lee’s plans for an early morning assault on 3 July. Lee instead ordered Longstreet to coordinate a massive assault on the center of the Union line with the division of George Pickett and brigades from A.P. Hill’s corps. Longstreet believed the assault would fail and was unable to verbalize the order to advance. Pickett’s Charge suffered heavy casualties. For years afterward, Longstreet was blamed for the failed attack.
Lee and President Jefferson Davis finally agreed to send Longstreet with the divisions of McLaws and Hood to Tennessee. They arrived in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. Longstreet exploited a gap in the Union lines and Rosecrans fled the field. George H. Thomas rallied a defense against Longstreet to prevent a complete rout.
Longstreet soon became leader of the group of senior commanders of the army who conspired to have Braxton Bragg removed from command. Davis sided with Bragg and nothing was done to resolve the conflict between Bragg and his subordinates. Bragg reduced Longstreet’s command to only the forces he brought from Virginia. Eventually Longstreet and his men were sent to East Tennessee to deal with an advance by Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.
He was criticized for his slow advance toward Knoxville in November. Burnside evaded him at the Battle of Campbell’s Station, and Longstreet unsuccessfully besieged Knoxville. When Bragg was defeated by Grant at Chattanooga on 25 November, Longstreet was ordered to join forces with the Army of Tennessee, but he instead moved his forces back to Virginia with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman in pursuit. His independent command was a failure and his self-confidence was damaged. He blamed others for the failures, relieving McLaws and requesting the court martial of Brig. Gens. Jerome B. Robertson and Evander M. Law. He also submitted a letter of resignation to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on 30 December 1863, but his request to be relieved was denied.
At the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864, Longstreet launched a powerful flanking attack along the Orange Plank Road against the Union II Corps and nearly drove it from the field. He developed innovative tactics to deal with difficult terrain, ordering the advance of six brigades by heavy skirmish lines, which allowed his men to deliver continuous fire into the enemy, while proving to be elusive targets themselves. Longstreet was accidentally shot by his own men only 4 miles away from the place where Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier. The attack subsided and Grant’s army was not stopped on its drive to Richmond.
Longstreet missed the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign. He rejoined Lee in October with his right arm paralyzed; he was to regain use of his right hand in later years. He commanded the defenses in front of the capital of Richmond. He retreated with Lee during the Appomattox Campaign, commanding the First and Third Corps, following the death of A.P. Hill on 2 April 1865. As Lee considered surrender, Longstreet advised him of his belief that Grant would treat them fairly, but as Lee rode toward Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865, Longstreet said, “General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.”
After the war, Longstreet settled in New Orleans. President Andrew Johnson refused to pardon him, but the U.S. Congress restored his rights of citizenship in June 1868. He was the only senior Confederate officer to join the Republican Party during Reconstruction endorsing Grant for president. He was appointed surveyor of customs in New Orleans. His fellow Southerners reviled him. He was appointed adjutant general of the Louisiana state militia and by 1872 was major general in command of all militia and state police forces within New Orleans.
During protests of election irregularities in 1874, an armed force of 8,400 White League members advanced on the State House. Longstreet was taken prisoner during the ensuing fight. He and his family moved to Gainesville, Georgia. He was considered for Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes and in 1880, Hayes appointed Longstreet ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He served from 1897 to 1904 as U.S. Commissioner of Railroads.
He was attacked by proponents of the Lost Cause, finally refuting their arguments in his memoirs From Manassas to Appomattox published in 1896. He died in Gainesville on 2 January 1904.