Major General Lafayette McLaws (CSA)

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Major General Lafayette McLaws (CSA)

Lafayette McLaws was born in Augusta, Georgia on 15 January 1821. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, 48th out of 56 cadets. McLaws served in the Mexican-American War, the West, and in the Utah War. While at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, he married Emily Allison Taylor, the niece of Zachary Taylor, making him a cousin-in-law to future Confederates Richard Taylor and Jefferson Davis.

At the start of the Civil War, McLaws resigned as a U.S. Army captain and was commissioned a major in the Confederate States Army. He was promoted to colonel of the 10th Georgia Infantry. During the Seven Days Battles, he was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade and a division. On 23 May 1862, he was promoted to major general. He served in James Longstreet’s First Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia as 1st Division commander for most of the war.

During Robert E. Lee’s 1862 Maryland Campaign, McLaw’s Division was detached and operated with Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and captured Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry. At Sharpsburg, Maryland, his division defended the West Woods in the Battle of Antietam. Lee was disappointed in McLaws’ slow arrival on the battlefield. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, McLaws’ Division was one of the defenders of Marye’s Heights, and he satisfied Lee with his ferocious defensive performance.

At Chancellorsville, while the rest of Longstreet’s corps was detached for duty near Suffolk, Virginia, McLaws fought directly under Lee’s command. On 3 May 1863, Lee sent McLaws’ Division to stop the Union VI Corps under Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick marching toward Lee’s rear. He accomplished this, but Lee was disappointed McLaws had not attacked more aggressively and caused more harm to Sedgwick’s corps. When Lee reorganized the army following Jackson’s mortal wounding at Chancellorsville, Longstreet recommend McLaws for corps command, but Lee chose Richard S. Ewell and A. P. Hill instead. McLaws request for a transfer was denied.

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, 2 July 1863, McLaws commanded the second division to step off in Longstreet’s massive assault on the Union left flank. He achieved great but costly success in the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard. His division did not participate in Pickett’s Charge the next day.

McLaws accompanied Longstreet’s corps to Tennessee to come to the aid of General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. He arrived too late to lead his division at Chickamauga, where it was led by Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, but he did participate in the Chattanooga Campaign. During the Knoxville Campaign, Longstreet relieved McLaws for the failure of the attack on Fort Sanders. In a letter to Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General Samuel Cooper, Longstreet submitted three charges of “neglect of duty” but did not request a court-martial because McLaws’ “services might be important to the Government in some other position.” McLaws requested a court-martial to clear his name, and Jefferson Davis opposed relieving him until a successor could be appointed.

The courts-martial of Brig. Gen. Jerome B. Robertson and McLaws convened on 12 February 1864 with Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner serving as president of the court. The proceeding suffered delays as witnesses were not available to appear as scheduled. On 5 May, Cooper’s office published the court’s findings exonerating McLaws on the first two charges but finding him guilty of the third. McLaws was sentenced to 60 days without rank or command, but Cooper overturned the verdict and sentence, ordering McLaws to return to duty with his division. However, on 18 May, McLaws was assigned by the War Department to the Defenses of Savannah in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

McLaws failed to defend Savannah against Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. At the Battle of Rivers’ Bridge on 2 February 1865, his command resisted the advance of the Army of the Tennessee into South Carolina. McLaws led a division under Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee at the Battle of Averasborough and the Battle of Bentonville. When General Joseph E. Johnston reorganized his army, McLaws lost his command. He was assigned command of the District of Georgia. On 18 October 1865, he was pardoned by the U.S. government.

After the war, McLaws worked in the insurance business, was a tax collector for the IRS, served as Savannah’s postmaster, and was active in Confederate veterans’ organizations. Despite his wartime differences with Longstreet, he initially defended Longstreet in the post-war attempts by Jubal Early and others to smear his reputation. McLaws died in Savannah, Georgia on 24 July 1897.

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