James Longstreet

James Longstreet. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. LC-MSS-44297-33-133.

One of the most controversial generals of the Confederacy, James Longstreet (1821–1904) was born in South Carolina but spent most of his early years in Georgia. An 1842 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Longstreet displayed conspicuous bravery during the Mexican War. In 1861, he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army with the rank of brigadier general. Early in 1862, Longstreet and his wife Maria were devastated by the deaths of three of their children from scarlet fever. Fighting his grief, he earned the trust of General Robert E. Lee with a solid performance at the Seven Days' Battles in June 1862. Longstreet proceeded to make notable contributions to the Southern victories at Second Manassas (Second Bull Run) and Fredericksburg. After Longstreet’s exceptional leadership at Sharpsburg (Antietam) in September 1862, Lee dubbed him “My Old War Horse.” The following year, however, Longstreet had serious misgivings concerning Lee's strategy to invade the North. Believing the South could ill afford to sustain high casualties in offensive operations, he openly questioned Lee’s decision to attack the Union forces at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). He was particularly opposed to the July 3 frontal assault that is now known as Pickett's Charge. His assessment of that action's chances for success proved to be correct. Later engagements for Longstreet included Chickamauga, and the Wilderness, and the siege at Petersburg. After the war, Longstreet joined the Republican Party and held several federal offices beginning in the Grant administration. Such actions earned him the moniker of “scalawag” among his fellow Southerners, nor did his postwar criticism of Robert E. Lee endear him to former Confederates. In 1896, James Longstreet countered these critics with his memoir From Manassas to Appomattox.

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