James Longstreet
By Owen Page
James Longstreet
James Longstreet

Early Life

James Longstreet was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina on January 8, 1821 while his mother was visiting her mother-in-law. He spent most of his childhood in Augusta, Georgia with his uncle Augustus Longstreet, who may have been very influential in Longstreet’s early life as a strong defender and advocator for state’s rights. Longstreet’s father, James Sr., who was a farmer, encouraged his son to attend West Point but sadly passed away as a result of the cholera epidemic when Longstreet was twelve. It was from his father that Longstreet earned the nickname “Pete”, meaning sturdy and trustworthy. This name stayed with him throughout his life. As a young man at the age of sixteen, Longstreet applied to and attended West Point Military Academy and graduated fifty-fourth out of sixty-two cadets in the class of 1842. While attending West Point, he became friends with a man from Ohio, Ulysses S. Grant. These two would be assigned to the 4th U.S infantry together and remained friends throughout their lives.

United States Army Career

Like many future Civil War generals, Longstreet had his first battle experience in the Mexican-American War between 1846-1848. Longstreet fought in important battles such as Vera Cruz, Churubusco and Chapultepec where he was wounded in action. Longstreet also served alongside George Pickett, long time friend and future subordinate. He then served in the Indian Wars and rose to the rank of Major by 1858. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Longstreet was serving in the New Mexico Territory. As word reached him, Longstreet resigned his commission with the U.S Army on June 1st of 1861 and left the United States Army for good.

Early Confederate Army Career

Longstreet accepted a Confederate commission and is very quickly appointed Brigadier General under Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. Longstreet reported for duty in July 1861 and saw his first action as a Confederate at Blackburn’s Ford. It was at this time that he began to receive praise for coolness under fire and a manner that inspired his men. Longstreet, along with Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, were promoted to Major General in October 1861 under Joseph E. Johnston. After this promotion, Longstreet then commanded a division of six brigades, who would become First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. In January 1862, Longstreet received news of the deaths of three of his children as a result of scarlet fever. Despite this news, Longstreet still performed with his usual manner and had great success during the Peninsula Campaign, where he served as a rearguard for Johnston’s retreating army. During the Battle of Seven Pines, Longstreet bungled his orders and as a result, mismanaged the entire battle. Johnston was severely wounded during that battle and Robert E. Lee, who was serving as a military advisor to Jefferson Davis, succeeded Johnston’s command. Longstreet won Lee’s trust quickly with successes at the battles of Glendale on June 30 and Malvern Hill on July 1.

Lee wrote that Longstreet was “the staff in my right hand”, meaning that he was of great assistance to Lee in carrying out Lee’s battle plans. During August, at 2nd Manassas/2nd Bull Run, Longstreet’s 28,000 men counterattacked Union forces with devastating results. They destroyed the Union right flank and drove the Union army back to Bull Run. Longstreet was also noted for his actions at the battle of Antietam and coolness under fire continued as his trademark. When Thomas Jackson’s Corps became part of the Army of Northern Virginia, Longstreet was promoted to Lieutenant General and his corps became designated as the First Corps of the Confederate Army.

Late Confederate Career

At the battle of Fredericksburg in December, he deployed his artillery in high terrain, creating a very strong defense along the infamous stone wall. He used his artillery so effectively that no Union soldier came within 30 yards of the Confederate line. Between the months of February and April 1863, Longstreet led two of his divisions to Southeast Virginia to forage for food and supplies. As a result of this, he was not present at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.

The Battle of Gettysburg

Longstreet and his division rejoined Lee’s army for the second invasion into the North and the battle that followed,the Battle of Gettysburg, in spring/summer 1863. Longstreet was skeptical as to whether or not the invasion was the best choice on Lee’s part. This began a dispute began between Longstreet and Lee that would continue to grow during the battle ofGettysburg and it’s aftermath. At the battle of Gettysburg, Lee, fresh off of a victory at Chancellorsville, believed that the best plan for the coming battle would be to attack the Army of the Potomac, who had a higher number of soldiers than the Confederate forces. Longstreet, on the other hand, believed that one should wager a defensive battle whenever possible. Longstreet and his Corps arrived at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 after one day of fighting had take place there. Lee did not allow Longstreet to flank the Union army as Longstreet had originally planned; instead, Lee used two of Longstreet’s divisions to launch an attack on the Union left wing. This attack began in the late afternoon of July 2. Although there was initial success in breaking the Union line, Longstreet did not win the fight and there was a high number of casualties within his troops. Lee was still determined to exploit what he believed to be a weakness in the center of the Union lines. Lee formed a plan of a charge involving Longstreet’s men as a spearhead, to which Longstreet heavily protested but was rebuked. What followed was to be one of the most famous events of the Civil War. On July 3 1863, Troops from Longstreet’s corps, commanded by George Pickett, charged the Union center across open fields in what would become known as Pickett’s charge. This is an image of the third day of fighting at Gettysburg. The red arrows pointed toward the center of the blue line indicate Pickett's charge . These troops did not succeed in their objective and suffered a high number of casualties during the charge. Longstreet would later blame Lee for this disastrous plan and would voice that he had opposed it. Longstreet’s accusations did not settle well with his fellow officers. This in addition to the allegations regarding the delayed execution of Lee’s orders heavily tarnished Longstreet’s reputation.

Post Gettysburg Career/War End

In autumn, Longstreet was sent to assist Braxton Bragg on the Western front. Longstreet’s troops arrived in time to defeat a large portion of the Union line at the battle of Chickamauga. Despite this, Bragg did like Longstreet, especially seeing as some of Longstreet’s generals wished Bragg to be removed from command. As it turned out, Bragg was not removed and Longstreet’s once admirable reputation was again damaged.
After a hard winter and an attempt at independent command, Longstreet and his men returned to the Army of Northern Virginia in April 1864. In May of 1864, Longstreet fought in the Battle of the Wilderness and performed well, finding a route from which they could catch the Union forces in a devastating crossfire. On May 6th, Longstreet was accidentally wounded by his own men, in an incident very similar to “Stonewall” Jackson’s a year earlier. A Minié ball passed through his neck and shoulder, resulting in his right arm being permanently paralyzed. Longstreet survived his incident and did not return to his command until October, when the Confederate army was defending the city of Petersburg, Virginia. Longstreet was then assigned to protect Richmond and the railroads supplying the city itself. On April 2, 1865, Union forces broke the Confederate line at Petersburg, resulting in the death of A.P Hill. Longstreet now gained command of Hill’s Third Corps. On April 9, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, signaling the end of the Civil War.
Longstreet in his post-war years
Longstreet in his post-war years

Post War Life/Death

After the Civil War ended, Longstreet moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1867, Longstreet was asked by New Orleans Times to comment on the Reconstruction acts. He unwisely states Southerners should support the Republicans. In the North he is praised but in the South, he was widely hated. In June 1868, he received a pardon with help from Ulysses S. Grant. Longstreet had supported Grant during Grant’s run for president. Longstreet’s fellow Southerners saw this act as betrayal. Further controversial acts by Longstreet followed including his open support of Republicans, his letters to New Orleans Times, and the fact that he criticized Robert E. Lee’s leadership. Longstreet soon became a target of attacks by Jubal Early, William Pendleton and various other Southerners. Longstreet would then spend the rest of his life trying to restore his formerly admirable reputation. In addition to these events, his house, Parkhill, burned to the ground in April 1889 and his wife, Louise, passed away in December 1889. In 1890, Longstreet participated in unveiling of Lee’s statue in Richmond, Virginia. He also spoke at the dedications of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Parks. In December 1895, he published an 800-page memoir, From Manassas to Appomattox. In September of 1897, he married Helen Dortch (34 years old). Longstreet’s family does not approve of this marriage and yet Dortch defends his name to her death in 1962. Jam
Longstreet's resting place in Alta Vista Cemetery
Longstreet's resting place in Alta Vista Cemetery

es Longstreet passed away as a result of pneumonia on January 2nd, 1904, while visiting his daughter’s home in Gainesville, Georgia. He died few days short of 83rd birthday, with his reputation still in tatters, a shadow of it’s former glory. Longstreet was buried at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville, GA as one of the last great Confederate generals.


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Society, The Longstreet. "The General's Life." Welcome to the Longstreet Society. The Longstreet Society, 3 Jan. 2208. Web. 13 May 2011. <http://www.longstreet.org/glife.html>.

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Civil War, Trust. "James Longstreet." Civil War Trust: Saving America's Civil War Battlefields. Civil War Trust, Google, 2011. Web. 17 May 2011. <http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/james-longstreet.html>.


Longstreet Notes