James Longstreet (Old Pete)


One of Lee's primary generals. James Longstreet was a thoughtful career soldier, whose thoughts sometimes caused controversy.

He went to West Point (class of 1842) and fought in the Mexican War. He earned two brevets and was wounded at Chapultepec. He was a major on the staff when he resigned to follow his state (South Carolina, although he went to West Point from Alabama). He was instantly a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army of the Potomac.

His brigade was stationed behind Blackburn's Ford on Bull Run when Irvin McDowell probed there. McDowell's effort was neither strong nor forceful; a few volleys from Longstreet's men sent the Yankees packing. During the main battle McDowell swung away from Blackburn's, although making a demonstration there. Longstreet just watched. After the main Union effort was broken Beauregard ordered a pursuit, but Longstreet didn't have his full force and was slow to move. Others judged he could have taken many prisoners, but he and Milledge Bonham disagreed about seniority and nothing was done.

Over the winter of 1861-62 he trained his men, a full division once he was promoted to Major General. His moved down to the James-York Peninsula in response to McClellan's amphibious flanking movement. He led his men at Yorktown, Williamsburg, then Seven Pines, and the Seven Days Battles. Towards the end of the Seven Days, Lee was already grooming Longstreet for larger commands, and subordinated A. P. Hill's division to the senior man. The force had various names before the Confederate Congress authorized Corps commanders (October), but Lee was not waiting to make it effective. Longstreet fought brilliantly at Second Manassas, hammering John Pope's forces against Jackson's anvil. He went on the Maryland expedition, fighting at South Mountain and then helping hold the line at Antietam. Neither Jackson nor Longstreet played much role at Antietam, as Lee juggled divisions one-by-one to successive crises.

Longstreet was already appreciating the effects of entrenchments before Fredericksburg, and his men suffered far fewer casualties than Jackson's men at that battle, and yielded no ground. To be fair, Jackson had been stationed several miles away, and couldn't fortify everywhere. In the early spring of 1863 he and his men were shifted to southeastern Virginia, partly to operate against Union garrisons there, partly to shift the logistical burden off central Virginia. He did not distinguish himself there, the first of a series of disappointing independent commands.

He thus missed Chancellorsville, but when Lee decided on another plunge into the North he called up various scattered forces. At Gettysburg he disagreed with Lee's tactics. Lee preferred to attack, while Longstreet wanted to find a flank and pry Meade's forces out of their position. Longstreet was formulating his tactical views, that offensive maneuver should be matched with tactical defense. The circumstances proved him right, something that Lee's admirers have had trouble tolerating.

In September 1863, with the eastern theater looking stable, Lee detached Longstreet a second time, this time to the west. He reinforced Bragg's Army of Tennessee and made possible the battle of Chickamauga. His performance was good, but, like so many, he criticized Bragg and was detached to operate against Knoxville. Again, he was not very effective in independent command, and in April 1864 his Corps was shifted back east. They joined Lee in time for the savage fighting in The Wilderness. Lee may have thought it was a bewitched patch of ground, for again he lost a Corps commander wounded by friendly fire in May, in The Wilderness.

Longstreet recovered slowly, but in October returned to command of his men, now mired in the trenches around Richmond and Petersburg. Lee put Longstreet in charge of the forces north of the James, having general oversight of Longstreet but keeping a closer eye on the less-talented commanders at Petersburg. When the Union broke the Petersburg lines Longstreet stayed with Lee all the way to Appomattox, urging surrender along with all the other subordinate commanders.

He maintained a surprising friendship with Grant (they had been friends before the war) and switched to the Republican Party ' two things that cost him popularity with Southerners. Grant posted him as Minister to Turkey, and he was also a railroad commissioner. His disagreements with Lee, and his dubious' politics put him at the center of a swirl of controversy with his former colleagues. He didn't shirk the battle and wrote his memoirs From Manassas to Appomattox to tell his side of the story. He also had the advantage over many of his critics: he lived longer than they did and could tell his story."

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