James Longstreet (January 8, 1821 – January 2, 1904) was one of the foremost Confederate generals of the American Civil War and the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his "Old War Horse." He served under Lee as a corps commander for many of the famous battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia in the Eastern Theater, and briefly with Braxton Bragg in the Army of Tennessee in the Western Theater.
After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Longstreet served in the Mexican–American War. He was wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Chapultepec, and afterward married his first wife, Louise Garland. Throughout the 1850s, he served on frontier duty in the American Southwest. In June 1861, Longstreet resigned his U.S. Army commission and joined the Confederate Army. He commanded Confederate troops during an early victory at Blackburn's Ford in July and played a minor role at the First Battle of Bull Run.
Longstreet's talents as a general made significant contributions to several important Confederate victories, mostly in the Eastern Theater as one of Robert E. Lee's chief subordinates in the Army of Northern Virginia. He performed poorly at Seven Pines by accidentally marching his men down the wrong road, causing them to be late in arrival. He played an important role in the success of the Seven Days Battles in the summer of 1862. Longstreet led a devastating counterattack that routed the Union army at Second Bull Run in August. His men held their ground in defensive roles at Antietam and Fredericksburg. Longstreet's most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where he openly disagreed with General Lee on the tactics to be employed and reluctantly supervised several attacks on Union forces, including the disastrous Pickett's Charge. Afterwards, Longstreet was, at his own request, sent to the Western Theater to fight under Braxton Bragg, where his troops launched a ferocious assault on the Union lines at Chickamauga, which carried the day. Afterwards, his performance in semiautonomous command during the Knoxville Campaign resulted in a Confederate defeat. Longstreet's tenure in the Western Theater was marred by his central role in numerous conflicts amongst important Confederate generals. Unhappy serving under Bragg, Longstreet and his men were sent back to Lee. He ably commanded troops during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, where he was seriously wounded by friendly fire. He later returned to the field, serving under Lee in the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign.
He enjoyed a successful post-war career working for the U.S. government as a diplomat, civil servant, and administrator. His conversion to the Republican Party and his cooperation with his old friend, President Ulysses S. Grant, as well as critical comments he wrote in his memoirs about General Lee's wartime performance, made him anathema to many of his former Confederate colleagues. His reputation in the South further suffered when he led African-American militia against the anti-Reconstruction White League at the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874. Authors of the Lost Cause movement focused on Longstreet's actions at Gettysburg as a primary reason for the Confederacy's loss of the war. Since the late 20th century, his reputation has undergone a slow reassessment. Many Civil War historians now consider him among the war's most gifted tactical commanders.
|United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire|
|Preceded by||Horace Maynard|
|Succeeded by||Lew Wallace|
|Born||January 8, 1821|
Edgefield District, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||January 2, 1904 (aged 82)|
Gainesville, Georgia, U.S.
|Resting place||Alta Vista Cemetery,|
Maria Louisa Garland (m. 1848–1889)
Ellen J. Dortch (m. 1897–1904)
|Nickname(s)||"Old Pete", "Lee's War Horse", "Bull of the Woods", "Pete"|
|Allegiance|| United States of America|
United States of America
|Service/branch|| United States Army|
Louisiana State Militia
|Years of service||1842–1861|
|Rank|| Major (USA)|
Major General Louisiana State Militia
|Unit||4th U.S. Infantry |
8th U.S. Infantry
First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
Department of East Tennessee
American Civil War
Battle of Liberty Place
James Longstreet was born on January 8, 1821 in Edgefield District, South Carolina, an area that is now part of North Augusta, Edgefield County. He was the fifth child and third son of James Longstreet (1783-1833), of Dutch descent, and Mary Ann Dent (1793-1855) of English descent, originally from New Jersey and Maryland respectively, who owned a cotton plantation close to where the village of Gainesville would be founded in northeastern Georgia. James's ancestor Dirck Stoffels Langestraet immigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1657, but the name became Anglicized over the generations. James's father was impressed by his son's "rocklike" character on the rural plantation, giving him the nickname Peter, and he was known as Pete or Old Pete for the rest of his life.
Longstreet's father decided on a military career for his son, but felt that the local education available to him would not be adequate preparation. At the age of nine, James was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Augusta, Georgia. His uncle, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, was a newspaper editor, educator, and a Methodist minister. James spent eight years on his uncle's plantation, Westover, just outside the city while he attended the Academy of Richmond County. His father died from a cholera epidemic while visiting Augusta in 1833. Although James's mother and the rest of the family moved to Somerville, Alabama, following his father's death, James remained with uncle Augustus. As a boy, Longstreet enjoyed swimming, hunting, fishing, and riding horses. He became adept at shooting firearms. Northern Georgia was very rural frontier territory during Longstreet's boyhood, and Southern genteel traditions had not yet taken hold. As a result, Longstreet's manners were sometimes rather rough. He dressed unceremoniously and at times used coarse language, although not in the presence of women. Longstreet never made any known political statements before the war and seemed largely disinterested in politics. But Augustus was a man of some political prominence, and was a fierce states' rights partisan who supported South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis. Longstreet must have been exposed to these ideas while living with him. Augustus was also known for drinking whiskey and playing card games even though many Americans in this era considered them to be immoral, habits he seems to have passed on to Longstreet.
In 1837, Augustus attempted to obtain an appointment for his nephew to the United States Military Academy, but the vacancy for his congressional district had already been filled so James was appointed in 1838 by a relative, Reuben Chapman, who represented the First District of Alabama (where Mary Longstreet lived). James was a poor student academically and a disciplinary problem at West Point, ranking 54th out of 56 cadets when he graduated in 1842. He was popular with his classmates, however, and befriended a number of men who would become prominent during the Civil War, including George Henry Thomas, William S. Rosecrans (his West Point roommate), John Pope, D. H. Hill, Lafayette McLaws, George Pickett, and Ulysses S. Grant, who was of the Class of 1843. Longstreet was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant. After a brief furlough, he set out to join the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. Longstreet spent his first two years of service at the post, which was under the command of Lt. Col. John Garland. In 1843, he was joined by his friend, Lieutenant Ulysses Grant. In 1844, Longstreet met his future first wife Maria Louisa Garland, called Louise by her family. She was the daughter of Longstreet's commander, Lt. Col. Garland.
At about the same time as Longstreet began courting Garland, Grant became acquainted with and courted Longstreet's fourth cousin, Julia Dent, and the couple eventually married. Historians agree that Longstreet attended the Grant wedding on August 22, 1848 in St. Louis, but his role at the ceremony remains unclear. Grant biographer Jean Edward Smith asserted that Longstreet served as Grant's best man at the wedding. John Y. Simon, editor of Julia Grant's memoirs, concluded that Longstreet "may have been a groomsman," and Longstreet biographer Donald Brigman Sanger called the role of best man "uncertain" while noting that neither Grant nor Longstreet mentioned such a role in either of their memoirs.
Later in 1844, the regiment was transferred to Louisiana. On March 8, 1845, Longstreet received a promotion to second lieutenant, and was transferred to the Eighth Infantry, stationed in Florida. The regiment then received orders to join the army of General Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican–American War with the 8th U.S. Infantry. He fought under Zachary Taylor as a lieutenant in May 1846 in the battles of Palo Alto and Battle of Resaca de la Palma, while saying nothing in his memoirs about his personal role in the battles. He fought again with Taylor's army at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. He received brevet promotions to captain for Contreras and Churubusco and to major for Molino del Rey. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors; falling, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who was able to reach the summit.
Longstreet was a veteran member of the Aztec Club of 1847. The Aztec Club was a military society for officers who had served in the Mexican War. Many distinguished officers, both Union and Confederate, who served the American Civil War were members of the Aztec Club.
After the war and his recovery from the Chapultepec wound, Longstreet and Louise Garland were officially married on March 8, 1848, and the marriage produced 10 children. Little is known of their courtship or marriage. Longstreet mentions her only rarely in his memoirs, and never revealed any personal details. There are no surviving letters between the two. Most anecdotes about their relationship come through the writings of Longstreet's second wife, Helen Dortch Longstreet. Novelist Ben Ames Williams, a descendant of Longstreet, included Longstreet as a minor character in two of his novels. Williams questioned Longstreet's surviving children and grandchildren, and in the novels depicted him as a very devoted family man with an exceptionally happy marriage.
Longstreet and his new wife served on frontier duty in Texas, primarily at Fort Martin Scott near Fredericksburg and Fort Bliss in El Paso. On January 1, 1850, Longstreet was appointed Chief Commissary for the Department of Texas, responsible for the acquiring and distributing food to the soldiers and animals of the depatment. The job was complex and consisted mainly of paperwork, although it provided valuable experience in how to manage troops. In June, Longstreet, hoping to find promotion and an income above his $40-per month salary to support his growing family, requested transfer to the cavalry. His request was rejected. He resigned as commissary in March 1851 and returned to the Eighth Infantry. Longstreet performed scouting missions and also served as major and paymaster for the 8th Infantry from July 1858.
Knowledge of Longstreet's prewar life is extremely limited. His experience resembles that of many would-be Civil War generals insofar as he went to West Point, served with distinction in the War with Mexico, and continued his career in the peacetime army of the 1850s. But beyond that, there are few details. He left no diary, and his lengthy memoirs focus almost entirely on recounting and defending his Civil War military record. They reveal little of his personal side while providing only a very cursory view of his pre-war activities. Not only that, but an 1889 fire destroyed his personal papers, making it so that the number of "[e]xisting antebellum private letters written by Longstreet [could] be counted on one hand."
At the time of the Battle of Fort Sumter at the beginning of the American Civil War, Longstreet was paymaster for the United States Army and stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, having not yet resigned his commission. After news of the engagement, he joined his fellow Southerners in leaving the post. In his memoirs, Longstreet calls it a "sad day," and records that a number of Northern officers attempted to persuade him not to go. He states that he asked one of them "what course he would pursue if his State should pass ordinances of secession and call him to its defence. He confessed that he would obey the call."
Longstreet was not enthusiastic about secession from the Union, but he had long been infused with the concept of states' rights, and felt he could not go against his homeland. Although he was born in South Carolina and reared in Georgia, he offered his services to the state of Alabama, which had appointed him to West Point and where his mother still lived. Furthermore, he was the senior West Point graduate from that state, which implied a commensurate rank in the state's forces would be available. After settling his accounts, he resigned from the U.S. Army on May 8, 1861 to cast his lot with the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Longstreet arrived in Richmond, Virginia with a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate States Army. He met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the executive mansion on June 22, 1861, where he was informed that he had been appointed a brigadier general with date of rank on June 17, a commission he accepted on June 25. He was ordered to report to Brig. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard at Manassas, where he was given command of a brigade of three Virginia regiments—the 1st, 11th, and 17th Virginia Infantry regiments in the Confederate Army of the Potomac.
Longstreet assembled his staff and trained his brigade incessantly. On July 16, Union General Irvin McDowell began marching his army towards Manassas Junction. Longstreet's brigade first saw action at Blackburn's Ford on July 18, when it collided with McDowell's advance division under Brigadier General Daniel Tyler. An infantry charge pushed Longstreet's men back, and in his own words Longstreet "rode with sabre in hand for the leading files, determined to give them all that was in the sword and my horse’s heels, or stop the break." A second attack soon began, but Confederate successes were hampered when inexperienced soldiers from Colonel Jubal Early's brigade sent to reinforce Longstreet began firing on their own men. Tyler eventually withdrew, as he had orders not to bring on a general engagement. The battle preceded the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas). When the main attack came at the opposite end of the line on July 21, the brigade played a relatively minor role, although it endured artillery fire for nine hours. Between 5 and 6 in the evening, Longstreet received an order from General Joseph E. Johnston instructing him to take part in pursuit of the Federal troops, who had been defeated and were fleeing the battlefield. He obeyed, but when he met the brigade of Brigadier General Milledge Bonham, Bonham, who outranked Longstreet, ordered him to retreat. An order soon arrived from Johnston ordering the same. Longstreet was infuriated that his commanders would not allow a vigorous pursuit of the defeated Union Army. His trusted Chief of Staff, Moxley Sorrel, recorded that he was "in a fine rage. He dashed his hat furiously to the ground, stamped, and bitter words escaped him." He quoted Longstreet as saying afterwards, "Retreat! Hell, the Federal army has broken to pieces."
On October 7, Longstreet was promoted to major general and assumed command of a division in the newly reorganized and renamed Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Johnston (formed from the previous Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Shenandoah) — with four infantry brigades-commanded by generals Daniel Harvey Hill, David R. Jones, Bonham, and Louis Wigfall-as well as Hampton's Legion, which was under Wade Hampton III.
On January 10, 1862, Longstreet travelled under orders from Johnston to Richmond, where he discussed with Davis the creation of a draft or conscription program. He spent much of the intervening time with Louise and their children, and was back at army headquarters in Centreville by the 20th. After only a day or two, he received a telegram informing him that all four of his children were extremely sick in an outbreak of scarlet fever. Longstreet immediately returned to Richmond.
Longstreet arrived in Richmond before the death of his one-year old daughter Mary Anne on January 25. Four-year old James died the following day. Eleven-year-old Augustus Baldwin ("Gus") died on February 1. His 13-year-old son Garland remained ill but appeared to be out of mortal danger. George Pickett and his future wife LaSalle Corbell were in the Longstreet's company throughout the affair. They arranged the funeral and burial, which for unknown reasons neither Longstreet nor his wife attended. Longstreet waited a very short time to return to the army, doing so on February 5. He rushed back to Richmond later in the month when Gus took a turn for the worse, but came back after he recovered. The losses were devastating for Longstreet and he became withdrawn, both personally and socially. In 1861 his headquarters were noted for parties, drinking, and poker games. After he returned from the funeral the headquarters social life became for a time more somber. He rarely drank, and his religious devotion increased.
That spring, Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, launched the Peninsula Campaign intending to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. In his memoirs, Longstreet would claim that he wrote to Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson proposing that he march to Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and combine forces. No evidence has emerged for this claim.
Following the delay of the Union offensive against Richmond at the Siege of Yorktown, Johnston oversaw a strategic withdraw to the outskirts of Richmond, where defenses had already been prepared. Longstreet's division formed the rearguard, which was heavily engaged at the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5. There, Joseph Hooker's division of the Union III Corps, which was commanded by Samuel P. Heintzelman, came out of a forest into open ground to attack Longstreet's men. To protect the army's supply wagons, Longstreet launched a strong counterattack with the brigades of Cadmus M. Wilcox, A. P. Hill, Pickett and two other regiments. The assault drove Hooker's troops back. Finding the ground he occupied not entirely tenable, Longstreet requested reinforcements from D.H. Hill's division a little further up the road and received Early's brigade. Early, without coordinating with other units, launched a fruitless and bloody attack well after the wagons had already been safely evacuated. Overall, the battle was a success, protecting the passage of Confederate supply wagons and delaying the advance of Union McClellan's army toward Richmond. The affair resulted in the capture of nine Union artillery pieces. Longstreet reported 9,000 Confederate troops engaged compared to 12,000 Union troops, and the Confederates suffered fewer casualties. McClellan inaccurately characterized the battle as a Union victory in a dispatch to Washington.
During the Battle of Seven Pines he marched his men in the wrong direction down the wrong road, causing congestion and confusion with other Confederate units, diluting the effect of the massive Confederate counterattack against McClellan. His report unfairly blamed fellow Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger for the mishaps. General Johnston was wounded during the battle and he was replaced in command of the Army of Northern Virginia by G. W. Smith for a single day and then by Robert E. Lee.
During the Seven Days Battles that followed in late June, Longstreet had operational command of nearly half of Lee's army—15 brigades—as it drove McClellan back down the Peninsula. Longstreet performed aggressively and quite well in his new, larger command, particularly at Gaines's Mill and Glendale. Lee's army in general suffered from weak performances by Longstreet's peers, including, uncharacteristically, Stonewall Jackson, and was unable to destroy the Union Army.
Moxley Sorrel wrote of Longstreet's confidence and calmness in battle: "He was like a rock in steadiness when sometimes in battle the world seemed flying to pieces." General Lee said shortly after Seven Days, "Longstreet was the staff in my right hand." He had been established as Lee's principal lieutenant. Overtime, Lee and Longstreet became good friends, and set up headquarters very near each other. Despite sharing with Jackson a belief in temperance as well as a deep religious conviction, Lee never developed as strong a friendship with him. Historian William Garrett Piston speculates that the more relaxed atmosphere of Longstreet's headquarters, which included gambling and drinking, allowed Lee to relax and take his mind off the war, and reminded him of his more happy younger days.
The military reputations of Lee's corps commanders are often characterized as Stonewall Jackson representing the audacious, offensive component of Lee's army, with Longstreet more typically advocating and executing strong defensive strategies and tactics. Jackson has been described as the army's hammer, Longstreet its anvil. In the first part of the Northern Virginia Campaign of August 1862, this stereotype held true, but in the climactic battle, it did not. In June, the Federal Government created the 50,000-strong Army of Virginia, and put Major Gen. John Pope in command. For the Confederate Army, Longstreet commanded the Right Wing (later to become known as the First Corps) and Jackson commanded the Left Wing. Pope moved south in an attempt to attack Lee and threaten Richmond through an overland march. Lee left Longstreet near Richmond to guard the city and dispatched Jackson to hinder Pope's advance. Jackson won a major victory at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. After learning that McClellan, as ordered, had dispatched troops north to assist Pope, Lee ordered Longstreet north as well, leaving only three divisions under G.W. Smith to protect Richmond against McClellan's reduced force. Longstreet's men began their march on August 17, aided by Stuart's cavalry. On August 23, Longstreet engaged Pope's position in a minor artillery duel at the First Battle of Rappahannock Station. The Confederate Washington Artillery was heavily damaged and a Union shell landed feet away from Longstreet and Wilcox but failed to explode. Meanwhile, Stuart's cavalry road around the Army of Virginia and captured hundreds of soldiers and horses as well as some of Pope's personal belongings.
Jackson executed a sweeping flanking maneuver that captured Pope's main supply depot. He placed his corps in the rear of Pope's army, but he then took up a defensive position and effectively invited Pope to assault him. On August 28 and August 29, the start of the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), Pope pounded Jackson as Longstreet and the remainder of the army marched from the west, through Thoroughfare Gap, to reach the battlefield. On the afternoon of the 28th, Longstreet engaged a 5,000-man federal division under James B. Ricketts at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap. Ricketts had been ordered to delay Longstreet's march towards the main Confederate army, but he took up his position too late, allowing George T. Anderson's brigade to occupy the high ground. Lee and Longstreet watched the battle together and decided to flank the Union position. A division under John Bell Hood and a brigade under Henry L. Benning advanced towards the gap from the north and the south, respectively, while Wilcox's division followed in a six mile march northward. Ricketts realized his position was untenable and withdrew that evening, allowing Longstreet to join up with the rest of Lee's army. Postwar criticism of Longstreet claimed that he marched his men too slowly, leaving Jackson to bear the brunt of the fighting for two days, but they covered roughly 30 miles (50 km) in a little over 24 hours and Lee did not attempt to get his army concentrated any faster.
When Longstreet's men arrived at Second Manassas, around midday on August 29, Lee planned a flanking attack on the Union Army, which was concentrating its attention on Jackson. Longstreet demurred against three suggestions from Lee, urging him to attack, recommending instead that a reconnaissance in force be conducted to survey the ground in front of him. By 6:30 p.m., Hood's division moved forward against the troops of the Union V Corps under Fitz John Porter, and Longstreet withdrew them at 8:30 p.m., having a better idea of the terrain and enemy soldiers in the area. Despite the smashing victory that followed, Longstreet's performance at the battle was criticized by postbellum advocates of the Lost Cause, claiming that his slowness, reluctance to attack, and disobedience to General Lee were a harbinger of his controversial performance to come on July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee's biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, wrote: "The seeds of much of the disaster at Gettysburg were sown in that instant—when Lee yielded to Longstreet and Longstreet discovered that he would." Longstreet biographer Jeffry D. Wert disputes this conclusion, pointing out that in a post-war letter to Longstreet, Porter told him that had he attacked him that day, his "loss would have been enormous."
Despite this criticism, the following day, August 30, was one of Longstreet's finest performances of the war. After his attacks on the 29th, Pope came to believe with little evidence that Jackson was in retreat. He ordered a reluctant Porter to move his corps forward in pursuit, and they collided with Jackson's men and suffered heavy casualties. The attack exposed the Union left flank, and Longstreet took advantage of this by launching a massive assault on the Union flank with over 25,000 men. For over four hours they "pounded like a giant hammer" with Longstreet actively directing artillery fire and sending brigades into the fray. Longstreet and Lee were together during the assault and both of them came under Union artillery fire. Although the Union troops put up a furious defense, Pope's army was forced to retreat in a manner similar to the embarrassing Union defeat at First Bull Run, fought on roughly the same battleground. Longstreet gave all of the credit for the victory to Lee, describing the campaign as "clever and brilliant." It established a strategic model he believed to be ideal—the use of defensive tactics within a strategic offensive. On September 1, Jackson's corps moved to cut off the Union retreat at the Battle of Chantilly. Longstreet's men remained on the field in order to fool Pope into thinking that Lee's entire army was still on his front.
Longstreet's actions in the final two major Confederate defensive battles of 1862 would be the proving grounds for his development of dominant defensive tactics. After the Confederate success at Second Manassas, Lee, holding the strategic initiative, decided to take the war to Maryland to relieve Virginia and hopefully induce foreign nations to come to the Confederates' aid. Longstreet supported the plan. "The situation called for action," he later said, "and there was but one opening-across the Potomac." His men crossed into Maryland on September 6 and arrived in Frederick the following day. In the Maryland Campaign of September, at the Battle of Antietam, Longstreet held his part of the Confederate defensive line against Union forces twice as numerous. After the delaying action Longstreet's corps fought at South Mountain, he retired to Sharpsburg to join Stonewall Jackson, and prepared to fight a defensive battle. Using terrain to his advantage, Longstreet validated his idea that the tactical defense was now vastly superior to the exposed offense. While the offense dominated in the time of Napoleon, the technological advancements had overturned this. Lt. Col. Harold M. Knudsen claims that Longstreet was one of the few Civil War officers sensible of this development. At the end of that bloodiest day of the Civil War, Lee greeted his subordinate by saying, "Ah! Here is Longstreet; here's my old war-horse!" On October 9, a few weeks after Antietam, Longstreet was promoted to lieutenant general. Lee arranged for Longstreet's promotion to be dated one day earlier than Jackson's, making the Old War-Horse the senior lieutenant general in the entire Confederate Army. In an army reorganization in November, Longstreet's command, now designated the First Corps, consisted of five divisions, approximately 41,000 men.
In December, Longstreet's First Corps played the decisive role in the Battle of Fredericksburg, midway between the two opposing capitals, where the Confederate army made its stand to protect Richmond from the Army of the Potomac, now commanded by Ambrose Burnside. Since Lee moved Longstreet to Fredericksburg early, it allowed Longstreet to take the time to dig in portions of his line, methodically site artillery, and set up a kill zone over the axis of advance he thought the Union attack would follow. Remembering the slaughter at Antietam, in which the Confederates did not build defensive works, Longstreet ordered trenches, abatis, and fieldworks to be constructed south of the town along a stonewall at the foot of Marye's Heights, which would set a precedent for future defensive battles by the Army of Northern Virginia. This was completed in the days before the battle. After failing to cross the Rappahannock on December 11, Burnside ordered an artillery bombardment of the town, and forced his way across the following day.
Longstreet had his men firmly entrenched along Marye's Heights. On December 13, under Burnside's orders, troops from the Union Right Grand Division under Edwin Vose Sumner launched fourteen frontal assaults against Longstreet's troops on Marye's Heights, which unexpectedly became the center of the battle. When Lee expressed apprehension that the Federal troops might overrun Longstreet's men on Marye's Heights, Longstreet replied that as long as he had sufficient ammunition he would "kill them all" before any of the reached his line. He advised him to look towards Jackson's more tenuous position to the right. Longstreet was proven correct, for from their strong position, Longstreet's men easily held off all of the Union assaults, while Jackson managed to repel a much stronger Union attack by the division of George Meade. One Union general compared the scene before Marye's Heights to "a great slaughter pen" and said that his men "might as well have tried to take Hell."
Burnside intended to attack again the next day, but several of his officers, particularly Sumner, advised him against it. He entrenched his men instead and withdrew on December 15. The Union army suffered almost 8,000 casualties at Marye's Heights; Longstreet lost only 1,900. His great defensive success was not based entirely on the advantage of terrain; this time it was the combination of terrain, defensive works, and a centralized coordination of artillery.
Shortly after Fredericksburg, Longstreet vaguely suggested to Lee that "one corps could hold the Rappahannock while the other was operating elsewhere." In the early spring of 1863, he made a more specific request, suggesting that his corps be detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to reinforce the Army of Tennessee, where Gen. Braxton Bragg was being challenged in Middle Tennessee by Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, Longstreet's roommate at West Point. By this time, Longstreet could be identified as part of a "western concentration bloc" which believed that reinforcing Confederate armies operating in the Western Theater of the war to protect the states in that part of the Confederacy from invasion was more important than offensive campaigns in the East. This group also included Joe Johnston and Louis Wigfall, now a Confederate senator, both of whom Longstreet was very close with. These people were generally cautious and believed that the Confederacy, with its limited resources, should engage in a defensive rather than an offensive war. In February 1863, Longstreet wrote to Wigfall asking to be sent west. Lee did detach two divisions from the First Corps, but ordered them to Richmond, not Tennessee. Seaborne movements of the Union IX Corps potentially threatened vital ports on the mid-Atlantic coast. The division of George Pickett started for the capital in mid-February, was followed by John Hood's, and then Longstreet himself was told to take command of the detached divisions and the Departments of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. The divisions of McLaws and Anderson remained with Lee.
In April, Longstreet besieged Union forces in the city of Suffolk, Virginia, a minor operation, but one that was very important to Lee's army, still stationed in war-devastated central Virginia. It enabled Confederate authorities to collect huge amounts of provisions that had been under Union control. However, this operation caused Longstreet and 15,000 men of the First Corps to be absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville in May. Despite Lee's brilliant victory at Chancellorsville, Longstreet once again came under criticism, claiming that he could have marched his men back from Suffolk in time to join Lee. However, from the Chancellorsville and Suffolk scenario, Longstreet brought forward the beginnings of a new Confederate strategy. These events proved that the Army of Northern Virginia could manage with fewer troops for periods of time, and units could be shifted to create windows of opportunity in other theaters. Longstreet advocated the first strategic movements to utilize rail, interior lines, and create temporary numerical advantages in Mississippi or Tennessee prior to Gettysburg.
Following Chancellorsville and the death of Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet and Lee met in mid-May to discuss options for the army's summer campaign. Longstreet advocated, once again, detachment of all or part of his corps to be sent to Tennessee. The justification for this course of action was becoming more urgent as Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was advancing on the critical Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, Vicksburg. Longstreet argued that a reinforced army under Bragg could defeat Rosecrans and drive toward the Ohio River, which would compel Grant to break his hold on Vicksburg. He advanced these views during a meeting with Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon, who approved of the idea but doubted that Lee would do so, and opined that Davis was unlikely to go against Lee's wishes. Longstreet had criticized Bragg's generalship and may have been hoping to replace him, although he also might have wished to see Joseph Johnston take command, and indicated that he would be content to serve under him as a corps commander. Lee prevented this plan from taking place by telling Davis that parting with large numbers of troops would force him to move his army closer to Richmond, and instead advancing a plan to invade Pennsylvania. A campaign in the North would relieve agricultural and military pressure that the war was placing on Virginia and North Carolina, and, by threatening a federal city, disrupt Union offensives elsewhere and erode support for the war among Northern civilians. In his memoirs, Longstreet described his reaction to Lee's proposal:
His plan or wishes announced, it became useless and improper to offer suggestions leading to a different course. All that I could ask was that the policy of the campaign should be one of defensive tactics; that we should work so as to force the enemy to attack us, in such good position as we might find in our own country, so well adapted to that purpose—which might assure us of a grand triumph. To this he readily assented as an important and material adjunct to his general plan.
There is conflicting evidence for the veracity of Longstreet's account. It was written years after the campaign and is affected by hindsight, both of the results of the battle and of the postbellum criticism of the Lost Cause authors. In letters of the time Longstreet made no reference to such a bargain with Lee. In April 1868, Lee said that he "had never made any such promise, and had never thought of doing any such thing." Yet in his post-battle report, Lee wrote, "It had not been intended to fight a general battle at such a distance from our base, unless attacked by the enemy."
The Army of Northern Virginia was reorganized after Jackson's death. Two division commanders, Richard S. Ewell and A. P. Hill, were promoted to lieutenant general and assumed command of the Second and the newly created Third Corps respectively. Longstreet's First Corps gave up the division of Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson during the reorganization, leaving him with the divisions of Hood, McLaws, and Pickett.
After it was determined that an advance north was inevitable, Longstreet dispatched the scout Henry Thomas Harrison, whom he had met during the Suffolk Campaign, to gather information. He paid Harrison in gold and told him that he "did not care to see him till he could bring information of importance." In the initial movements of the campaign, Longstreet's corps followed Ewell's through the Shenandoah Valley. The scout "Harrison", as he was known, reported to Longstreet on the evening of June 28, and was instrumental in warning the Confederates that the Army of the Potomac was advancing north to meet them more quickly than they had anticipated, and were already massing around Frederick, Maryland. Lee was initially skeptical, but the report prompted him to order the immediate concentration of his army north of Frederick near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Harrison also brought news that Joseph Hooker had been replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac by George Meade.
Longstreet's actions at the Battle of Gettysburg would become the centerpiece of the controversy that surrounded him for over a century. Longstreet arrived on the battlefield late in the afternoon of the first day, July 1, 1863, hours ahead of his troops. By then, two Union corps had been driven by Ewell and Hill back through the town into defensive positions on Cemetery Hill. Lee had not intended to fight before his army was fully concentrated, but chance and questionable decisions by A.P. Hill brought on the battle, which- on the first day- was an impressive Confederate victory. Meeting with Lee, Longstreet was concerned about the strength of the Union defensive position on elevated ground and advocated a strategic movement around the left flank of the enemy, to "secure good ground between him and his capital," which would presumably compel Meade to attack defensive positions erected by the Confederates. Instead, Lee exclaimed, "If the enemy is there tomorrow, I will attack him." Longstreet replied, "If he is there tomorrow it is because he wants you to attack."
Lee's plan for July 2 called for Longstreet to attack the Union's left flank, which would be followed up by Hill's attack on Cemetery Ridge near the center, while Ewell demonstrated on the Union right. Longstreet was not ready to attack as early as Lee envisioned. He received permission from Lee to wait for Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law's brigade (Hood's division) to reach the field before he advanced any of his other brigades; Law marched his men quickly, covering 28 miles in eleven hours, but did not arrive until noon. Three of Longstreet's brigades were still in march column, and some distance from the attack positions they would need to reach. All of Longstreet's divisions were forced to take a long detour while approaching the enemy position, misled by inadequate reconnaissance that failed to identify a completely concealed route.
Postbellum criticism of Longstreet claims that he was ordered by Lee to attack in the early morning and that his delays were a significant contributor to the loss of the battle. However, Lee agreed to the delays for arriving troops and did not issue his formal order for the attack until 11 a.m. Although Longstreet's motivations have long been clouded by the vitriol of the Lost Cause partisans (see Legacy), many historians agree that Longstreet did not aggressively pursue Lee's orders to launch an attack as early as possible. Biographer Jeffry D. Wert wrote, "Longstreet deserves censure for his performance on the morning of July 2. He allowed his disagreement with Lee's decision to affect his conduct. Once the commanding general determined to assail the enemy, duty required Longstreet to comply with the vigor and thoroughness that had previously characterized his generalship. The concern for detail, the regard for timely information, and the need for preparation were absent." Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones wrote, "Unenthusiastic about the attack, Longstreet consumed so much time in properly assembling and aligning the corps that the assault did not commence until 4 p.m. During all the time that passed, Meade continued to move in troops to bring about a more and more complete concentration; by 6 p.m. he had achieved numerical superiority and had his left well covered." Campaign historian Edwin Coddington presents a lengthy description of the approach march, which he described as "a comedy of errors such as one might expect of inexperienced commanders and raw militia, but not of Lee's "War Horse" and his veteran troops." He called the episode "a dark moment in Longstreet's career as a general." Gettysburg historian Harry Pfanz concluded that "Longstreet's angry dissidence had resulted in further wasted time and delay." David L. Callihan, in a 2002 reassessment of Longstreet's legacy, wrote, "It is appalling that a field commander of Longstreet's experience and caliber would so cavalierly and ineptly march and prepare his men for battle." An alternative view has been expressed by John Lott, "General Longstreet did all that could be expected on the 2nd day and any allegations of failing to exercise his duty by ordering a morning assault can be repudiated. It would have been impossible to have commenced an attack much earlier than it occurred, and it is doubtful that the Confederacy could have placed the attack in any more secure hands than General Longstreet."
Regardless of the controversy regarding the preparations, however, once the assault began around 4 p.m., Longstreet pressed the assault by McLaws and Hood (Pickett's division had not yet arrived) competently against fierce Union resistance, but it was largely unsuccessful, with significant casualties.
On the night of July 2, Longstreet did not follow his usual custom of meeting Gen. Lee at his headquarters to discuss the day's battle, claiming that he was too fatigued to make the ride. Instead, he spent part of the night planning for a movement around Big Round Top that would allow him to attack the enemy's flank and rear. (Longstreet, despite his use of scouting parties, was apparently unaware that a considerable body of troops from the Union VI Corps was in position to block this move.) Shortly after issuing orders for the attack, around sunrise, Longstreet was joined at his headquarters by Lee, who was dismayed at this turn of events. The commanding general had intended for Longstreet to attack the Union left early in the morning in a manner similar to the attack of July 2, using Pickett's newly arrived division, in concert with a resumed attack by Ewell on Culp's Hill. What Lee found was that no one had ordered Pickett's division forward from its bivouac in the rear and that Longstreet had been planning an independent operation without consulting with him. Lee wrote with some restraint in his after-battle report that Longstreet's "dispositions were not completed as early as was expected."
Since his plans for an early-morning coordinated attack were now infeasible, Lee instead ordered Longstreet to coordinate a massive assault on the center of the Union line, employing the division of George Pickett and brigades from A.P. Hill's corps. Longstreet knew this assault had little chance of success. The Union Army was in a position reminiscent of the one Longstreet had taken at Fredericksburg to defeat Burnside's assault. The Confederates would have to cover almost a mile of open ground and spend time negotiating sturdy fences under fire. The lessons of Fredericksburg and Malvern Hill were lost to Lee on this day. In his memoirs, Longstreet claims to have told Lee that he believed the attack on the Union center would fail:
General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know, as well as any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.
During the artillery barrage that preceded the infantry assault, Longstreet began to agonize over an assault that was going to cost dearly. He attempted to pass the responsibility for launching Pickett's division to his artillery chief, Col. Edward Porter Alexander. When the time came to actually order Pickett forward, Longstreet could only nod in assent, unable to verbalize the order. The assault, known as Pickett's Charge, suffered the heavy casualties that Longstreet anticipated. It was the decisive point in the Confederate loss at Gettysburg and Lee ordered a retreat back to Virginia the following day.
Criticism of Longstreet after the war was based not only on his reputed conduct at the Battle of Gettysburg and support for Reconstruction, but also intemperate remarks he made about Robert E. Lee. For example, in his memoirs, he commented:
That he [Lee] was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st, and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.
For years after the war Longstreet's reputation suffered and was blamed for the failed attack even though Lee ordered the advance after Longstreet's repeated advice to cancel the attack.
In mid-August 1863, Longstreet once again resumed his attempts to be transferred to the Western Theater. He wrote a private letter to Seddon, requesting that he be transferred to serve under his old friend Gen. Joseph Johnston. He followed this up in conversations with his congressional ally Wigfall, who had long considered Longstreet a suitable replacement for Braxton Bragg. Bragg had a poor combat record and was very unpopular with his men and officers. Since Bragg's army was under increasing pressure from Rosecrans outside of Chattanooga, Lee and President Davis agreed to the request on September 5. In one of the most daunting logistical efforts of the Confederacy, Longstreet, with the divisions of Lafayette McLaws and John Hood, a brigade from George Pickett's division, and Porter Alexander's 26-gun artillery battalion, traveled over 16 railroads on a 775-mile (1,247 km) route through the Carolinas to reach Bragg in northern Georgia. Although the entire operation would take over three weeks, lead elements of the corps arrived on September 17.
The First Corps veterans began to arrive in the early stages of the Battle of Chickamauga on September 19. Bragg had already begun an unsuccessful attempt to interpose his army between Rosecrans and Chattanooga before the arrival of Longstreet's corps. Throughout the day, Confederate troops launched largely unsuccessful assaults on Union positions that were highly costly for both sides. One of Longstreet's own divisions under Hood successfully resisted a strong Union counterattack from Jefferson C. Davis's division of the XX Corps that afternoon. When Longstreet himself arrived on the field in the late evening, he failed to find Bragg's headquarters. He and his staff spent considerable time riding looking for them. They accidentally came across a federal picket line and were nearly captured. When the two finally met at Bragg's headquarters late at night, Bragg placed Longstreet in command of the Left Wing of his army; Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk commanded the Right. On September 20, Longstreet lined up eight brigades in a deep column against a narrow front, an attack very similar to future German tank tactics in World War II. The attack was supposed to begin early in the morning shortly after an assault by Polk's wing. However, confusion and mishandled orders caused Polk's attack to be delayed, and Longstreet's advance did not begin until just after 11 after hearing gunfire from his left. By chance, a mistaken order from General Rosecrans caused a gap to appear in the Union line by transferring Thomas J. Wood's division from the right to reinforce the XIV Corps under George Henry Thomas in the center.
Longstreet took additional advantage of the confusion to increase his chances of success. The organization of the attack was well suited to the terrain and would have penetrated the Union line regardless. Bushrod Johnson's division poured through the gap, driving the Union forces back. After Longstreet ordered Thomas C. Hindman's division forward, the Union right collapsed entirely. Rosecrans fled the field as units began to retreat in panic. Thomas managed to rally the retreating units and solidify a defensive position on Snodgrass Hill. He held that position against repeated afternoon attacks by Longstreet, who was not adequately supported by the Confederate right wing. Once night fell, the battle was over, and Thomas was able to extricate the units under his control to Chattanooga. Bragg's failure to coordinate the right wing and cavalry to further envelop Thomas prevented a total rout of the Union Army. Bragg also neglected to pursue the retreating Federals aggressively, resulting in the futile Siege of Chattanooga. He had dismissed a proposal from Longstreet that he do so, citing a lack of transportation and calling the plan a "visionary scheme." Nevertheless, Chickamauga was the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater and Longstreet deserved and received a good portion of the credit.
Not long after the Confederates entered Tennessee following their victory at Chickamauga, Longstreet clashed with Bragg and became leader of the group of senior commanders of the army who conspired to have him removed. Bragg's subordinates had long been dissatisfied with his abrasive personality and poor battlefield record; the arrival of Longstreet (the senior lieutenant general in the Army) and his officers, and the fact that they quickly took their side, added credibility to the earlier claims, and was a catalyst toward action. Longstreet wrote to Seddon, "I am convinced that nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander." The situation became so grave that President Davis was forced to intercede in person. What followed was one of the most bizarre scenes of the war, with Bragg sitting red faced as a procession of his commanders condemned him. Longstreet stated that Bragg "was incompetent to manage an army or put men into a fight" and that he "knew nothing of the business." Davis sided with Bragg and left him and his dissatisfied subordinates in their positions, doing nothing to resolve the conflict.
Bragg retained his position, relieving or reassigning the generals who had testified against him, and retaliated against Longstreet by reducing his command to only those units that he brought with him from Virginia. Despite the dysfunctional command climate under Bragg, and the lack of support from the War Department and President Davis concerning Bragg's removal, Longstreet did the best he could to continue to seek options in the Chattanooga Campaign. While Bragg resigned himself and his army to the siege of the Union Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga, Longstreet devised a strategy to prevent reinforcement and a lifting of the siege by Grant. He knew this Union reaction was underway, and that the nearest railhead was Bridgeport, Alabama, where portions of two Union corps would soon arrive. After sending his artillery commander, Porter Alexander, to reconnoiter the Union-occupied town, he devised a plan to shift most of the Army of Tennessee away from the siege, setting up logistical support in Rome, Georgia, to go after Bridgeport to take the railhead, possibly catching Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker and arriving Union troops from the Eastern Theater in a disadvantageous position. The plan was well received and approved by President Davis, but it was disapproved by Bragg, who objected to the significant logistical challenges it posed. Longstreet accepted Bragg's arguments and agreed to a plan in which he and his men were dispatched to East Tennessee to deal with an advance by the Union Army of the Ohio, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. Longstreet was selected for this assignment partially due to enmity on Bragg's part, but also because the War Department intended for Longstreet's men to return to Lee's army and this movement was in that direction.
Longstreet was criticized for the slow pace of his advance toward Knoxville in November and some of his troops began using the nickname "Peter the Slow" to describe him. At the Battle of Campbell's Station on November 16, the Federals evaded Longstreet's troops. This was due both to the poor performance of Brigadier General Evander M. Law, who exposed his brigade to the enemy and thus ruined what was supposed to be a surprise attack, and Burnside's skillful retreat. The Confederates also dealt with muddy roads and a shortage of good supplies.
Burnside settled into entrenchments around the city, which Longstreet besieged. Longstreet soon learned that Bragg had been defeated at Chattanooga on November 25, and that William Tecumseh Sherman's men were marching to relieve Burnside. He decided to risk a frontal attack on Union entrenchments before they arrived. On November 29, he sent his troops forward at the Battle of Fort Sanders. The attack was repulsed, and Longstreet was forced to retreat. When Bragg was defeated by Grant, Longstreet was ordered to join forces with the Army of Tennessee in northern Georgia. He demurred and began to move back to Virginia, soon pursued by Sherman. Longstreet defeated federal troops in an engagement at Bean's Station on December 14. The armies went into winter quarters and the First Corps rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring. The only real effect of the minor campaign was to deprive Bragg of troops he sorely needed in Chattanooga. Longstreet's second independent command (after Suffolk) was a failure and his self-confidence was damaged. He reacted to the failure of the campaign by blaming others, as he had done at Seven Pines. He relieved Lafayette McLaws from command and requested the court martial of Brig. Gens. Jerome B. Robertson and Law. He also submitted a letter of resignation to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on December 30, 1863, but his request to be relieved was denied.
The sufferings of the Confederate troops were to continue into the winter. Longstreet set up his headquarters in Rogersville. He attempted to keep communications open with Lee's army in Virginia, but Federal cavalry general William W. Averell's raids destroyed the railroads, isolating him and forcing him to rely only on Eastern Tennessee for supplies. Longstreet's corps suffered through a severe winter in Eastern Tennessee with inadequate shelter and provisions. More than half of the men were without shoes. Writing to Georgia's Quartermaster General, Ira Roe Foster on January 24, 1864, Longstreet noted: "There are five Georgia Brigades in this Army – Wofford's, G.T. Anderson's, Bryan's, Benning's, and Crews' cavalry brigade. They are all alike in excessive need of shoes, clothing of all kinds, and blankets. All that you can send will be thankfully received." Meanwhile, Longstreet again developed strategic plans. He called for an offensive through Tennessee into Kentucky in which his command would be bolstered by P. G. T. Beauregard and 20,000 men. Although he had the concurrence of General Lee, Longstreet was unable to convince President Davis or his newly appointed military advisor, Braxton Bragg, who had finally been relived and replaced by Joe Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee following the defeat at Chattanooga.
Longstreet found out that his old friend Ulysses S. Grant had been appointed General-in-Chief of the Union Army, with headquarters in the field alongside the Army of the Potomac. Longstreet told his fellow officers that "he will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war." Longstreet helped save the Confederate Army from defeat in his first battle back with Lee's army, the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. After Grant moved south of the Rapidan River in an attempt to take Richmond, Lee intended to delay battle in order to give Longstreet's 14,000 men time to arrive on the field. Grant disrupted these plans by attacking him on May 5, and the fighting was inconclusive. The following morning at 5 A.M., Hancock led two divisions in a ferocious attack on A.P. Hill's corps, driving the men back two miles. Just as this was happening, Longstreet's men arrived on the field. They took advantage of an old roadbed built for an out-of-use railroad to creep through a densely wooded area unnoticed before launching a powerful flanking attack. Longstreet's men moved forward along the Orange Plank Road against the II Corps and in two hours nearly drove it from the field. Once again 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 a continuous fire into the enemy, while proving to be elusive targets themselves. Historian Edward Steere attributed much of the success of the Army to "the display of tactical genius by Longstreet which more than redressed his disparity in numerical strength." After the war, Hancock said to Longstreet of this flanking maneuver: "You rolled me up like a wet blanket."
Longstreet was wounded during the assault—accidentally shot by his own men only about 4 miles (6.4 km) away from the place where Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier. A bullet passed through his shoulder, severing nerves, and tearing a gash in his throat. General Micah Jenkins, who was riding with Longstreet, was also shot and died from his wounds. The momentum of the attack subsided. As he was taken from the field, Longstreet urged Lee to press the attack. Instead, Lee delayed further movement until units could be realigned, giving the Union defenders adequate time to reorganize. The subsequent attack was a failure. Alexander called the removal of Longstreet the critical juncture of the battle: "I have always believed that, but for Longstreet's fall, the panic which was fairly underway in Hancock's [II] Corps would have been extended & have resulted in Grant's being forced to retreat back across the Rapidan."
Longstreet missed the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign, where Lee sorely missed his skill in handling the army. On May 1, he was confirmed as an Episcopalian. He was treated in Lynchburg, Virginia, and recuperated in Augusta, Georgia, with his cousin, Emma Eve Longstreet Sibley, the daughter of his father's brother, Gilbert. While in Augusta, he participated in the funeral service for Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk at Saint Paul's Church, joining the Bishops of Mississippi and Arkansas in casting earth onto the coffin. He rejoined Lee in October 1864, with his right arm paralyzed and in a sling, initially unable to ride a horse. He had taught himself to write with his left hand; by periodically pulling on his arm, as advised by doctors, he was able to regain use of his right hand in later years. At this time, Longstreet's staff underwent major changes. The most significant was the transfer of Sorrel, Longstreet's Chief of Staff, to brigade command. He was replaced by Major Osmun Latrobe. For the remainder of the Siege of Petersburg, Longstreet commanded the defenses in front of the capital of Richmond, including all forces north of the James River and Pickett's Division at Bermuda Hundred. He retreated with Lee in the Appomattox Campaign, commanding both the First and Third Corps, following the death of A.P. Hill on April 2. Lee worried that his refusal to meet with Grant to discuss surrender terms at the latter's first request would cause him to demand harsher terms this time. Longstreet advised him of his belief that Grant would treat them fairly. As Lee rode toward Appomattox Court House on April 9, Longstreet said that if Grant gave too strong demands, he ought to "break off the interview and tell General Grant to do his worst." After Lee's surrender, Longstreet arrived in the McLean House, where Grant happily greeted him. He offered Longstreet a cigar and invited him to play a card game. "Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?...His whole greeting and conduct towards us was as though nothing had ever happened to mar our pleasant relations," Longstreet told a reporter.
After the war, Longstreet and his family settled in New Orleans, a location popular with a number of former Confederate generals. He entered into a cotton brokerage partnership there and also became the president of the newly created and prominent insurance company. He actively sought the presidency of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad but was unsuccessful, and also failed in an attempt to get investors for a proposed railroad from New Orleans around the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico south across the Rio Grande river and American-Mexican border to Monterrey, Mexico. (In 1870, he was named president of the newly organized New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.) He applied for a pardon from 17th President Andrew Johnson, endorsed by his old friend and Union Army General-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson refused, however, telling Longstreet in a meeting: "There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble." Regardless of such opposition the Radical Republican controlled United States Congress restored his rights of American citizenship in June 1868.
Longstreet was one of a small group of former Confederate generals, including James L. Alcorn and William Mahone, to join or ally with the nationally dominant Republican Party during the Reconstruction era. He endorsed Grant for president in the election of 1868, attended his inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. and six days later was appointed by Grant as surveyor of customs in New Orleans. For these acts he lost favor with many white Southerners. His old friend Harvey Hill wrote to a newspaper: "Our scalawag is the local leper of the community." Unlike Northerners who moved South and were sometimes referred to as "Carpetbaggers," Hill wrote, Longstreet "is a native, which is so much the worse."
A major element of the Lost Cause movement, aside from attacking Longstreet's war record, was the idea that the central cause of the Civil War was the protection of states' rights, not slavery. Responding to such arguments, Longstreet once remarked, "I never heard of any other cause of the quarrel than slavery."
The Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within the city of New Orleans.
In April 1873, Longstreet dispatched a police force under Colonel T.W. DeKlyne to the Louisiana town of Colfax to help the local government and its majority-black supporters defend themselves against an insurrection by white supremacists. DeKlyne did not arrive until April 14, one day after the Colfax massacre. By then, his men's task consisted mainly of burying the bodies of blacks who had been killed and attempting to arrest the culprits. During protests of election irregularities in 1874, referred to as the Battle of Liberty Place, an armed force of 8,400 members of the anti-Reconstructionist White League advanced on the State House in New Orleans, which was the capitol of Louisiana at the time, after Republican William Pitt Kellogg was declared the winner of a close and heavily disputed gubernatorial election. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery. He rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet's men to flee or surrender. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Federal troops were sent by President Grant and required to restore order. Longstreet's use of armed black troops during the disturbances increased the denunciations by anti-Reconstructionist and former Southern Confederates.
In 1875, the Longstreet family left New Orleans with concerns over health and safety, returning to Gainesville, Georgia. By this time Louise had given birth to ten children, five of whom lived to adulthood. He applied for various jobs through the Rutherford B. Hayes administration and was briefly considered for Secretary of the Navy. He served briefly as deputy collector of internal revenue and as postmaster of Gainesville. In 1880, President Hayes appointed Longstreet as his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and later he served from 1897 to 1904, under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, as U.S. Commissioner of Railroads, succeeding Wade Hampton III.
In March 1877, on one of his frequent return trips to New Orleans on business, Longstreet converted to Catholicism and was a devout believer until his death. He was encouraged to convert by Fr. Abram J. Ryan, author of The Conquered Banner, who assured Longstreet that he would be welcomed with "open arms" if he decided to come into the Church.
Longstreet served as a U.S. Marshal from 1881 to 1884, but the return of a Democratic administration under Grover Cleveland ended his political career and he went into semiretirement on a 65-acre (26 ha) farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that his neighbors referred to jokingly as "Gettysburg." A devastating fire on April 9, 1889 (the 24th anniversary of Lee's surrender at Appomattox) destroyed his house and many of his personal possessions, including his personal papers and memorabilia. That December, Louise Longstreet died. In 1897 at the age of 76 in a ceremony at the governor's mansion in Atlanta he married 34 year old Helen Dortch. Although Longstreet's children reacted poorly to the marriage, Helen became a devoted wife and avid supporter of his legacy after his death. She outlived him by 58 years, dying in 1962.
After Louise's death, and after bearing criticism of his war record from other Confederates for decades, Longstreet refuted most of their arguments in his memoirs entitled From Manassas to Appomattox, a labor of five years that was published in 1896. His final years were marked by poor health and partial deafness. In 1902 he suffered from severe rheumatism and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. His weight diminished from 200 to 135 pounds by January 1903. Cancer developed in his right eye, and in December he had X-ray therapy in Chicago to treat it. He contracted pneumonia and died in Gainesville on January 2, 1904, six days before his 83rd birthday. At his funeral, Mass was said by Bishop Benjamin Joseph Keiley of Savannah, Georgia, a veteran of the Army of Northern Virginia. Longstreet's remains are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery. He outlived most of his detractors, and was one of only a few general officers from the Civil War to live into the 20th century.
Authors espousing the Lost Cause attacked Longstreet's war career for many years after his death. Modern authors trace that criticism to Longstreet's acceptance of the defeat and accommodations both with the Republican party and freed blacks. The attacks formally began on January 19, 1872, the anniversary of Lee's birth and less than two years after Lee died. Jubal Early, in a speech at Washington College, exonerated Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg and falsely accused Longstreet of having attacked late on the second day and of being responsible for the debacle on the third. The following year, William N. Pendleton, Lee's artillery chief, claimed in the same venue that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Both allegations were fabrications; however, Longstreet failed to challenge them publicly until 1875. The delay damaged his reputation, as the Lost Cause mythology had now taken hold.
Longstreet's former subordinate Col. John S. Mosby defended his commander, and other former Confederates who joined the Republican Party were subjected to similar criticism, including Gen. William Mahone and Robert W. Flournoy. A "reconstructed rebel", Longstreet embraced equal rights for blacks, unification of the nation, and Reconstruction, After Longstreet died, his widow Helen Dortch Longstreet, privately published Lee and Longstreet at High Tide in his defense and stated that "the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet."
In the 20th century, Douglas Southall Freeman kept criticism of Longstreet foremost in Civil War scholarship in his biography of Lee. "The battle was being decided at that very hour in the mind of Longstreet, who at his camp, a few miles away, was eating his heart away in sullen resentment that Lee had rejected his long cherished plan of a strategic offensive and a tactical defensive." He called Longstreet's performance on July 2 so sluggish that "it has often been asked why Lee did not arrest him for insubordination or order him before a court-martial." Historian Gary W. Gallagher notes that Freeman comes to different conclusions in his later three-volume set, Lee's Lieutenants: a Study in Command by stating that Longstreet's "attitude was wrong but his instinct was correct. He should have obeyed orders, but the order should not have been given." Clifford Dowdey, a Virginia newspaperman and novelist, was noted for his severe criticism of Longstreet in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s somewhat helped restore Longstreet's reputation. In 1974, Michael Shaara's novel The Killer Angels about the Battle of Gettysburg was published, and was based in part on Longstreet's memoirs. In 1993 the book was adapted into a film, Gettysburg, with Tom Berenger portraying Longstreet. He is depicted very favorably in both, significantly improving his standing in popular imagination. God and General Longstreet (1982), also upgraded Longstreet "through an attack on Lee, the Lost Cause, and the Virginia revisionists." In 1993, Jeffry D. Wert published a new Longstreet biography, stating that his subject was "the finest corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia; in fact, he was arguably the best corps commander in the conflict on either side." Military historian Richard L. DiNardo wrote, "Even Longstreet's most virulent critics have conceded that he put together the best staff employed by any commander, and that his de facto chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel G. Moxley Sorrel, was the best staff officer in the Confederacy." Noting Longstreet's effectively delegating responsibilities for control of battlefield movements to his staff, DiNardo believed this allowed them to communicate more effectively during battles than the staffs of other Confederate generals during the war.
Longstreet is remembered through numerous places that bear his name in and around Gainesville, Georgia, including Longstreet Bridge, a portion of U.S. Route 129 that crosses the Chattahoochee River (later dammed to form Lake Sidney Lanier), the local Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the James "Warhorse" Longstreet chapter of the non-profit WarFighters Motorcycle Club.
In 1998, one of the last monuments erected at Gettysburg National Military Park was dedicated as a belated tribute to Longstreet, an equestrian statue by sculptor Gary Casteel. He is shown riding on a depiction of his favorite horse, Hero, at ground level in a grove of trees in Pitzer Woods, unlike most generals, who are elevated on tall bases overlooking the battlefield.
The Longstreet Society is an organization and museum in Gainesville, dedicated to the celebration and study of his life and career. The General Longstreet Recognition Project is an educational project of the Agribusiness Council Heritage Preservation Committee aimed at broadening public awareness of Longstreet's military and public service.
Longstreet is featured as a minor character in two novels by Ben Ames Williams, one of his descendants. These are House Divided (1947) and The Unconquered (1953). He appears as a cadet in "The Santa Fe Trail" played by Frank Wilcox (1940). He is a character in Row After Row, a full length one act play by American playwright, Jessica Dickey. The action of the play takes place one evening after a Gettysburg re-enactment. One re-enactor, Cal, plays Longstreet in the battle. In parts of the play, the action moves to the moments leading up to Pickett's Charge. The play ends with a tormented Longstreet addressing the future, as he wonders if we will ever form a "more perfect union."
Longstreet plays a prominent role in Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels and in the film Gettysburg, being portrayed by Tom Berenger. He is also featured in Shaara's son Jeff Shaara's novel Gods and Generals, a prequel to his father's novel. In the film Gods and Generals (2003), he is portrayed by Bruce Boxleitner and given a minor role. Longstreet was played by Brian Amidei onstage in the world premiere of The Killer Angels at the Lifeline Theatre in Chicago.
Longstreet is a character in a number of prominent alternate history novels: Robert Skimin's Gray Victory (1988), Robert Conroy's 1901 (1995), and Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South (1992) and How Few Remain (1997) which are not part of the same series, and Newt Gingrich & William Forstchen's Gettysburg trilogy (2003-2005). In addition, Turtledove's War Between the Provinces trilogy (2000-2002), which reimagines the Civil War in a magecraft high fantasy setting, casts Longstreet as the prominent character "Earl James of Broadpath."