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James Longstreet, January 9, 1821 -- January 2, 1904, was one of the foremost generals of the American Civil War, who later enjoyed a successful post-war career working as a diplomat and administrator for the government of his former enemies.
Longstreet was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and at the age of twelve, his father died and the family moved to Somerville, Alabama.
In 1838, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy by the state of Alabama, and graduated from West Point in 1842, just in time to serve with distinction in the Mexican War and rise to the rank of major.
In June 1861, he resigned from the U.S. Army to join with the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Already highly regarded as an officer, Longstreet was immediately appointed as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army, and after fighting at the First Battle of Bull Run, he earned a promotion to major general.
His career was boosted in the summer of 1862 when General Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, and during the Seven Days Battles, Longstreet had operational command of nearly half of Lee's army.
Longstreet demonstrated a talent for defensive fighting, preferring to position his troops in strong defensive positions and compel the enemy to attack him.
When the enemy had worn itself down, Longstreet would then attack, in fact, troops under his command never lost a defensive position throughout the war.
Longstreet was affectionately referred by Lee as his Old War Horse, yet Longstreet's friends called him Pete.
However, his record as an offensive tactician was mixed, and he often clashed with Lee on the subject of proper tactics to employ in battle.
In August 1862, came one of his finest hours, when he commanded what had become known as the First Corps at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Here, he and his counterpart in command of the Second Corps, Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson, switched their normal roles, leaving Jackson fighting defensively on the Confederate left, and Longstreet delivering a devastating flank attack on the right that crushed the slightly larger Union Army of Virginia.
At the Battle of Antietam the following month, Longstreet held his part of the Confederate line against Union forces that were twice as numerous, and a few weeks later on October 9th, he was promoted to lieutenant general, the senior Confederate officer of that rank.
His reputation grew that December when his First Corps played a decisive role in the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Longstreet positioned his men behind a stone wall and held off fourteen assaults by Union forces, resulting in the loss of 10,000 Union soldiers, while Longstreet lost 500.
In the winter and early spring of 1863, Longstreet bottle up Union forces in the city of Suffolk, Virginia, and although it was a minor operation, it was one that was very important to Lee's army that was still stationed in devastated central Virginia.
Longstreet conducted a siege of Suffolk, enabling Confederate authorities to collect huge amounts of food that had been under Union control and send it to feed Lee's soldiers, however, it caused Longstreet and 15,000 men of the First Corps to be absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville in May.
Longstreet then rejoined Lee's army and took part in the Gettysburg campaign, where he clashed with Lee about the tactics Lee was using.
The campaign marked a fundamental change in the way Longstreet was employed by Lee, who used him to spearhead attacks, since Jackson had been killed at Chancellorsville.
Although Longstreet was capable and willing, he basically told Lee that his tactics were going to lead to defeat, and advocated disengagement from the enemy after the first day's battle, embarking on a strategic flanking movement to place themselves on the Union line of communication and inviting attack.
He argument was that Lee had agreed before the campaign that this "strategic offensive, tactical defensive" would be the proper course, but Lee had settle on the tactical offensive.
On the second day of battle, July 2nd, Longstreet's assault on the Union left nearly succeeded, but on July 3rd, when Lee ordered him, against his wishes, to attack the Union center in what became known as "Pickett's Charge," the Confederates lost 7,000 men in an hour.
Longstreet had been right, and Lee was wrong and immediately admitted as much, but many of Lee's admires, such as Jubal Early and the Lost Cause advocates after the war, believed that Longstreet was to blame for the lost battle.
Lee sent Longstreet and 14,000 of his First Corps veterans to Georgia to help the Confederate Army of Tennessee, resulting in an attack that routed the Union Army of the Cumberland and won the greatest Confederate victory ever in the western theatre.
Longstreet soon clashed with General Braxton Bragg of the Army of Tennessee, when Bragg failed to capitalize on the victory by finishing off the Union army and recapturing the Chattanooga.
Longstreet became leader of a group of senior commanders of the army who conspired to have Bragg removed and this situation became so serious that Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was forced to intercede.
In one of the most bizarre scenes of the war, Bragg sat as a procession of his commanders declared him incompetent, however, Davis sided with Bragg and he stayed in command, while Longstreet and his men were sent on a disastrous campaign in east Tennessee, where in December, they were defeated while trying to recapture Knoxville.
Afterwards, Bragg was driven back into Georgia and Longstreet and his men returned to Lee.
In his first battle back with Lee's army, he helped save the Confederate Army from defeat at the Battle of the Wilderness in May, 1964, where he launched a powerful flanking attack against the Union II Corps and nearly drove it from the field.
However, he was wounded, accidentally shot by his own men about a mile away from where Jackson died a year earlier, and thus, missed the rest of the 1864 spring campaign, where Lee sorely missed his skill.
He rejoined Lee from October 1864 to March 1865, during the Siege of Petersburg, commanding the defenses in front of the capital of Richmond.
He surrendered with Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
As a general, he is considered to have been a poor independent commander and strategist but an excellent combat officer.
After the war, Longstreet renewed his friendship with his old friend and adversary, Lieutenant General, and future President Ulysses S. Grant, and became the only major Confederate officer to join the postwar Republican party.
Because of this, he became very unpopular with many Southerners, but nevertheless enjoyed a successful second career.
He converted to Catholicism when he married his second wife, which also made him even more unpopular among the more Protestant South.
President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him as 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.
Later in life, after bearing criticism of his war record from other Confederates for decades, he refuted most of their arguments in his memoirs, "From Manassas to Appomattox."
He outlived most of his detractors, and died in Gainesville, Georgia, where he is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.
Due to the Lost Cause criticism, Longstreet's war career was disparaged for many years after his death.
Michael Shaara's 1974 novel, "The Killer Angels," based in part on Longstreet's memoirs, has been credited with restoring his reputation as an outstanding general.
In 1990, one of the last monuments erected at Gettysburg National Military Park is a belated tribute to Longstreet.
Unlike most generals, who are elevated on tall bases overlooking the battlefield, Longstreet is depicted on his horse at ground level in a grove of trees in Pitzer Woods, indicative of the continuing controversies over his career.
In the years that immediately followed the war, Longstreet had committed what were to many Southerners three unpardonable sins.
First, he openly criticized Lee for his actions at Gettysburg, and although there is debate about what he did or did not say, the effect of the statements attributed to him, which he never denied, were the same.
Second, he became a Republican, the political party largely responsible for the hated Reconstruction policies, and third, he wrote a letter that was condemned in several newspapers across the South for its apparent counsel to allow Negro suffrage and to bow to Federal authority.
This last was greeted with headlines of "Traitor," the first time Longstreet had ever been referred to by this term.
These sins made him ripe for blame as the instigators of the "Lost Cause" cult formulated their plan to explain away the loss of the war, because in their eye, Lee, the lovable commander of the Confederacy's premier army, had not failed.
Longstreet became involved in the quagmire of post-war politics…[continue]
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