James Longstreet Biography

General(1821–1904)
James Longstreet was a successful Confederate general. During Reconstruction, some Southerners started to feel he was responsible for the loss at Gettysburg.

Synopsis

James Longstreet was born in South Carolina's Edgefield district on January 8, 1821. In 1861, he resigned from the U.S. Army in order to join the Confederacy. By the end of the war, he was Robert E. Lee's second-in-command. During Reconstruction—which he accepted—many Southerners began to blame him for the defeat at Gettysburg. He died in Gainesville, Georgia, on January 2, 1904, at the age of 82.

Early Life

On January 8, 1821, James Longstreet was born in the Edgefield district of South Carolina. He spent most of his childhood in Georgia and Alabama. His uncle—whom Longstreet lived with for a time—helped him gain admittance to West Point.

U.S. Army Career

After graduating from West Point in 1842, Longstreet first saw action in the Mexican-American War. He next served on the frontier, and then became a paymaster. In 1861, Longstreet left the U.S. Army to join the Confederate forces.

Fighting in the Civil War

Initially a brigadier general, Longstreet became a major general in October 1861. In 1862, he performed well at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) and at Antietam, and was made a lieutenant general. He demonstrated his tactical abilities once more with successful defensive maneuvers at Fredericksburg that same year.

Longstreet opposed Robert E. Lee's plan to attack at Gettysburg, though he eventually went along with Lee. Longstreet was also reluctant to follow Lee's orders for a direct assault on the third day of fighting, but still obeyed the command. That charge resulted in heavy casualties, and did not keep the South from being defeated.

In May 1864's Battle of the Wilderness, Longstreet was accidentally fired upon by his own men. He recovered—though with a paralyzed right arm—and returned to fight in the fall of 1864. As Lee's second-in-command at the end of the war, Longstreet accompanied him to surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

After the Civil War

With the war over, Longstreet moved to New Orleans, where he upset some by joining the Republican Party and by accepting the process of Reconstruction. Longstreet, who had attended West Point with Ulysses S. Grant, also received political appointments from his old friend.

Longstreet's reputation was further tarnished when some Confederate officers—led by Jubal A. Early—said that Longstreet had disobeyed Lee's orders at Gettysburg, and held him responsible for the South's defeat. Though Lee's records from the war did not mention any such disobedience, Longstreet's criticism of Lee while defending himself did not help his cause.

In 1875, Longstreet relocated to Gainesville, Georgia. He still received political favor: Rutherford B. Hayes named him the ambassador to Turkey in 1880, a role Longstreet fulfilled for one year. He also continued to defend his actions during the Civil War, authoring a memoir in 1896. Longstreet was 82 when he died in Gainesville on January 2, 1904.

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