Longstreet or Jackson?

This morning on ESPN’s First and Ten Jay Crawford, Skip Bayliss, and Rob Parker debated which Yankee, Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera, was more essential to the Yankees’ success over the last sixteen years (as much as I think highly of Jeter, I think Rivera’s virtually irreplaceable).  We do the same thing when it comes to Civil War generals, and so I ask: as part of the Army of Northern Virginia, who was more essential to the success of that army: Thomas J. Jackson or James Longstreet?

Note the important qualifier: as a part of that army.  Yes, Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862 receives its plaudits, and one can say that indirectly it helped the Army of Northern Virginia stave off what might have been disaster in the spring of 1862, but I’m not asking who was the better general (and by framing the question in this fashion, I also avoid discussions of Longstreet’s own adventures in Georgia and Tennessee).  However, between Lee’s right arm and his old war horse, which one was more indispensable to the success of that army?  Which one could Lee less afford to lose? 

Yes, he lost Jackson, but what if Jackson had survived Chancellorsville and Longstreet not made it back to join Lee?  Would we be asking  “what if Longstreet had been at Gettysburg?” Surely Lee missed Longstreet during the Overland Campaign.

The comments section awaits.

8 thoughts on “Longstreet or Jackson?

  1. Bill May 26, 2011 / 12:19 pm

    My vote is for Longstreet. Jackson was better on offense but in the long run the South would need defense more.

  2. Ray O'Hara May 26, 2011 / 2:57 pm

    The conventional view is Jackson the offensive man and Longstreet the defender. that’s sort of true and equally as false.
    Between battle Jackson was brilliant, his Valley Campaign* and moves before 2nd Mananas amply demonstrate that. Longstreet was better attacking during the actual battle, 2nd Manasas, July 2nd and the Wilderness outer attacks were well done as was Chickamauga.

    But ultimately losing Jackson hurt more, it hurt Lee’s ability to maneuver before the battle and that’s where they really are won.

    Jackson, like Grant, Sherman and later Patton had the ability to move decisively in empty space when so many others are paralyzed by the uncertainty of the enemy’s whereabouts.

  3. Lyle Smith May 26, 2011 / 9:55 pm

    I think conventional wisdom would be that Longstreet was more important not Jackson. However, I’ll be contrarian and say Jackson.

    Why Jackson? The Second Manassas campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

    Jackson I think was really fortunate to ever be a Lt. General for the Confederacy. Based on some of things he did early on as head of the Valley District make me think I wouldn’t have chosen him to ever have a larger command then a brigade (his Winter campaign, the tete-a-tete with Loring, his passing of judgement on Richard Garnett, his poor tactics which upset Winder greatly)… but he was a, or the, hero at First Manassas (good media helped a lot of folks move up in rank) and was given greater responsibility very early on (he also seemed to have good connections within the Virginia political landscape which had to have helped him as well.

    I think the Seven Campaigns poor performance was a bad thing for Jackson, but that campaign was really the first campaign for the Army of Northern Virginia. It was the first real battles for the Army of the Potomac as well. It was a learning experience for everyone.

    Jackson however was given the key position in the Second Manassas campaign. He was responsible for dealing with Banks’ Corps at Cedar Mountain (almost failed, but got the job done) and then he was sent off all by himself to get behind Pope at Manassas Junction, did so, and then neatly fended off Pope until Lee and Longstreet could arrive to surprise the ignorant Pope.

    Lee then gave Jackson the main responsibility to clear the ANV communication and supply lines of Federal forces in Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg. His troops had to go way out of their way to do this and completed their mission just in time to get back to Lee so Lee could meet McClellan in battle again.

    At Antietam Jackson forces bore the brunt of the morning attacks (maybe the deadliest fighting of the whole war) and survived.

    At Fredericksburg Jackson did his defensive thing again and beat back the Federal attacks.

    Chancellorsville probably tells what Lee’s answer to this question would be in that Lee kept Jackson with him during the winter/early spring and sent Longstreet away to Suffolk and North Carolina to graze his corps.

    And then of course Lee allowed Jackson to march away with troops troops to strike at Howard’s 11th Corps and the rest is history.

    So I say Jackson was the more important of the two for the above reasons.

  4. Stephen Graham May 26, 2011 / 10:14 pm

    Longstreet was more of the core of the Army of Northern Virginia. He had been a commander in the army since before First Bull Run, while Jackson saw more detached service in the Shenandoah.

    Arguably, Longstreet was also the better administrative commander. Both of these traits would be important in forging the army that ultimately fought in 1863 and 1864.

  5. Chuck Brown May 27, 2011 / 6:20 am

    Longstreet, in my humble opinion, was more essential to the success of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee seems to have valued Longstreet’s opinions more, but perhaps that’s because Jackson’s career was cut short and his relationship with Lee was not allowed to develop further.

    Jackson’s success at Chancellorsville had as much to do with Hooker’s timidity and lack of awareness as it did to Jackson’s skill. Heck, I could have launched that flank attack. Longstreet’s similar attack at the Wilderness was not as successful, but the Army of Northern Virginia wasn’t the same army after Gettysburg. And Grant wasn’t Hooker. Lee sorely missed Longstreet after his severe wounding.

  6. John Foskett May 27, 2011 / 8:27 am

    Jackson was a mediocre tactician, which to me is a critical factor in evaluating the role of a corps commander operating under the direction of a commanding officer. This deficiency showed itself repeatedy no matter what role Jackson performed – independent, semi-independent, or commanding a corps under the direct command of Lee. See Kernstown (First), Cedar Mountain, Brawner’s Farm, Second Manassas (Day 2), Fredericksburg (Hamilton’s Crossing). Even some of his fights in the legendary ’62 Valley Campaign were hardly textbook demonstrations of tactical skill. The Seven Days was a debacle and it’s difficult to legitimately pin it all on “fatigue” (and as an aside, if you’re in such a state that you cannot resist taking a siesta rather than competently following orders and handling your forces, turn the reins over to somebody else). Operational maneuver by an independent or semi-indeopendent force? – Jackson. But a subordinate who knew how to fight a tactical battle and how to avoid placing half of his own subordinates under arrest – Longstreet. As for the Shaara-fostered image of the “defensive-minded” Old Pete, the folks who push that seldom mention Chinn Ridge.

    • Jim April 10, 2013 / 8:29 pm

      Bravo! Best response on this site.

  7. TF Smith May 27, 2011 / 4:28 pm

    I’d offer this up – once Jackson was gone, I think JEB Stuart prsumably copuld have filled his “offensive” shoes as an infantry corps commander.

    Who could replace Longstreet on the defense? Early or one of the Hills?


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