James Longstreet … Lost Cause Scapegoat?

LongstreetJames Longstreet’s performance at Gettysburg remains a rich source of controversy. Was his wise advice shunned by a headstrong superior? Did he nurse his resentments that he did not get his way into giving less than his best or in mindlessly following orders to the letter in an act of petulant stubbornness? Did he direct one of the war’s more powerful attacks on July 2 or did he fail to do what was needed to secure success on July 3?

One might divide Longstreet’s performance at Gettysburg into four periods: his disagreements with Lee prior to setting forth on the flank march; his performance during that march and the ensuing attack; his renewed willingness to bicker with Lee on the morning of July 3; and his management of that afternoon’s assault. Much of what is said about Longstreet depends on what else one things about what could have happened. For example, if one thinks that it was a dumb idea to attack Cemetery Ridge on July 3, one is less likely to be critical of Longstreet’s performance (after all, wasn’t failure inevitable anyway?),while if one thinks that the assault was bungled to the point that it deprived Lee of a chance to prevail, one is more likely to point a critical finger at Longstreet for not exercising adequate supervision. One wonders whether there is another way to approach this issue … or are we doomed to rehash the same old arguments time and time again?

You tell me.