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.

53 thoughts on “James Longstreet … Lost Cause Scapegoat?

  1. Joshism June 28, 2013 / 5:35 am

    I would say Longstreet should be criticized for two main points:
    1) poor management of getting Hood and McLaws into place on July 2nd
    2) his tardy preparations on July 3 – not having Pickett ready and not communicating with Lee sooner (including failing to personally meet with him on July 2nd after the fighting ended at dark)

    Lee’s decision to attack at all on July 2nd is open to debate, but his goal was to roll up the Union left flank seems good. The bigger problem was accurate and current recon of where that flank was; that was not really Longstreet’s fault. RH Anderson’s attack could have been better organized, but he was part of Hill’s corps.

    I disagree with Lee’s decision to attack the Union center on July 3. The decision of which part of the line to attack was Lee’s and which part of Hill’s corps to support Pickett with was Hill’s (he failed to send the fresher brigades and hold back those most chewed up by July 1st fighting). I’m not sure what the best move would have on July 3rd, but the original plan to have Longstreet attempt to roll up Cemetery Ridge was no longer feasible due to both Round Tops being occupied.

    Longstreet’s actions during the P-P-T charge remind me of Hooker’s quote about Fredericksburg (which I will paraphrase): “I attacked until I had lost as many men my orders required me to lose.” His attitude was sour, but would sending the second wave have really changed the result? The artillery failures were not Longstreet’s fault. Perhaps ensured Wilcox and Lang pushed forward earlier?

    • SF Walker June 28, 2013 / 4:53 pm

      I pretty much agree. Hill definitely had fresher troops in Anderson’s Division that could have spearheaded that part of the attack, instead of using Heth’s and Pender’s battered units.

      I think the Confederates had a pretty good idea of where the Union left flank was on July 2. They knew the Round Tops were undefended. Hood’s Division and his supporting artillery were deployed right on the flank, even overlapping it a bit. But Ward’s Union brigade managed to hold him off long enough for Vincent to get his troops in to defend Little Round Top. However, since the attack didn’t commence until around 4pm, there may have been time to get Hood even further around the flank.

      Hood and McLaws had a long way to march in the heat, though, in any case. Plus Law’s Brigade, which led the attack on Little Round Top, had sent a canteen detail off to find water; these men ended up being captured. Law’s troops were thus marching and fighting in the July heat with no water. It’s almost incredible that they were able to perform as well as they did.

      • M.D. Blough June 28, 2013 / 7:23 pm

        “Hill definitely had fresher troops in Anderson’s Division that could have spearheaded that part of the attack, instead of using Heth’s and Pender’s battered units.” Aside from a tantalizing glimpse into one of the greatest mysteries of Gettysburg: Where the heck was A.P. Hill and what the heck was he doing on July 2 and 3?, it was Lee, not Longstreet (who had no authority to order around a fellow corps commander like that, even one junior to him, when the commanding general was on the scene), who chose which units from the Third Corps would participate in the fighting on July 3. One would expect that Longstreet might be particularly averse to treading on Hill’s toes, since Hill had challenged him to a duel after the Seven Days.

        Maybe Longstreet should have just gone with the flow, stopped trying to find a way to avoid the disaster he foresaw and let it unfold (I recall seeing at least one account of a soldier saying he saw Longstreet riding by looking depressed (or a 19th century equivalent of depressed) during the battle, which was unlike his usual spirited demeanor on the battlefield) but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

        One thing I want to make clear. While I’m aware I’m known as a Longstreet person, in part because I see him as the victim of a plot to rewrite history to support white supremacy after the Civil War, I’ve never believed that, had Lee only listened to him, the Confederacy would have won the Battle of Gettysburg (unless it would have resulted in there having been no battle at Gettysburg for anyone to win or lose). I just believe that, while the objections to Longstreet’s proposals have a lot of validity, the same objections apply to Lee’s plans as well. I think the best piece of advice that Longstreet gave to Lee was on the evening of July 1, after Lee announced his plans to attack if the AOP was still there in the morning and Longstreet replied that, if the Army of the Potomac was still there in the morning, it was because they WANTED Lee to attack. Or, as George Pickett did or did not really say when asked why the South lost the Battle of Gettysburg, “I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

  2. John Foskett June 28, 2013 / 7:02 am

    I’ll stay away from this one. But I’ve always wondered how Captain Johnson consistently gets himself off the stage when it comes to July 2 – and then there’s the question of who he reported to in the chain.

  3. M.D. Blough June 28, 2013 / 8:26 am

    Or Lee for not calling a meeting of his commanders on the evening of July 2. I wonder how this so often seems to be all of Longstreet’s responsibility and none of his commanding general’s. On the management of July 2, look how long it took Jackson to get his attack underway at Chancellorsville and he had cavalry scouting and was on friendly territory.

    However, the biggest problem is that the Lost Cause poisoned the historical well at the very beginning when Pendleton and Early began the Dawn Order canard that even Lee’s adoring aides and McLaws, who was bitterly feuding with Longstreet, had to admit was bogus. If you have to start with a lie, that casts serious doubt on what you have to say. I think the must read books on this are Thomas Connelly’s “Marble Man” (and Connelly, the chronicler of the Army of Tennessee was no Longstreet fan) and William Garrett Piston’s “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant” on how deliberate the effort was to destroy Longstreet as punishment for actively accepting Reconstruction and becoming a Republican. Painting Longstreet as the villain was essential to the Lost Cause. If Lee was the perfect general and “The Cause” the perfect cause, then one has to come up with something to explain how the perfect general and the perfect cause lost to a gorilla leading a bunch of greasy mudsills and mechanics. Longstreet was the perfect Judas figure: Not a Virginian and not terribly articulate in his defense.

    However, I think what is telling is how Lee behaves after the Battle of Gettysburg. Longstreet feuds with Law and McLaws while they are out in Tennessee but it is Longstreet who ends up back in his place as the senior corps commander in the ANV and Law and McLaws (even though the latter in particular clearly has Bragg’s and Davis’s support) end up elsewhere. After Longstreet is wounded at the Wilderness, he still is welcomed back, paralyzed arm and all, to the ANV, and, when the generals of the ANV, including Pendleton (Early’s been relieved of command following the Shenandoah fiasco) want to broach surrender with Lee, it is Longstreet who is asked to bell the cat.

    I wonder how many of the people who are so sure that Longstreet hated Lee at and after Gettysburg know what the Longstreets named the baby boy (the first child since they lost 3 out of 4 of their children to scarlet fever in 1862) who was born while his father was still with the Army of Tennessee: Robert Lee Longstreet, known to his family as Lee.

    The best study, IMHO, of Longstreet was done by an active army officer and WW I combat veteran with a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago (his dissertation was on Longstreet), Lt. Col. Donald Bridgman Sanger, who did the Longstreet as soldier section of the Sanger & Hay biography of Longstreet (Hay finished the post war years after Sanger’s death). Sadly, it’s out of print but available through used book dealers. It’s remarkably free of Lost Cause cant. He gives both praise and criticism where due, but fair praise and criticism. He also was the first who actually calculated how long it would take a body of soldiers the size Longstreet had to get the distance he had to get, even at the fastest rate of march instead of unthinkingly repeating that Longstreet was “slow” His study is of a soldier evaluating a fellow soldier.

  4. Mark June 28, 2013 / 9:56 am

    The military merits are all debatable, but I think his decision to become a Republican after the war was more decisive for whether or not he was a scapegoat. The Russians used to say “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime”. He showed himself a Republican and they found him to be a perfect scapegoat.

  5. Brian Hampton June 28, 2013 / 4:44 pm

    Interestingly (well, it is to me) I think it was a colossal bad idea to attack Cemetery Ridge on July 3rd but spare my strongest criticism of Longstreet at Gettysburg to that morning, not the attack itself, which I think was managed about as well as it could be under the circumstances, but overnight and during the morning.

    In brief, it strikes me as fairly clear he was trying all he could to avoid having to attack. I happen to agree with his apparent reasoning (at least what his reasoning was later). However, unlike the previous day when I believe he did his job in disagreeing with Lee right up to the last minute it was reasonable to do so, for the 3rd, I think he actively avoided getting a direct order until he could no longer avoid it and did all he could to create a situation in which Lee would be compelled to change his mind.

  6. Michael Confoy June 28, 2013 / 9:13 pm

    They would scapegoat their mother’s if it helped their arguments.

  7. Jerry Desko June 28, 2013 / 9:41 pm

    Lee did not manage or supervise his corp commanders properly throughout the battle.

  8. rcocean June 29, 2013 / 2:54 am

    I’ve never been a Longstreet fan. His post civil war justifications and silly “if only Lee had listened to me” recollections are annoying. When given independent command, things all ended poorly, with Longstreet blaming everyone but himself. His strategic were often goofy, and strangely always seem to involve taking troops from some other General and giving them to him. How is possible to respect someone who claims he had an agreement with Lee to only fight a defensive battle in July 1863? Its possible that Lee may have said something like it, but its more likely Longstreet either heard what he wanted to hear, or simply made up the whole thing.

    In any case, I dislike him because lefties who don’t like Civil War history support him because of Liberal politics. Lets examine the “liberal Logic”: Lost Cause Confederates didn’t like Longstreet, and they were “white supremacists”, and Liberals dislike white supremacists in 2013, so therefore they like Longstreet – who had no problem with Slavery – and died in 1904. Yep, makes sense, if you’re a liberal. And don’t care about actual historical reality.

    • Dennis June 29, 2013 / 12:26 pm

      I Believe you have just provided a classic example of the Straw Man fallacy

  9. jfepperson June 29, 2013 / 7:37 am

    I’ll defer to Margaret (mdblough) and Brian (bdhamp) on all things Longstreet. They know more about it than most of us have forgotten, and both are honest enough to confront Longstreet’s faults.

    • M.D. Blough June 30, 2013 / 12:16 am

      I think he’s well above the middle if you look at his performance at the Seven Days, Antietam, Second Manassas, the Wilderness, etc. Even at Chickamauga, he was barely off the train, commanding troops many of whom, and their commanders, he was unfamiliar with and his performance was certainly superior to Bragg’s, Polk’s, or D.H. Hill’s. On the other hand, there’s no way you can make Ft.Sanders look good. I haven’t read anyone who considers him to be “the only true military genius who could have lead it to victory if he had been listened to” (as guitarmandanga speculates is the direction to which the pendulum is swinging). I don’t think he claimed that either, as opposed to both Hood and Gordon. As I’ve said, if you can get your hands on a copy of Sanger and Hay’s biography read Sanger on Longstreet the Soldier. It is a soldier evaluating a soldier. I also think his use of staff was pioneering.

      As I’ve said before, the historical well was poisoned from the time that Pendleton first raised the Dawn Order lie (so bad that even McLaws and Lee’s adoring aides protested). The Lost Cause needed a scapegoat. Also, a general as prominent as Longstreet who dared to accept Reconstruction, become a Republican, and, lead largely black forces against the White League insurrectionists in New Orleans had to be punished. I think both Connelly and Piston and Carol Reardon have demonstrated the extent to which Longstreet’s record was deliberately lied about and distorted. I’ve seen Richard Taylor, who had almost no opportunity to observe Longstreet, cited as an authority on him. I think it’s telling that none of this started until after Lee’s death. As to Lee’s attitude towards Longstreet, Lee was very adept at getting rid of generals who were not meeting his expectations. Longstreet was there until the end.

      • John Foskett June 30, 2013 / 9:33 am

        Good points. But then there was Seven Pines/Fair Oaks. Was that a foreshadowing of some “personality” issues that came into play at Gettysburg?

        • M.D. Blough June 30, 2013 / 3:27 pm

          I said he was well above the middle. I never said he was perfect or even close to. Even the most notable Civil War generals had their low points. Lee had West Virginia, Malvern Hill and, if anyone can find any purpose whatsoever in the decision to make a stand at Antietam with only one ford to their back, please let me know. Porter Alexander couldn’t.

          ” Was that [Seven Pines] a foreshadowing of some “personality” issues that came into play at Gettysburg?” What personality issues and, please, give me something that is unusually present in Longstreet as opposed to any other Civil War general. Seven Pines was a mess that just about everyone involved on the Confederate side, including Longstreet, played a role in but that was very early in the Civil War. No one, no matter what their level of command, had commanded much more than a company before that except Winfield Scott and he was out of the picture quite early. I gave you Ft. Sanders as an example of something Longstreet badly handled (with Bragg playing a contributing role) and Ft. Sanders was a MUCH bigger debacle. If you want an example of someone who was awful in dealing with superiors AND subordinates, look at the saintly Stonewall. Lee was the only superior who could keep Jackson in line and, while Longstreet had some nasty feuds with subordinates, compare that to Jackson’s persecution of Richard Garnett over Kernstown, a defeat for which I’ve never seen any indication that Jackson took an iota of responsibility.

          • John Foskett July 2, 2013 / 8:32 am

            Well one plausibly could say that Longstreet’s stubbornness and ego were responsible for his alleged “misunderstanding” of Johnston’s plan (a “misunderstanding” which Alexander, who was present, later rejected) and the ensuing mess on the approach roads.Flash forward to Gettysburg and a close study of his actions there raises similar concerns.

      • Bob Huddleston June 30, 2013 / 10:48 am

        In addition to Margaret’s comments, when, in the fall of 1862, President Davis was selecting the first Confederate lieutenant generals, Lee asked for Longstreet to be chosen as the senior — Jackson came fifth on the list.

      • guitarmandanga June 30, 2013 / 3:21 pm

        >I haven’t read anyone who considers him to be “the only true military genius who could have lead it to >victory if he had been listened to” (as guitarmandanga speculates is the direction to which the >pendulum is swinging).

        Well, there’s this, which from the title and description seems to be leaning in that direction. I’ll admit, though, that I haven’t read it (and have no particular desire to).


        For the most part, the claim is more grass-roots in nature. When I worked for two summers at Chick-Chatt NMP, I heard a number of visitors make the argument that Longstreet was the best general of the war.

        • M.D. Blough July 1, 2013 / 12:22 am

          I haven’t read it, although I’m not sure I’d infer “the only true military genius who could have lead it to >victory if he had been listened to” from “General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Modern General” or even “best general of the Civil War”. He may very well have been the Confederacy’s most modern general, especially in his use of staff. However, given the competition for the title, I’m not sure it would take a lot to win it. Every Civil War general who had any significant combat role has his share of overzealous and sometimes uncritical enthusiasts. In Hood’s and Gordon’s cases that share was led by Hood and Gordon. Even Braxton Bragg has at least one as anyone who has read Judith Hallock’s work on him can attest.

        • Harold Knudsen July 2, 2013 / 10:39 am

          I don’t make the argument in my book Longstreet was the only true military genius who could have lead to victory in the Gettysburg campaign if he had been listened to; I leave that to Robert E. Lee who seemed to think that after the fact. Gettysburg was a long shot for the Confederates to win. I only talk about Gettysburg in the introduction and explain how the historiography has been shaped around Gettysburg from the Lost Cause era/early 20th Century. My focus in this book are large scale examples of Longstreet as a Modern war thinker in the sense that how he deployed and executed at Fredericksburg in a defense and Chickamauga for the offense had method and elements that would appear later in the 20th Century, by comparing the kill zone he created at Fredericksburg to how we in the Army build kill zones, and how his attack formation at Chickamauga was similar in how we in the 20th Century US Army would deploy an attack formation to rupture a section of enemy line – which is derived from WWII armored tactics, such as the German Schwerpunkt, and WWI German Infiltration tactics of 1918. Hence “Modern thinking” or “Most Modern General” in the title. I did not see Gettysburg as having a clear example of modern thinking on a scale like Fredericksburg or Chickamauga, so I did not write a chapter about Gettysburg. Now, I do think that Longstreet’s schwerpunkt at Chickamauga was a better formation than what he used at Gettysburg; It had a very narrow front, but the problem with the third day of Gettysburg was no matter what he used, it was going to be exposed far too long to concentrated artillery fire, which made his formations combat ineffective when they reached the Union line. He did not have enough strength left to split the Union Army. Compounded by the fact Jeb Stuart’s supporting cavalry attack into the rear of the Union center did not materialize, as he was routed by Custer, and J. Early’s supporting attack that was designed to draw Union reserves away from the center also did not happen.

  10. guitarmandanga June 29, 2013 / 6:03 pm

    For my part, I’ve always wondered about the historical veracity of what Michael Shaara, for one, has made the accepted narrative of Longstreet’s strategic mentality. Are there any existing letters from before the invasion in which Longstreet laid out his doctrine of offensive-defense (or deffensive-offense, or however you want to phrase it, i.e., manuever into a strong position and force them to attack us)?
    Or has this been handed down to us from postwar memory (in all of its glorious, Cassandra-like convenience) strained through the cheesecloth of a popular 1970s historical novel? I seem to have read somewhere that, shortly after the battle, Longstreet confided to someone that his main objection to Pickett’s Charge wasn’t the fact that the attack was launched, but that it was launched with too few men for the job. Does anyone know the source of this story, and was it a wartime source or a postwar reminiscence?

    • bdhamp July 2, 2013 / 6:20 am

      >For my part, I’ve always wondered about the historical veracity of what Michael Shaara…

      Michael Shaara I supposed can be said to have popularized certain aspects of this, but the novel does not turn so heavily on points on strategy and tactics as the movie on which Killer Angels is based might lead one to believe. The novel is about the relationships between people at its foundation. These details were plot devices more than anything.

      That said Shaara got it from somewhere, which I’ve always found rather remarkable considering the time period during which Killer Angels was written. Portraying Longstreet as anything other than a bumbling, traitorous (to the Confederacy) malcontent would not have been among the top-10 marketable ideas of the 70s. There were a few people working on this at the time, and I would find it interesting to know what, if any, connections Shaara may have had to those people.

      Longstreet’s strategic views are largely inferred from his actions and articulated desired actions, e.g. his post-Chancellorsville and then post-Gettysburg strategy ideas. It is, in my view, mostly an act of putting a label on a set of poorly designed strategies that could be interpreted in more than one way, one of the more common being that it was all less about actual military strategy than a personal desire for advancement and control. Longstreet’s plan for invading Kentucky and Ohio, for example, was ridiculous. If he really thought that was going to work, he was strategically inept. If he didn’t, then we have to ask why he suggested it at all, which leads us potentially to more personal motives. After the war Longstreet tried to wrap all this up in a pretty box of well considered, well designed ideas, but of course we must take all that with huge grains of salt.

      I personally believe he made a lot of it up as he went along, which, in several cases, worked to his and his army’s benefit. In others, e.g. Ft. Sanders, Suffolk, etc., it did not.

      In short, I think the answer to the question you pose is complex.

      • Harold Knudsen July 2, 2013 / 1:43 pm

        Shaara based much of his book from Longstreet’s memoir, in there he does talk about these ideas at the strategic and operational level. I don’t believe Longstreet was looking for advancement to an army command, none of these desires exist in his writings that I have seen, and there were plenty of opportunities – he was even offered Bragg’s job. He declined and told President Davis he thought Joe Johnston was the appropriate person for that, after he (Longstreet)tried to convince Lee to come to Chattanooga for a period and fix the problems. Lee wanted Longstreet at his side, and said so often. The two were very close, and they saw they were a good team together; Army commander and corps commander, better then apart. Lee sent Longstreet to GA for the concentration, but the deal was 1st Corp and Longstreet come back to VA when the job was done.
        On the comment about Pickett’s charge – not enough troops, I’m going to say that was derived from his comment to Lee that no 15,000 troops ever made can take that ridge. He said that because the infantry would be exposed too long to artillery fire, and lose too much strength coming across. He also said at Fredericksburg that the Union can send every man they have at this angle of attack and he will stop them. It was the same effect, but Burnside used more than 15,000 on his multiple assaults over the course of three hours. The Confederate fire support plan did not work. Union general Henry Hunt in a very modern way dispersed his artillery to make it difficult to suppress, and kept some of it out of the fight so he could have it ready to either employ once the Confederates made it to the wall, or another set of brigades came across. Not sure if he actually said more men would have made it work; will have to check his memoir.

        • bdhamp July 3, 2013 / 10:10 am

          >Shaara based much of his book from Longstreet’s memoir …

          Now that’s interesting. Do you happen to know where I can find a discussion of this or maybe some comment he made about it? I ask only because I dilligent looked around 1998 and even managed to make contact with son, who was friendly and at least outwardly helpful but didn’t really seem to know.

          Also, if memory serves, there are a couple things in the novel that vary in significant respects to Longstreet’s memoirs.

          Anyway, this was at one time an obsession for me, and I never found an answer that satisfied me. I’ve always wondered if Shaara hadn’t read Glen Tucker whose characterization of Longstreet is almost indistinguishable from the novel’s version.

          • M.D. Blough July 3, 2013 / 9:07 pm

            He may also have come across Glenn Tucker’s work. Tucker was one of the first to take a look at Longstreet untainted by the Lost Cause. Tucker’s books were “High Tide at Gettysburg” (1958) and “Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg” (1968)

          • Harold Knudsen July 4, 2013 / 5:53 pm

            bdhamp, I have a more recent DVD set of Gettysburg/Gods and Generals, and I believe I heard it in the special features section with interviews and parts that did not make it in the movies. If you have a copy of Killer Angels see if the intro or foreword mentions it. Yeah, I have heard from folks who have been to presentations by the son at Civil War Round tables he began interest in writing and following his fathers footsteps in that historical novel format some time after his father’s success with it, so he did not get a lot of first hand knowledge on the research his father did on the Killer Angels book.

            Yes the novel of course does make some assumptions about how and what Longstreet might have said or done at points. For example, the novel and the movie have this conversation with Lee before Pickett’s charge where Longstreet is explaining all the advantages the Union position regarding interior lines, how the Union artillery is safely dispersed, and such. If I remember correctly, Longstreet does explain these things, but is not clear when this conversation actually happened in the memoir. So Shaara assumed it was where he put it in his story. As a source for research the memoir is very important, but unfortunately, his ability to write and remember things was not was sharp in 1896 when he finally published it as it was in the 1880s and 1870s. I thoroughly enjoy reading his articles he did for Century Magazine in the 1870s, much clearer in his explanations. He started the memoir in the 1880 and unfortunately lost the entire draft in a house fire in that decade, and had start all over again. Read Grant or Sherman’s memoirs, they are clear and readable in our time. Longstreet’s is a little tougher to follow comparatively, and I attribute that to his advanced age he had to re-do it in.

            Can’t comment on a Shaara- Tucker influence. Sorry.

          • M.D. Blough July 4, 2013 / 7:48 pm

            Of course, that’s the entire critical point about “The Killer Angel’s” that is so often missed: It’s a NOVEL! I’ve read far too many allegedly non-fiction works that make massive assumptions about (or just plain make up) what some historical figure thought or felt or even said when there is no record of what, if anything, they said or thought at that point. I think Shaara stayed pretty close to what was available in the non-Lost Cause historical works of the time but using the novel format gave him more flexibility.

  11. guitarmandanga June 29, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    Of equal interest—to me at least—is the supposed influence of Pickett’s Charge on Longstreet’s massed assault two months later Chickamauga. Jeffery Wert, among others, has framed the two charges as a tale of lessons learned (“Next time, we’ll break through with a column shaped like a battering ram!”). William Glenn Robertson, by contrast, has made what I think is a convincing argument that the shape of the force that broke through near the Brotherton House on September 20th owed much more to other units being out of place than to anything Longstreet consciously planned. Overall, with these and other matters, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far with Longstreet: from the “most hated man in the Confederacy” to the only true military genius who could have lead it to victory if he had been listened to. Perhaps it to ought swing back and come to rest in the middle…as it does (quite properly, I think) with most of the other commanders of that war.

    • bdhamp July 1, 2013 / 9:58 am

      RE: Pendulum Swining

      The pendulum has swung too far with some individuals and groups, not in the academic community. I can walk into the next building and speak with a gentleman with a PhD who would testify under oath that he is certain Longstreet’s failures at Gettysburg were due in part to his inability to communicate with his staff, who as a group hated him. The problem with the mismanaged march, he says, is because Longstreet mumbled. Longstreet was also extremely fat, and his soldiers made fun and lacked respect for him due to this.

      But with “fan clubs,” it’s a different story. Many of them are doing the same thing with Longstreet that Early, et al did with Lee in the 1870s and 80s. Ask me how well one group in particular has received my input since I made mention of this phenomenon.

      • M.D. Blough July 1, 2013 / 5:32 pm

        Longstreet’s staff did not hate him, especially as a group. I can think of one disgruntled aide but the rest remained loyal even after the war, although I don’t believe any agreed with his post-war politics. Longstreet was not extremely fat, especially during the war, as anyone who has seen the photograph of him from that period can attest and even after (LC-DIG-cwpb-06085 DLC). Moxley Sorrel in his memoirs (probably written around 1899-1901 and published in 1905 after his death) describes him on page 23 at their first meeting as, “then a most striking figure, about forty years of age, a soldier ever inch, and very handsome, tall and well-proportioned, strong and active, a superb horseman and with an unsurpassed soldierly bearing, his features and expression fairly matched; eyes, glint steel blue, deep and piercing; a full brown beard, head well-shaped and poised. The worst feature was the mouth, somewhat coarse; it was partly hidden, however, by his ample beard.”

        You may be referring to Gen. McLaws’ letter to his wife. The McLaws-Longstreet friendship was disintegrating at that time in large part because he did not know that Longstreet’s sudden change to a more intense supervision was due to Lee’s instructions.

        As to your friend, I’d suggest finding out what his Ph.D is in.

        • bdhamp July 2, 2013 / 5:56 am

          I’m not referring to anything but the individual I mentioned, and I am fairly certain he couldn’t tell you where he got it. At least, he’s never been able to provide me with clear citations other than articles and books written prior to 1970 or so. One of them I read mentioned mumbling, but it didn’t provide a source. The fat thing was a common legend. You can even see it in drawings of him. I never got the impression this individual was even familiar with the McLaws letter.

          He’s a history professor. (Well, he’s retired, but he still lectures occasionally.) Like Krick the Elder, he’s a fine scholar who happens to have a blind spot when it comes to Longstreet, if I may borrow from Gallagher commenting on Krick. His main area of concentration early in his career was WWII military history with an emphasis on the Wehrmacht in Eastern Europe, but for various reasons he did most of his writing post-1970s on Oklahoma and local history. He taught an American military history survey for years.

          Anyway, my point in using this admittedly extreme example was simply that the old legends remain within the academy, often (in my experience) held by people who were “raised” on those legends, have never really done their own research into it, and aren’t well enough exposed to other Civil War scholars to have those views challenged sufficiently. As I am sure Margaret is aware, Lost Cause themes still run strong in various quarters.

          Among “fans” this has changed in the sense that fans do exist now, but there I’ve personally experienced a great deal of polarization that is more annoying than refreshing. Nuance is lost as those involved at this level sometimes tend to get bogged down in the Us vs. Them mentality and see all things in black and white. This is nothing new, it’s just somewhat new for Longstreet’s image.

          • M.D. Blough July 2, 2013 / 11:07 am

            Thanks for the clarification. The main fight has been, including by the Longstreet Memorial Fund (for the statue so it’s no longer in operation) and the Longstreet Society (which has restored what is left of the hotel Longstreet rain in the last years of his life) both have fought for fairness, not for replacing one set of mythmaking for another. As for Krick, I was once asked if I thought there would ever be a monument to Longstreet on Monument Row in Richmond. I replied that, if there ever where we’d have to learn to ice skate and barrel jump because (1) Hell would have had to have frozen over first and (2) we’d have to jump over the dead body of Krick to get to the statue.

          • bdhamp July 3, 2013 / 6:25 am

            Well, I don’t want to get into a public airing of private grievances, so I will simply say I do not share the image of the Longstreet Society (of Gainesville) that you’ve described. I was involved with them from the early 90s and have many fond memories of the work I did with several individual members. But, I have had other experiences as well. When speaking of “fans” previously, I was actually obliquely referencing a series of experiences with the LS.

            I lost track of what the LMF has been up to since the statute was built. Do you know if Robert Thomas is still associated with it? He sacrificed more than most are aware for his efforts. He was always very appreciative of everyone who helped with that.

          • M.D. Blough July 3, 2013 / 10:40 am

            Robert, as he always said he would do, returned to his private life after the statue was dedicated and the LMF concluded also, as soon as it could properly wind up its affairs after the dedication, since it had fulfilled its purpose with the statue dedication. (Robert remained involved until it did). That was the plan from the beginning. I got to be good friends with Robert and his family during the course of the LMF project and we remain in touch. They are doing quite well. He was and is a wonderful, sincere, fair, honorable and dedicated gentleman.

    • Harold Knudsen July 4, 2013 / 6:15 pm

      I agree with Wert on the lesson of Pickett’s charge; we know from the records that Lee and Longstreet (and they brought Jackson into discussion when it was the three of them) reviewed the previous battles and troop dispositions they used. In my observation the deployments of Fredericksburg vs, Antietam was a vast improvement of fighting two wings, which they used in those two battles, comparing the two. Hood was much more carefully placed between the two wings with more precise guidance for contingency. He was not used in Fredericksburg, but his placement was much more well planned.

      During the war, and in previous wars corps and armies lined up facing each other, and generally had all divisions on line, two brigades deep in most places. Longstreet had the attack formation at Gettysburg also two brigades deep in each division, and the front was about a mile wide. At Chickamauga he turned this on its head and made the front only 150 yards wide and eight brigades deep. Also, his record in the OR explicitly tells us that when he got to the left wing in the early morning all the divisions from the west were lined up from left to right as usual in the war, and Hood with the five brigades from Virginia behind them. And there was a gap between these divisions and the left flank of Polk’s wing. He closes up the gap in order to make contact with the other wing (doctrinally correct in modern armies) and builds the attack column along the road that Mr. Brotherton told him about that would go through the Union line and into the open fields behind them to use as fast-go terrain. He used the road as what we call a control measure so his units would stay in the shape of this column in the wooded terrain. There was a lot of thinking and traffic control that went into how he deployed on the morning of 20 September. Longstreet was very exacting in where to put units, and with several hours before it went in, he had lots of time to create this different column,

      • Robert Carter July 5, 2013 / 8:12 pm

        I am new to this blog, and I have enjoyed reading the varied opinions of the writers. I respectfully disagree on a few of Mr. Knudsen’s observations about Longstreet’s attack column at Chickamauga. It is a complex subject, but I’ll try to be brief. In the early morning of September 20, Longstreet had two goals for his new command, and he failed at both. One, he desired to connect his command with Polk’s Right Wing, where there was a gap of about half a mile. To that effect, he ordered A.P. Stewart’s division to slide to the right and connect with Polk. After moving only 500 yards, Stewart came under fire from Federals around the Poe Farm, and Stewart halted and built breastworks. The gap was never closed. In addition, Longstreet unknowingly masked part of Cleburne’s division and all of Cheatham’s division from Polk’s Wing. Longstreet would have had no time to fix the problem even if he had known about them.

        Two, Longstreet’s intention was to lead his attack with Hood’s division, his shock troops. When Longstreet ordered Stewart to the right, he wanted Hood’s division, then being in the second line, to come forward and form in the front line, and he gave orders to that effect. However, Bushrod Johnson, whose division was to the left of Stewart, thought he had missed a movement order and followed Stewart to the right. This masked Hood’s division. In my opinion, this debunks the theory that Old Pete had learned from Gettysburg, or any other battle, and was forming a column of attack. If Longstreet had had his way, his line, from right to left, would have been Stewart, Hood, Johnson, Hindman, and Preston. No column at all. Kershaw and Humphreys didn’t arrive until about 40 minutes before the advance. It is interesting to note that in Longstreet’s report in OR, and in his memoirs he states that Hood led the attack at Chickamauga. Even Longstreet himself didn’t know exactly where is troops lay before the step-off.

        So, it happened that Longstreet’s Wing lay, more or less by accident, from right to left as: Stewart, Johnson, Hindman, and Preston. Hood was behind Johnson, and the just arrived brigades of Kershaw and Humphreys formed behind Hood. Far from attempting to form a column of attack, Longstreet did everything in his power to affect a linear formation. Of course, after the great victory, Longstreet not only didn’t correct the true history of events, if he even knew what they were, he actually fostered the accounts that gave him credit for tactical mastery.

        One additional point, the Confederate attack column was FAR wider than 150 yards. Hood’s column was a two-brigade width (Coleman and Fulton), which was almost one-half mile in width. If you consider Hindman’s division as part of Longstreet’s attack, and of course I do, the width grows to over a mile. Longstreet’s attack at Chickamauga was no small affair.

  12. jfepperson June 30, 2013 / 1:41 pm

    The terrain differences between Gburg and Cmauga have more to do with one being a disaster and the other a success than any formation issues. In Pennsylvania, the attackers had to cross a mile-wide open field; in Georgia, they formed in the woods where no one could see them, and burst upon the enemy. Of course, the fact that the defenders were in motion didn’t hurt …

  13. rcocean July 1, 2013 / 10:35 pm

    It should be noted that while Lee liked Longstreet, he usually let Stonewall operate independently while he closely supervised Longstreet. Old Pete, was quite the genius when Lee was at his side, but when by himself at Suffolk and in the West the record is VERY mixed.

    • M.D. Blough July 1, 2013 / 11:02 pm

      I was wondering when that one would show up. Lee stayed where the bulk of the army was. Also, if you had a choice between Longstreet’s HQ and Jackson’s, which would you pick? Longstreet fulfilled his primary mission in Suffolk which was to collect supplies and fend off Union forces, not take the city, which wasn’t a priority. The situation in the West was a complex one and Longstreet made his share of mistakes, but no one was able to do their best under Braxton Bragg. Lee made Longstreet the senior Lieutenant General and gave him the larger corps.

      • John Foskett July 2, 2013 / 8:37 am

        Longstreet was cerainly a better tactician than Saint Stonewall (once he got himself into action). I cannot imagine Longstreet dribbling troops into an action where he had distinct numerical superiority, such as Cedar Mountain or Brawner’s Farm. And after Longstreet crushed the (admittedly undermanned) Federal left at 2BR, where was Stonewall for the devastating finis?

      • Harold Knudsen July 2, 2013 / 2:00 pm

        Lee almost always stayed at Longstreet’s HQ. You are correct on Suffolk, that was a logistics gathering mission, which was accomplished perfectly. The provisions Longstreet collected and the wagons Bragg send to Lee’s army during that period got the army ready for the campaign into PA. Longstreet was recognized by Lee earlier as a wing commander, and when Lee reorganized the army that way he dated Longstreet’s promotion to make him the senior of the two wings. Longstreet was older than Jackson, more mature, and had been on active duty since being commisioned. Jackson was the junior officer, and had a long break in service teaching math to cadets at VMI. His performance was at the Seven Days and Peninsula was at times mediocre, Lee was not at that time seeing Jackson as a fully matured choice. At Anteitam Jackson also had an outburst with Lee his wing is fought out, which really irritated Lee that day. When Longstreet showed up in the tent, Lee said “Ah, here is Longstreet, let us hear what my Warhorse has to say.” Lee saw Longstreet as the one he was most comfortable with of the two. In preparation for Fredericksburg Lee was with Longstreet at Culpepper Court House, and they mused together over the changing of McClellan with Burnside. Lee told Longstreet get over to Fredericksburg right away, I will go get Jackson and bring him in. It was Longstreet who was working on Marye’s Heights alone for ten days before Lee and Jackson arrived, and the preparations Longstreet made were all the difference they needed to repulse Burnside.

    • Harold Knudsen July 2, 2013 / 2:17 pm

      What time was Jackson, while under Lee’s command operating independently? In the military there is no such thing as being “independent.” That would imply you do not have a boss to report to. Do you have an example?
      What was the issue at suffolk?
      In the west Longstreet moved his entire corps without it being reported missing from Virginia by the Union for days, and got it into a battle already a day old, and turned the tables on Rosecrans winning the largest battle in the west by the Confederacy. That is a pretty good accomplishment. He also tried to coach Bragg into seeing Bridgeport, Alabama was the target they needed to go after instead of the partial seige Bragg chose. He was thinking operationally, when Bragg was not. Ft. Sanders did not go well, but lets also consider he did not want to have to try and attack this stout fort. He did it to try and bust into it to try and help Bragg’s situation. And after 169 soldiers were killed he called it off immediately. He did not let it cost thousands of lives. That was a good thing he did in that decision. Unfortunately many Civil War generals did not have that judgment and intuition and thus feed many men into the meatgrinder when they should have ceased an attack. Overall, Longstreet did well with his contribution at Chickamauga.

      • Wolf 2 Gulf July 3, 2013 / 2:27 am

        Apparently you might have been in the non-combat arms section of the Army. Our platoon operated independent and freely in RC-West. So yes, there are elements that operate in the free, independent manner bud.

        • Harold Knudsen July 3, 2013 / 7:19 am

          I was in the artillery branch and also a forward observer for infantry and armor. I served in two wars, so I am very familiar with operating in plenty of situations with the freedom to exercise intiative, bud. There are times you operate some distance away from the parent unit, and times you operate close to the commanders. But there is always a chain of command you report to/receive support from, and units do not become independent of the chain of command no matter how far away they are located.
          People talk about some generals in the Civil War as “independent” entities as if they were captain of a pirate ship. The notion is militarily incorrect. They all had a higher headquarters they were ultimately under. When Longstreet and Jackson were wing commanders under Lee, the command relationship to Lee was exactly the same to Lee for both; except with Longstreet the ranking of the two, Longstreet was the acting army commander in Lee’s absence.

          • rcocean July 5, 2013 / 10:28 am

            One can quibble about what “independent” means forever. Bottom line: when Lee split his army and sent one part to act independently (2nd Bull Run, Chancellorsville) he sent Jackson with it and stayed with Longstreet and the rest of the army. Even at Fredericksburg, he trusted Jackson to command the troops near the river, while he stayed with Longstreet at the Heights. Its difficult to determine what exactly Longstreet did at Gettysburg, 2nd Bull Run, and Antietam, because Lee seems to have been at his side. I’m reminded of the AoP during the Overland campaign, how much was Meade and how much was Grant. Longstreet had a crazy plan to attack Suffolk, which never came off. His conduct with the AoT was mediocre to poor, except for his luck in attacking Rosecrans at precisely the same time their was a hole in the Union lines. I think Longstreet was a very good Corps commander. However, he seems to fancied himself a great strategist and overlooked Army Commander. No one else in the Confederate leadership seems to have shared that opinion. I wonder why?

  14. TF Smith July 2, 2013 / 2:58 pm

    Here’s one for the panel – if Lee was physically incapacitated after the Peninsula and 2nd Manassas, but can still influence the decision (by Davis, presumably) who gets the army level command?

    Does it go back to Beauregard, or does one of Lee’s subordinates get it? And if so, does it go to Longstreet or Jackson?


    • M.D. Blough July 2, 2013 / 8:34 pm

      I think Longstreet had as good a chance as anyone. Jackson was legendary but he did NOT play well with others. Davis loathed both Beauregard and Johnston. The range of options really wasn’t huge. Also, you have to look at who Lee, quite intentional, made the senior Lieutenant General and put in charge of the larger corps. Of course, Longstreet wasn’t a Virginian and, even then had friends among the political opposition to Davis, a fact which concerned his uncle Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s powerful son-in-law L.Q.C. Lamar.

      • Harold Knudsen July 4, 2013 / 6:44 pm

        M.D. Blough – your points are well taken. On Jackson – yes he was quirky. He was reticent, often closed personality, particularly with subordinates. Deeply religious, and very demanding of his subordinates about prayer time, Bible study, etc. A.P. Hill complained endlessly about this, and wanted to be away from the overzealous “Presbyterian Minister.” But when Lee, Longstreet and Jackson were together for the 11 months before Jackson died, the three of them got along superbly, and it made all the difference. another area not examined much in the history is what was the relationship between Longstreet and Jackson? I believe it was very good, and I also believe Longstreet was something of an older brother to Jackson, particularly in getting him to open up socially. Lee was often called away to Richmond, which left Longstreet and Jackson together in position at the HQ. So they spent a lot of time together, which is not highlighted in the historiography.

    • Harold Knudsen July 3, 2013 / 7:24 am

      If Lee was physically incapacitated the army command went to Longstreet, as per his date of rank. He would be the acting commander. If Lee was formally changed out of command by the authorities in the Confederate Government, then a new commander would have been appointed by the government; probably one of the officers in the Confederate army senior in rank/length of army service to Longstreet.

    • Bob Huddleston July 3, 2013 / 2:12 pm

      The Confederate army, like the pre-war US, operated strictly by seniority, which could not be waived by Pres. Davis or the War Dept. In early 1862, the US Congress passed legislation allowing the president to appoint without regard to seniority: hence Meade, although junior to a number of the major generals in the AoP, replaced Hooker. Longstreet was the senor LT GEN in the PACS and ranked only by the full generals: Samuel Cooper, Lee, Joseph Johnston, Beauregard and Bragg. Since Cooper was a senior citizen (!) and serving as A&IG in Richmond, that made Longstreet the fifth ranking officer. If Lee ggoes down, then who does Davis appoint?

      • M.D. Blough July 4, 2013 / 7:57 pm

        I would say that Davis must have prayed every day for the continued health and well-being of Robert E. Lee. For Davis to bypass Johnston, who had once commanded those forces and who was only supplanted after being wounded at Seven Pines, would have been a HUGE deal and Davis & Johnston heartily loathed each other. I don’t think Davis was much fonder of Beauregard. As for Davis & Bragg, that relationship has always baffled me. But it would be one thing for a non-Virginian to command the ANV if that non-Virginian was the senior corps commander. To bring a non-Virginian from the Army of Tennessee to command the ANV. . .

  15. TF Smith July 3, 2013 / 10:47 am

    Thanks to you both – going on from there, if Longstreet receives and retains the ANV in such a situation, with Lee potentially taking on a true general-in-chief’s role, does the CSA do “better”, from its perspective, than in reality?

    Wanted to thank the experts, and Dr. Simpson for the caliber of his patrons…

  16. Harold Knudsen July 4, 2013 / 6:30 pm

    Does the CSA do better with Lee as Chief of Staff of the entire war effort, and Longstreet in command of the ANV? Tough question. Well, if Lee did assume this role early enough in the war, and did view the western theater as equally important to Virginia; willing to shift troops from theaters, I think the CSA would have done better with the situation in Mississippi against Grant during his attempts to take Vicksburg, and certainly think Lee would have been more likely to reinforce Longstreet at Chickamauga after his breakthrough and have been mightily aggressive compared to Bragg who was frozen in anger over Polk’s behavior, etc. With Lee’s aggressiveness, I have to believe he would have applied that in the west more than Bragg and Pemberton did.

    Longstreet would have done a fine job taking over for Lee I would think. And of course the usual communication and harmony in planning between the two would be there with Lee in the higher position.

    I also think that Albert Sydney Johnston would have been a major factor in the west had he not died at Shiloh. He seemed to have a good grasp of operational thinking, and he was aggressive.

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