James Longstreet is generally considered to be the second ranking Confederate general of the American Civil War, being subordinate to and outranked only by General Robert E. Lee. What is not generally known is the fact that he is a Dutch American. His ancestor, Dirck Stoffels Langestraet, was a Dutch immigrant to the Dutch colony of New Netherland in 1657. Over the generations, the name Langestraet became anglicized to the exact English translation, Longstreet.
James Longstreet was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina. His parents, James and Mary Ann Dent Longstreet, were originally from New Jersey and Maryland, and later owned a cotton plantation near the present village of Gainesville in north eastern Georgia. Since the local educational system in Gainesville, Georgia, was inadequate, Longstreet’s parents sent him to live with his uncle Augustus Longstreet, a newspaper editor, and Methodist minister, in Augusta, Georgia. While he lived with his uncle, Longstreet was able to attend Richmond County Academy and received a sound education.
In 1837, his uncle tried to get him an appointment at the United States Military Academy, but the vacancy for his congressional district had already been filled. His mother, Mary Longstreet, then a widow, had moved to the First District of Alabama, and the congressional representative there was able to get James an appointment to the U. S. Military Academy in 1838. James was not a great student, although he was popular among his fellow cadets. He graduated in 1842 from the U. S. Military Academy, ranking 54th out of 56 cadets. While at the U. S. Military Academy, he was able to develop a friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, who graduated a year later, in 1843. Upon graduation, Longstreet was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 4th U. S. Infantry.
Following his commission, Longstreet served with the U. S. 8th Infantry in the Mexican War. In the Battle of Chapultepec, in September 1847, he was wounded in the thigh. Following his recovery, he served on frontier duty in Texas, primarily at Fort Bliss. He received several promotions reaching the rank of major. Longstreet became paymaster for the U.S. 8th Infantry in July, 1858.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, Longstreet decided that his allegiance belonged to the South. He resigned from the U. S. Army in June 1861, and joined the Confederacy in the Civil War. Longstreet reported to the Confederate States Army in Richmond, Virginia. He initially received an appointment as a lieutenant colonel. But after a meeting with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he was appointed to the rank of brigadier general. He was assigned to Brigadier General Beauregard at Manassas, Virginia, where he was given command of a brigade of three Virginia regiments.
Longstreet was focused on training, and following the assumption of command, trained his men incessantly. His command saw their first action at Blackburn’s Ford on July 18, 1861, resisting a Union Army reconnaissance force. Three days later followed the First Battle of Bull Run, but Longstreet’s brigade played only a minor role. Three months later Longstreet was promoted to major general, and assumed command of a division in the Confederate Army of the Potomac.
In the spring of 1862, Longstreet’s forces turned in a mixed performance at the Peninsula campaign. However, Longstreet executed well at Yorktown and Williamsburg, delaying the Union Army in its march towards Richmond. Later that spring, General Johnston was wounded, and General Robert E. Lee became the chief military officer for the Confederate Army.
During the Seven Days Battles that followed in June 1862, Longstreet had operational command of 15 brigades, nearly half of Lee’s army, as it drove the McClellan Union forces back down the peninsula. Longstreet also performed well at Gaines’ Mill and Glendale, and was considerably more successful than Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Lee’s other major commander.
The Civil War continued, and not all of Longstreet’s activities can be described here. Suffice it to say that General Robert E. Lee was highly dependent on Longstreet. During operations between Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg, General Lee pitched his tent close to Longstreet’s. Although the two men differed fundamentally in their philosophy on how the war should be conducted, General Lee valued Longstreet as the strategist he was. When both Longstreet and Jackson were promoted to lieutenant generals in the fall of 1862, Longstreet was the first one to get the promotion.
The climax of the war was the battle of Gettysburg. During the battle, there was considerable disagreement between Longstreet and Lee about the strategy and tactics. Lee, as the senior general, of course prevailed, but one wonders whether Longstreet’s approach, if it had been adopted, would have altered the outcome of the battle.
After the war, Longstreet became a Republican. This decision was not well received by many of his Confederate colleagues, but his friendship with Ulysses Grant had probably a considerable influence on that decision. The criticism of Lee by Longstreet, about the way the battle of Gettysburg was executed, did not help Longstreet to endear himself with his former Confederate colleagues either. They actually went so far as to blame Longstreet for losing the war for the Confederate side. President Grant later appointed Longstreet, to become Grant’s minister to Turkey. Following that assignment, Longstreet also served as U. S. Railroad Commissioner.
James Longstreet married Louise Garland, who he had first met in 1842, when she was only 17. The couple eventually married, six years later, in 1848. Louise was the daughter of a regimental commander. The couple had ten children, but not all survived. Tragedy struck the Longstreet family in 1862. A scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Virginia claimed the life of their one year old daughter Mary Anne, their four year old son James, and their six year old son Augustus. Their 13 year old son Garland nearly succumbed but fortunately was able to survive the disease. These devastating losses caused Longstreet to become withdrawn, and it changed his personality from the outgoing, and partying type to a more somber person. He became a devout Episcopalian, and rarely drank after the tragedy.
Later in his life, Longstreet wrote a book entitled, “From Manasses to Appomattox”. In the book he defended himself against some of the accusations that had been hurled at him by his critics about his conduct during the war. Longstreet passed away on January 2, 1904, outliving most of his critics, and the last of the Confederate high command.
Confederate First Army Corps, Lieutenant General James Longstreet,http://www.rocemabra.com/~roger/tagg/generals/general41.html
James Longstreet, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Longstreet
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