James Longstreet is one of the most talked about figures in the American Civil War. As Robert E. Lee’s right hand man he fought at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Seven Days Battles, Antietam, Battle of the Wilderness, and the most controversial at Gettysburg. Often referred to as Lee’s “old war horse”, Longstreet played a major role in the outcome of the Civil War. Longstreet is blamed for the Confederate loss of the Civil War primarily because of his performance at Gettysburg and his role during reconstruction as well as his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant. After the first day of fighting at Gettysburg Longstreet did not want to reengage and warned Lee of the consequences. One of Longstreet’s subordinates, George Pickett, lead one of the most famous military actions in American history called Pickett’s charge. During the charge on the third day of fighting Pickett’s division was completely wiped out causing the South to lose at Gettysburg and become the turning point the North needed to win the war. Lee was such a god like figure, that if you argued with him it was like arguing with the South’s god. Also because Pickett was under Longstreet, Longstreet is blamed for the loss at Gettysburg. Even though you could argue that Longstreet orchestrated the attack at Gettysburg you must know that all Longstreet was doing was following orders given to him by Lee. I believe that Longstreet is not to blame for the Confederate loss of the American Civil War because everything he did during and after the Civil War was to help the Confederacy, he always followed Lee’s orders, and his reputation was tarnished by the Lee cult.
James Longstreet was always loyal to the Confederacy and no matter what, even after the war, was loyal. Longstreet was a graduate of West Point in 1842 and became friends with men such as George Pickett and a year later his best friend, Ulysses S. Grant.(Wikipedia). He served with them in the Mexican-American War and even became Ulysses S. Grant best-man and in-law. Once the Civil War broke out he left his stable pension and rank for the Confederacy. Longstreet eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and had authority over one of the most famous Confederate generals, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. Longstreet lived in the South all of his life even during the attacks by the Lost Cause or “Lee Cult”. As Lee’s right hand man Longstreet was respected by everyone including Lee and helped win many major battles such as Fredericksburg. He was also wounded in the neck by friendly fire and made a quick recovery so he could get back on to the battlefield to lead his troops. Longstreet did not approve of Gettysburg because he did not want to order a mass killing of his own men. Many people do not understand that because Pickett was one of Longstreet’s subordinates that they were basically his own troops. Much damage was done to Longstreet’s reputation after the war because of multiple reasons. One reason was the fact that Andrew Johnson, who the southerners liked, had told him that he, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis could never get citizenship again. Then after Johnson’s term Ulysses S. Grant became president. Grant and Longstreet were family and because of that he got citizenship and the two most loved Confederates did not. This angered the southerners especially with all of the events going on during Reconstruction, the time after the Civil war where the South was getting politically and physically getting rebuilt. Many punishments were handed out to the South because of the Radical Republican Congress causing almost all southerners to despise Republicans. With Grant being President and being Republican, Longstreet became the only Confederate officer to join the Republicans. This enraged the South causing the southern media to label him as a scalawag. Longstreet was only doing this to help them during Reconstruction. The ill-informed public got their information from the biased media that could not see that all Longstreet was trying to do was help them.
Longstreet was very loyal to the Confederacy as well as his superior, Robert E. Lee. Lee is one of the best known generals and possibly the most beloved by his troops, but I believe that his military record is questionable. Lee was one of the greatest military tacticians this nation has ever seen but if you take a look at many of his battles you will see that he may have won the tactical part but lost the actual battle. For example, at Cheat Mountain Robert E. Lee was in command of 15,000 troops against 2,000 Union troops. Lee should have won with relative ease but actually lost when he outnumbered the Union 7.5-1 with 100 Confederate casualties and only 21 Union casualties. Lee also lost many battles because of Ulysses S. Grant’s aggressiveness; this proves that Robert E. Lee might not have been the greatest commander who he was made out to be. Many people believe that it is Longstreet gave the order at Gettysburg for Pickett’s charge even though Robert E. Lee gave the order to Longstreet. Longstreet disapproved but because of Lee’s higher rank Lee’s decision was what was going to happen, no matter what Longstreet said. Longstreet wanted to flank the Union and if Robert E. Lee was not so stubborn then many lives could have been spared. Longstreet disapproved of Gettysburg from the start and even after the first days victory wanted to fall back because of the position of the Union army. You can see in many articles, books, and movies that Robert E. Lee was tired and it almost appeared that Lee just wanted the war to be over. To start, Lee did not even join because of the Confederate cause, he joined because of he did not want to fight against his own state. Lee also did not wear General stars but wore Colonel Stars, his last rank in the Union army, which appears to me like he was still loyal to the United States. In most cases you should blame the highest ranking officer for a loss or failure; even Lee blamed himself. Lee was Longstreet’s superior and Longstreet could not make his own non-influenced calls.
Longstreet’s reputation was tarnished even more after the war by the Lee Cult, as it was nicknamed, or as it is most commonly known as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. The leader after the Civil war was Jubal Early. As it is said by Michael Shaara in the book The Killer Angels, “Longstreet despised him”, him being Jubal Early. In 1872 Early made a speech blaming Longstreet for the Confederate loss of Gettysburg and on an even bigger scale, the Civil War. Longstreet did not even repute the speech for three years and by that time the damage had been done. The Lost Cause to many people is the Confederate’s excuses on why they lost the war. Even while Robert E. Lee was still alive he did not believe in the Lost Cause even though the Lost Cause idolizes him. This is why the Lost Cause is sometimes referred as the Lee Cult. Lee’s after-action report disproved of all of the things that the Lost Cause had falsely accused Longstreet of. The Lost Cause had a lot of influence in the South, especially in Virginia, which was basically the center of the South. The media spread the idea like a wildfire and because modern technology did not exist the public had to relay on possibly biased newspapers that were most likely supporters of the Lost Cause. Until very recently ill-informed historians believed the writings of the Lost Cause and it was and accepted idea. With the help of books such as The Killer Angels and the movie version, Gettysburg, we have now seen that Longstreet is actually not to blame and everything that the Lost Cause said was false and tarnished Longstreet’s reputation because they were jealous of him and needed someone to blame for the loss of the Civil War.
Called “the best corps commander in the army” by agribusinesscouncil.org, James Longstreet is just that as well as one of the founding fathers of defensive warfare that was used in World War I. Even though Longstreet was labeled as a Scalawag and hated by much of the South he always lived in the South and never left it even after he got his citizenship. Robert E. Lee is one of the greatest commanders ever and Longstreet was called Lee’s “Old War Horse” and helped get the South get almost to victory. The South was also doomed from the start of the war because: they were outgunned, outnumbered, and out trained by the Union army. The Union had more casualties than the South and still won the war. If the Union did not have all of those advantages than the South would have most likely won the war. So who is to blame for the loss of the war if the Confederate cause was doomed from the start? Is it Jefferson Davis for fighting an impossible battle against a far better equipped Union army, or is it the Union’s fault for just having better materials in every single aspect of the war? Whatever the answer may be it is not James Longstreet because everything he did was to help the Confederacy, he followed Lee’s orders, and his reputation was tarnished by false reports by the Lee Cult.