How would you describe the relationship between General Robert E. Lee and General James Longstreet, Lee's corps commander in The Killer Angels?

1 Answer | Add Yours

bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Lee and Longstreet at times reflect an almost father-son relationship (though not as dramatically as the the Lee-J.E.B. Stuart pairing). Lee is the unquestioned leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, perhaps the greatest fighting force on the planet following its stunning victory at Chancellorsville. With the death of Stonewall Jackson, Lee now must rely even more on Longstreet, his "old war horse." Longstreet is a confidant of Lee, and Lee often asks his corps commander's advice, though it is often ignored. Longstreet has complete respect for the gentlemanly Lee, who has no vices and few weaknesses. Unlike Jackson (and Lee), who preferred being on the offensive, Longstreet believed that the gradual reduction of Confederate personnel would be better suited for defensive maneuvering. Longstreet had developed methods of trench warfare that do not appeal to Lee, though they will be used during the final year of war at Petersburg and Cold Harbor. This conflict becomes the major barrier between Lee and Longstreet as the Battle of Gettysburg unfolds. Lee trusts Longstreet for his honesty and forthrightness, and he knows he can depend on him to lead his corps competently. If Longstreet has one weakness, it is his often slow-moving caution in leading troops. Longstreet objects to Lee's decision to assault the Union center on the third day, realizing that the 15,000 man onslaught led by Major General George Pickett, a close friend of Longstreet, will not be sufficient to break the Union lines. Lee believes, however, that his army is unbeatable, and his confidence is such that he believes the attack will succeed. Longstreet appears to have delayed the inevitable attack, hoping that Lee would change his mind, and this inaction certainly did not aid in the success of Pickett's Charge. In the end, when Pickett's battered troops retreated in humiliating defeat, Lee told them that "it is all my fault." Southerners would blame Longstreet for decades for the defeat, unwilling to admit that Lee could have been wrong; historians, however, have since agreed with both commanders that the attack should never have been made. Longstreet and Lee would continue to serve together for another year, watching the Army of Northern Virginia dissolve into a fragment of the unmatched force it had been before Gettysburg.


We’ve answered 317,819 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question