General James Longstreet

James Longstreet remains, despite his significant contribution, somewhat unknown to the general public. The names and careers of other far less capable individuals retain clarity of remembrance that Longstreet failed to achieve. To a significant degree, this obscurity resulted from the postwar Southern need to deify Robert E. Lee. The process of secular canonization necessitated discovering scapegoats for those falls from grace that might otherwise mar the illustrious facade—particularly the engagement at Gettysburg. Not surprisingly, the senior Confederate commander from the Army of Northern Virginia to survive the war came under intense scrutiny—most especially, when it was revealed that Longstreet repeatedly opposed the Confederate assault on the Union position. Moreover, Longstreet later had the temerity to suggest that Robert Edward Lee erred during the Pennsylvania campaign. That heretical assertion, coupled with Longstreet’s cooperative attitude with the Reconstruction process, placed him in virtual literary and historical coventry.

In the absence of personal papers and constrained by his own loyalties, Longstreet was unable to refute the numerous charges, baseless and otherwise, leveled against him. Then again, not even as crafty a warrior as Longstreet could contend with the power and majesty of the mythology which surrounded, and continues to surround, the life and times of the man who surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. This work successfully retrieves much of Longstreet’s reputation, and in the process presents as well-rounded an account as existing records permit. Jeffry Wert’s Longstreet is neither saint nor unalloyed sinner, and that is perhaps as Old Pete would have wished it. James Longstreet was a man of few pretensions, and this work reflects that fact.