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Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant

William Garrett Piston

Publication Year: 2013

In the South, one can find any number of bronze monuments to the Confederacy featuring heroic images of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, and many lesser commanders. But while the tarnish on such statues has done nothing to color the reputation of those great leaders, there remains one Confederate commander whose tarnished image has nothing to do with bronze monuments. Nowhere in the South does a memorial stand to Lee's intimate friend and second-in-command James Longstreet.

In Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant, William Garrett Piston examines the life of James Longstreet and explains how a man so revered during the course of the war could fall from grace so swiftly and completely. Unlike other generals in gray whose deeds are familiar to southerners and northerners alike, Longstreet has the image not of a hero but of an incompetent who lost the Battle of Gettysburg and, by extension, the war itself. Piston's reappraisal of the general's military record establishes Longstreet as an energetic corps commander with an unsurpassed ability to direct troops in combat, as a trustworthy subordinate willing to place the war effort above personal ambition. He made mistakes, but Piston shows that he did not commit the grave errors at Gettysburg and elsewhere of which he was so often accused after the war.

In discussing Longstreet's postwar fate, Piston analyzes the literature and public events of the time to show how the southern people, in reaction to defeat, evolved an image of themselves which bore little resemblance to reality. As a product of the Georgia backwoods, Longstreet failed to meet the popular cavalier image embodied by Lee, Stuart, and other Confederate heroes. When he joined the Republican party during Reconstruction, Longstreet forfeited his wartime reputation and quickly became a convenient target for those anxious to explain how a "superior people" could have lost the war. His new role as the villain of the Lost Cause was solidified by his own postwar writings. Embittered by years of social ostracism resulting from his Republican affiliation, resentful of the orchestrated deification of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet exaggerated his own accomplishments and displayed a vanity that further alienated an already offended southern populace.

Beneath the layers of invective and vilification remains a general whose military record has been badly maligned. Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant explains how this reputation developed--how James Longstreet became, in the years after Appomattox, the scapegoat for the South's defeat, a Judas for the new religion of the Lost Cause.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

ONE OF THE THINGS I have enjoyed about living in New Orleans is the presence of the past, particularly the Confederate past. It is possible to argue, as Charles L. Dufour does in The Night the War Was Lost, that the fall of New Orleans doomed the Confederacy.1 Nine Southern generals are buried in this city, among...

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pp. xiii-xv

My thanks go first to Professor Thomas L. Connelly of the University of South Carolina, for his invaluable advice and constant encouragement. The parallel between my approach to Longstreet and his to Lee is deliberate, although we have not always reached the same conclusions about either man....

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Prologue: Longstreet Antebellum

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pp. 1-7

WITH A NOD OF HIS HEAD General James Longstreet sent the long, gray lines forward through the field of wheat, toward a stone wall and a clump of trees on a distant ridge. It was a hot July afternoon in 1863. The General was forty-two years old. He would live for another forty-one years, longer than almost all...

PART I: Longstreet's Military Record: A Reappraisal

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pp. 9-29

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1 From Manassas to Antietam

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pp. 11-30

IN HIS MEMOIRS James Longstreet states that after resigning as a paymaster in the United States Army he applied for a comparable position in the Confederate forces. The error reflects either false modesty or faulty memory. Major Longstreet was stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory, in 1860. He opposed secession but decided...

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2 From Fredericksburg to Gettysburg

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pp. 31-45

BY DECEMBER 1862 James Longstreet had been in the Confederate army for almost a year and a half and had participated in five major campaigns. While Seven Pines represented a colossal blunder, Blackburn's Ford, Williamsburg, the Seven Days battles, Second Manassas, and Antietam gave him a reputation any...

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3 "The Best Fighter in the Whole Army"

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pp. 46-61

LEE BEGAN HIS PENNSYLVANIA campaign on June 3, sweeping far west of the main Federal forces in Virginia, using the Shenandoah Valley to cover his advance into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Ewell's Second Corps spearheaded the advance, capturing Winchester, Virginia, on the fifteenth. Ewell then moved into...

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4 The Bull of the Woods at Chickamauga

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pp. 62-72

REACTION TO THE DEFEAT at Gettysburg was severe, beginning even as the remnants of Longstreet's assault force retreated from Cemetery Ridge. Although most of the army was prepared to repulse any Federal counterattack, there was significant demoralization.1 When General Pettigrew reported that he could not...

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5 From East Tennessee to Appomattox

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pp. 73-92

INSTEAD OF CONCENTRATING on a method of evicting his enemy from Chattanooga, whence they fled following the battle of Chickamauga, Braxton Bragg wasted time quarreling with his subordinates. Personality conflicts and petty jealousies had plagued the Tennessee army for some time, and Bragg did not enjoy...

PART II: Longstreet's Place in Southern History

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pp. 93-113

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6 Setting the Stage

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pp. 95-103

TWO MONTHS AFTER PARTING with Lee at Appomattox, James Longstreet began his journey to Texas, moving at a leisurely pace and stopping frequently along his route to visit relatives. He traveled only as far as New Orleans, however. Although the war was barely over, the Crescent City had already...

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7 Scalawags, the Lost Cause, and the Sunrise Attack Controversy

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pp. 104-128

THE TRANSFORMATION OF Longstreet's image from hero to villain began innocently enough with the New Orleans Times, one of the city's leading Democratic newspapers. The passage of the Military Reconstruction bills by Congress on March 2,...

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8 The Anti-Longstreet Faction Emerges

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pp. 129-136

MUGH OF LONGSTREET's time and energy during the 1870s was devoted to a war of words, a war he lost very badly and which has profoundly affected his place in history. During this decade also, Early, Jones, and Pendleton set Robert E. Lee on the road to sainthood. Lee's devotees became so fanatical...

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9 A Georgia Republican Courting Clio

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pp. 137-150

TO KEEP ABREAST OF new arrivals in the country, New York reporters often stationed themselves in the lobbies of the city's finest hotels. A Tribune journalist observing patrons at the prestigious Fifth Avenue Hotel in June 1881 was therefore able to...

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10 A Procrustean Ending

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pp. 151-170

TO DISCOURAGE PILFERING in his extensive vineyard, Longstreet kept a musket on hand. The aged general was rumored to be a crack shot, and few youngsters wished to test his marksmanship.1 In the spring and summer Longstreet spent many...

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11 Longstreet Postmortem

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pp. 171-185

DEATH BROUGHT NO MORATORIUM on criticism of James Longstreet. This fact is crucial for an understanding of his place in Southern history. The early years of the twentieth century saw the publication of a final spate of works by key members...

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pp. 187-188

THE VANITY, JEALOUSY, AND overt desire for self-advancement which marked Longstreet's postwar prose were a product of his controversies with Early and his supporters and did not characterize Longstreet during the war. The assumption that they were lifelong characteristics has been a major historical error....


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pp. 189-209


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pp. 191-222


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pp. 223-243


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pp. 245-252

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346250
E-ISBN-10: 082034625X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820309071

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013