Lt. General James Longstreet
At the age of nine, James was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Augusta, Georgia. His uncle, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, was a newspaper editor, educator, and a Methodist minister. James spent eight years on his uncle’s plantation, Westover, just outside the city while he attended the Academy of Richmond County. His father died from a cholera epidemic while visiting Augusta in 1833; although James’s mother and the rest of the family moved to Somerville, Alabama, following his father’s death, James remained with uncle Augustus.
In 1837, Augustus attempted to obtain an appointment for James to the United States Military Academy, but the vacancy for his congressional district had already been filled so James was appointed in 1838 by a relative, Reuben Chapman, who represented the First District of Alabama (where Mary Longstreet lived). James was a poor student academically and a disciplinary problem at West Point, ranking 54th out of 56 cadets when he graduated in 1842. He was popular with his classmates, however, and befriended a number of men who would become prominent during the Civil War, including George Henry Thomas, William S. Rosecrans (his West Point roommate), John Pope, D.H. Hill, Lafayette McLaws, George Pickett, and Ulysses S. Grant of the class of 1843. Longstreet was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry. Longstreet spent his first two years of service at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where he was soon joined by his friend, Lieutenant Ulysses Grant.
Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican-American War with the 8th U.S. Infantry. Early in the war, he served as a lieutenant in Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Monterrey in September 1846. He received brevet promotions to captain for Contreras and Churubusco and to major for Molino del Rey. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors; falling, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who was able to reach the summit.
Longstreet was not enthusiastic about secession from the Union, but he had learned from his uncle Augustus about the doctrine of states’ rights early in his life and had seen his uncle’s passion for it. Although he was born in South Carolina and reared in Georgia, he offered his services to the state of Alabama, which had appointed him to West Point and where his mother still lived. Furthermore, he was the senior West Point graduate from that state, which implied a commensurate rank in the state’s forces would be available. He resigned from the U.S. Army in June 1861 to cast his lot with the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Longstreet participated in the Battle of First Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, Maryland Campaign, Suffolk, Tennessee, Gettysburg and in the Wilderness Campaigns.
After the war, Longstreet and his family settled in New Orleans, a location popular with a number of former Confederate generals. He entered into a cotton brokerage partnership there and also became the president of the newly created Great Southern and Western Fire, Marine and Accident Insurance Company. He actively sought the presidency of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad but was unsuccessful, and also failed in an attempt to get investors for a proposed railroad from New Orleans to Monterrey, Mexico. (In 1870, he was named president of the newly organized New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.) He applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson, endorsed by his old friend Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson refused, however, telling Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Regardless of such opposition the United States Congress restored his rights of citizenship in June 1868.
Longstreet was the only senior Confederate officer to join the Republican Party during Reconstruction. He endorsed Grant for president in the election of 1868, attended his inauguration ceremonies, and six days later received an appointment as surveyor of customs in New Orleans. For these acts he lost favor with many white Southerners. His old friend Harvey Hill wrote to a newspaper: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” Unlike Northerners who moved South and were sometimes referred to as “Carpetbaggers,” Hill wrote, Longstreet “is a native, which is so much the worse.” The Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within New Orleans.
During protests of election irregularities in 1874, referred to as the Battle of Liberty Place, an armed force of 8,400 White League members advanced on the State House. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery. He rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Federal troops were required to restore order. Longstreet’s use of black troops during the disturbances increased the denunciations by anti-Reconstructionists.
His final years were marked by poor health and partial deafness. In 1902 he suffered from severe rheumatism and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. His weight diminished from 200 to 135 pounds by January 1903. Cancer developed in his right eye, and in December he had X-ray therapy in Chicago to treat it. He contracted pneumonia and died in Gainesville, six days before his 83rd birthday. Longstreet’s remains are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery. He outlived most of his detractors, and was one of only a few general officers from the Civil War to live into the 20th century.