On this day in 1821, Confederate General James Longstreet is born near Edgefield, South Carolina. Longstreet became one of the most successful generals in the Confederate army, but after the war he becamea target of some of his comrades, who were searching for a scapegoat.
Longstreet grew up in Georgia and attended West Point, graduating in 1842. He was a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant, and served as best man in Grant’s 1848 wedding to Julia Dent, Longstreet’s fourth cousin. Longstreet fought in the Mexican War (1846-48) and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. He resigned from the U.S. military at the beginning of the Civil War, when he was named brigadier general in the Confederate army.
Longstreet fought at the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861,and within a year was commander of corps in the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. Upon the death of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia,in May 1863, Longstreet was considered the most effective corps commander in Lee’s army. He served with Lee for the rest of the war–except for the fall of 1863, when he took his force to aid the Confederate effort in Tennessee.
Longstreet was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May 1864, and did not return to service for six months. He went on to fight with Lee until the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in April 1865. After the war, Longstreetwas involvedin a number of businesses and held several governmental posts, most notably U.S. minister to Turkey. Although successful, he made two moves that greatly tarnished his reputation among his fellow Southerners: He joined the despised Republican Party and publicly questioned Lee’s strategy at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His fellow officers considered these sins to be unforgivable, and former comrades such as generals Jubal Early and John Gordon attacked Longstreet as a traitor. They asserted that Longstreet was responsible for the errors that lost Gettysburg.
Longstreet outlived most of his comrades and detractors before dying at age 82 on January 2, 1904. His second wife, Helen Dortch, lived until 1962.