On this day in 1864, Confederate General James Longstreet assumes command of his corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May of that year, Longstreet missed the campaign for Richmond, Virginia,and spent five months recovering before retuning to his command.
Longstreet was one of the most effective corps commanders in the war. He became a brigadier general before the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia,in 1861, andquickly rose through the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia. He became a divisional commander, and his leadership during the Seven Days Battles and the Second Battle of Bull Run earned him the respect of the Confederate army’s commander, General Robert E. Lee, who gave him command of a corps just before the Battle of Antietam in Maryland in September 1862.
His leadership at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg sealed his reputation as a brilliant corps leader, but Longstreet was less successful when given an independent command. In spring 1863, he led a force in northern North Carolina and southern Virginia, and he made an expedition to relieve Confederate forces in Tennessee in fall 1863. He enjoyed little success in either situation.
The Union Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River in early May 1864 for another attempt at capturing the Confederate capital at Richmond. On May 6, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Longstreet was shot by his own troops while scouting the lines during the battle. Ironically, it was just a few miles from the spot where Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had been mortally wounded by his menone year earlier. Longstreet was hit in the neck and shoulder, and nearly died. He was incapacitated for the rest of the campaign and did not rejoin his corps until it was mired in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in October 1864.
After the war, Longstreet worked at a variety of government posts, including U.S. minister to Turkey. He broke with his fellow Confederates by joining the Republican Party, and dared to criticize some of Lee’s tactical decisions. Though he was reviled by many of his fellow generals for this later behavior, he outlived most of his detractors.Longstreet died in Gainesville, Georgia, at the age of 82 in 1904.