A Soldier's General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws

A Soldier's General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws

A Soldier's General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws

A Soldier's General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws


During his service in the Confederate army, Major General Lafayette McLaws (1821-1897) served under and alongside such famous officers as Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, James Longstreet, and John B. Hood. He played a significant role in some of the most crucial battles of the Civil War, including Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Despite this, no biography of McLaws or history of his division has ever been published.

"A Soldier's General gathers ninety-five letters written by McLaws to his family between 1858 and 1865, making these valuable resources available to a wide audience for the first time. The letters, painstakingly transcribed from McLaws's notoriously poor handwriting, contain a wealth of opinion and information about life and morale in the Confederate army, Civil War-era politics, the Southern press, and the impact of war on the Confederate home front. Among the fascinating threads the letters trace is the story of McLaws's fracturedrelationship with childhood friend Longstreet, who had McLaws relieved of command in 1863.

John Oeffinger's extensive introduction sketches McLaws's life from his beginnings in Augusta, Georgia, through his early experiences in the U.S. Army, his marriage, his Civil War exploits, and his postwar years.


Major General Lafayette McLaws, the lead division commander in Lieutenant General James Longstreet's First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, contemplated his division's most recent engagement as he prepared to write home on the evening of July 7, 1863. Torrential rain, the roads deep in mud, and thoughts of fellow soldiers left behind on Pennsylvania fields marked the long three-day march from Gettysburg. The men, weary from the thirty-five-day campaign into Pennsylvania and the intense fighting that took place on July 2, were in good spirits. These Georgians, South Carolinians, and Mississippians were hardy souls. The cowards and drifters had long since left their ranks. The true believers remained with the division, hardened by long marches with little food to keep them moving. They had just erected a series of breastworks outside of Hagerstown, Maryland, and waited for Major General George Gordon Meade, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, to make his attack. Robert Edward Lee, the Confederate commanding general, would not have hesitated to aggressively attack Meade. Instead, the division led by the forty-two-year-old McLaws regrouped and waited behind their defensive positions. The men waited for the waters of the raging Potomac to recede enough for them to cross the pontoon bridge into Virginia and safety. They would continue to wage war with a determined spirit, long for a lasting victory and an end to the bloodshed.

July 2, 1863, the second day of battle on the ground in and around the crossroads town of Gettysburg, was one of the most important military engagements of Lafayette McLaws's twenty-three-year military career. The young general from Georgia was not allowed to wage battle in the manner he believed necessary to win. The division, comprised of four brigades, advanced under Longstreet's orders in a piecemeal manner. It crossed the Emmitsburg Road beginning at 4:00 P.M. on that hot, dusty day led by four civilian prewar brigade commanders. The 6,924 men pushed the opposing Federal units back through the Peach Orchard, Rose Farm, and the Wheatfield. “The result of the day's fighting showed us that we had driven the enemy back to their main line, the right of which was Cemetery Hill and the left Round Top, and that was all we did.” The men, “had driven the forces . . .

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