Three Days at Gettysburg: Essays on Confederate and Union Leadership

By Gary W. Gallagher | Go to book overview

"If Longstreet ... Says So,
It Is Most Likely Not True"

James Longstreet and the
Second Day at Gettysburg

Robert K. Krick

WHEN GENERAL JAMES LONGSTREET DIED IN 1904, HE HAD long since passed his optimum life span for Confederate image building. Had the bullet that maimed the general in the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, killed him instead, there can be little doubt that a bronze equestrian Longstreet would stand on Richmond's Monument Avenue today. Through four postwar decades, however, the contentious Longstreet launched a steady flood of attacks against his former Confederate colleagues, often straying from the demonstrable truth and regularly contradicting his own accounts from one article to the next. When a Petersburg newspaper called Longstreet's poison-pen ventures the "vaporings of senility and pique," 1 it echoed the views of millions of Southerners. The general's modern supporters insist that in analyzing his war record, we must ignore his late-life posturing, and in fact that is both appropriate and readily achievable in weighing his style during the I860s. On the other hand, although the senility doubtless was something new, the pique was not a sudden anomaly, sprung whole from the postwar ground. The change in Southern attitudes toward James Longstreet after the war came in large part because he survived to reveal glimpses of his soul that left observers repulsed, rather than simply in response to his postwar political maneuvering. The record shows that Longstreet operated at times during the war with an unwholesome and unlovely attitude. He had a tendency to be small minded and mean spirited,

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