Monday, July 03, 2017

Longstreet at Gettysburg & After the War

As we remember the Battle of Gettysburg, over at TheStrategyBridge, Kyle Gaffney wrote a moving bit, capturing in place in time a man who in my adulthood, grew to be a great man in my eyes, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, CSA.
There is much Longstreet does not know and will never know. He does not know that after this moment there will be no more miracles to conjure up, the war in the west would become a futile exercise, or just how successful Grant would be after the Siege of Vicksburg. After this moment, he cannot know The Cause would be broken after the freedom both Union and Confederates shared was redefined by President Lincoln over the bones of those who died here. Longstreet does not know that, even as the battlefield comes back into view, the jackals who will one day hang responsibility for The Cause’s demise around his neck for accepting the South’s defeat and honoring his old oath prowled his own lines.

Pickett begs again to go.

Obstinacy turns to resignation. In this moment, what Longstreet does not know is unimportant. What he knows for sure is that he had done his duty as the senior Lieutenant General in the Army of Northern Virginia. No one present could say they were not warned. Now he is numb. Without an outlet, his emotions implode inward and he just stares out across the killing fields. Few of the blades of grass he sees will be spared a watering of blood and shot. Better angels cry out to Longstreet from somewhere beyond, but it is too late. Unable to support the weight of his assignment, Longstreet bows his head. Pickett’s wet eyes plead for the order to advance, oblivious to his commander’s torment.

Longstreet can only nod once.
It has saddened, but not surprised me, that this weekend in 2017 we find the worst among us have decided to throw away the hard work of reconciliation born by our ancestors, and have gone about like some perversely lame version of the American Taliban pulling down monuments and other such acts in some post-modernist hissy-fit of the virtue signaling narcissists of ignorance they represent.

As for me, Longstreet is a great man not only for his service to the South in the war, but for what he did after the war.
On April 2, 1865, Union forces broke the Confederate line at Petersburg. When A. P. Hill was killed, Longstreet took command of his Third Corps. On April 9, 1865, however, Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Longstreet and Lee parted ways on April 12, 1865. Longstreet moved to New Orleans, and the two men never saw each other again.

In 1867, the New Orleans Times asked several leading citizens to comment on the newly passed Reconstruction Acts. Unwisely, Longstreet suggested that Southerners support the Republicans. He was praised in the North, but vilified in the South. In June 1868, he received his pardon – by act of Congress – with help from General Grant. He supported Grant for president, and when elected, Grant nominated Longstreet to be the Surveyor of Customs for the Port of New Orleans. For this last betrayal of the South he was labeled a “scalawag.”

Many of Longstreet’s actions after the war were controversial: his letters to the New Orleans Times, his support of the Republican Party, his acceptance of political appointments, and the fact that he commanded African-Americans (part of the New Orleans Metropolitan Police Force). Worst of all, he had dared to criticize Robert E. Lee’s leadership. Very quickly he became the target of “Lost Cause” attacks by Jubal Early, William Pendleton, Rev. J William Jones, and others. Longstreet spent the rest of his life attempting to restore his reputation. In 1889 he was dealt another huge blow. His home, Parkhill, burned to the ground in April. Then his wife, Louise, died in December.

Despite the many attacks by former officers in the Confederate Army, many men fondly remembered their days fighting under Longstreet. In 1890 the Washington Artillery—famous for their performance at Fredericksburg—insisted that Longstreet participate at the unveiling of Lee’s statue in Richmond and in 1892 at the 3rd annual United Confederate Veterans meeting former soldiers flocked to him. He spoke at the dedication of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in 1895 and attended the 1902 centennial celebration at West Point.
We all should reflect on what those who actually faced each other across the battlefield did to try to come together as one - the best men and women of their time. The least we can do is to try to emulate and honor those who worked for peace after the bloodbath they and their loved ones lived through.

It is easy to rage & preen in the future from a protected, blissfully ignorant peace paid by others. It is something else to make peace while the wounds are still fresh. 

I know which is easier to respect.
Longstreet published his 800-page memoirs, From Manassas to Appomattox, in December 1895. In September 1897 he married 34-year-old Helen Dortch; although his family was not pleased with the marriage, Helen defended Longstreet’s name until she died in 1962. James Longstreet died on January 2, 1904, just days short of his 83rd birthday. He was buried at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville, GA.
On my way out West to hunt this winter, I think I'll take a 20-min detour to Gainesville, GA to pay my respects.

Even more important, I will practice what I preach about primary sources and get a copy of his book.

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