During the American Civil War, James Longstreet was one of Robert E. Lee’s more prominent commanders for the Confederate army. Though he is not held in as high of as regard as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, he was important as he held up the flank of Lee’s army opposite of Jackson. Longstreet was used by the Confederate army early in the war, whereas Jackson did not emerge as Lee’s “right arm” until after the Seven Days Battles in 1862. Longstreet contributed to an early Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run, where he served under P.T.G. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston. His troops did not fight directly in the battle, but he contributed to the victorious campaign by leading his troops into battle at Blackburn’s Ford near Manassas, Virginia.
Much like Jackson, Longstreet also added to the strength of the Confederates during their victory during the Seven Days Battles. Longstreet was more impressive than Jackson himself, who was often slow in getting to the battles during the Seven Days campaign and, while there, was faced with questions concerning his skill and tactics. After the victorious campaign in 1862, Longstreet was held as Lee’s number two, above “Stonewall” Jackson. Longstreet was the commander of the troops on Robert E. Lee’s right flank, and he served Lee’s army well and was an integral part of Lee’s success. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, Longstreet’s remarkable offensive against the outnumbering Union troops. Longstreet offered support to Lee at the Battle of Antietam and helped to reinforce Lee’s defenses at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Lee’s troops turned away the invading Union led by Ambrose Burnside.
Longstreet only excelled while he was under the command of Robert E. Lee, and he was not at Lee’s disposal while fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville. After Jackson was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Longstreet was exposed as a man who could not make up for the loss of Jackson. James Longstreet and Thomas Jackson were two very different commanders, as Longstreet had more strength as a tactical commander, and Jackson had more success being relatively independent of Lee and Longstreet. After Jackson’s death, the Confederate army began to fracture, if only slightly, as was seen at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lee and Jackson were more aggressive when conducting their campaigns, and at the Battle of Gettysburg Longstreet arguably had a hand in the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg because of the differences in tactics between Longstreet and Lee. The general and his officer disagreed on how to conduct the battle, and Longstreet did not approve of the offensive tactic Lee took (which, during the first day of battle, was successful). Longstreet was clearly insubordinate because of the deliberate time he took to get his men in position for offensives, though once he committed to his orders his troops carried them out as well as any troops on the battlefield. Longstreet openly opposed Pickett’s Charge as ordered by Lee but followed his orders, only to the disastrous ends that left half of the men who charged listed as casualties.
He was split from Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg. Longstreet was sent to reinforce Braxton Bragg’s troops in the west, where Union troops were marching all-but unopposed through Confederate territory. Longstreet proved his work at the Battle of Chickamauga, a battle that the fading Confederates desperately had to have, and his importance was show when he left Chattanooga, leaving behind Bragg’s failing troops during the Siege of Chattanooga, which would eventually fall into Union hands. Longstreet attempted to siege Knoxville but was unsuccessful, leading to more bickering between him and officers after the siege. Longstreet’s unhappy period ended when he was sent back to serve under Lee in the spring of 1864.
Longstreet was able to deter the Union army at the Battle of the Wilderness in early May, and his counter-attack impressed many as he hampered the Union troops during their march eastward. During the battle, however, he was wounded by his own men (reminiscent of “Stonewall” Jackson) and forced to spend time recovering from his wounds before he would return to the battlefield. Once he recovered, he remained at Lee’s through the sieges of Petersburg and Richmond all the way until Lee surrendered after the battle at Appomattox Court House. Though Longstreet was a courageous commander, the Confederate war effort was ultimately doomed after the death of Jackson, whose duties could never be successfully taken up by Longstreet or any other.
Gary Gallagher’s “Lee and His Generals in War and Memory”
College level lecture