James Longstreet is having a quiet day—quieter than the day had had 151 years ago, that’s for sure. On May 6, 1864, the Wilderness boiled around him with battle. In the midst of all that, Robert E. Lee’s “Old Warhorse” took a bullet through the neck.
It was the single worst blow the Army of Northern Virginia suffered during the 1864 Overland Campaign. The army would suffer others—Jeb Stuart’s death, the breakthrough at Spotsylvania’s Mule Shoe, the near-disaster at Harris Farm—but Lee’s army successfully rebounded from each. Longstreet, on the other hand, represented an irreplaceable loss.
Outnumbered for the spring campaign—Lee’s 66,000 Confederates faced 120,000 Federals—Lee was forced into defensive warfare. The loss of the defensive-minded Longstreet, then, removed Lee’s most able source of advice and experience at the time Lee needed it most. Longstreet was also the one man in Lee’s army who could offer true insight into Grant; Longstreet and Grant had been friends in the prewar army, and Longstreet had stood as Grant’s best man when Grant married Longstreet’s cousin, Julia Dent.
Lee, at least intuitively, understood the impact of Longstreet’s loss. “I shall not soon forget the sadness in [General Lee’s] face, and the almost despairing movement of his hands, when told that Longstreet had fallen,” one of Longstreet’s staff members recalled.
Sprigs of perriwinkle-colored forget-me-nots spring up along the edge of the pull-off. “There is something here to remember,” the flowers suggest. But the parking area is empty, so their reminder falls on deaf ears.
The old war horse went down, but no one seems to notice.