James Longstreet’s Forget-Me-Nots

LongstreetWoundingSite2015James 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.

LonsgtreetWoundingForgetMeNotsYet, for all sorts of reasons—many of his own doing—Longstreet gets little love these days. Today seems no different. When I stop by the spot where he was wounded, I’m the only visitor there.

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.

6 Responses to James Longstreet’s Forget-Me-Nots

    1. Longstreet’s staff surgeon, Dr. Dorsey Cullen, was by his side within minutes of his wounding and “attended to his friend and commander, stanching the bleeding.” The following day Dr. Cullen rode with Longstreet in an ambulance to Orange Court House, then by train to Charlottesville, then Lynchburg where Longstreet spent one month of his recovery, treated by Dr. Cullen and two others: Dr. Kidder Taylor and Dr. Houston. Dr. Cullen returned to the army by the end of June, and Taylor and Houston continued treating Longstreet until he left Virginia for Georgia. All of this information and the quote are from “General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier” by Jeffry Wert. Wert was incorrect about one point: He states that Longstreet traveled to Georgia sometime in July, but in fact he attended the funeral of General Leonidas Polk in Augusta, Georgia on June 29.

  1. Old Pete was great soldier and a great man. Like most other civil war officers he made some mistakes and his attempts at influencing confederate strategy misfired usually to his detriment however a number of recent books have given a balanced view of the man and as a Brit I am proud to be a Life Member of the Longstreet Society the main aim of which is to provide just that balance of history for Lee’s old war horse. I will be travelling to Appomattox in October for the annual seminar of the Society. Those interested will be welcome. details can be found at http://www.longstreetsociety.org

  2. Gen Longstreet still has one huge fan here in NZ. When I get to the States one day I will certainly look up everything that was Longstreet.

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