The Final Resting Place of Lee’s “Old Warhorse”

Gainesville, Georgia, a town of 36,306 people at the last census, sits in North Georgia  perched on the banks of Lake Lanier and straddling Interstate-985. Yet, in this Georgia town, lie the remains of James Longstreet, affectionately known during his life-time as “Pete” or during the American Civil War as Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s  “Old Warhorse.”

General James Longstreet’s Grave (author collection)

As the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg unfolded over the last few days, Longstreet’s name certainly came up in discussion around the informational signs on the battlefield, in lectures, tours, and dinner conversations among military history enthusiasts.

Longstreet’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg left much to question as the years passed by and is outside the scope of this post. Yet, the reason those interested in the American Civil War can debate the merits or shortcomings of this native South Carolinian at Gettysburg is due to the fact that he was a stalwart and dependable officer that Lee had counted on numerous times during the prior year since he took command of the army in June of 1862.

Born on January 8, 1821, while his mother was visiting the in-laws, he grew up in Northern Georgia and graduated from West Point in 1842. During the Mexican-American War he was wounded at Chapultepec in 1847. After the war he married the daughter of General John Garland; Maria Louisa Garland in Lynchburg, Virginia on March 8, 1848. The marriage would produce ten children. He had risen to the rank of major when he submitted his resignation on June 1, 1861 to cast his lot with the Southern Confederacy.

His service in the Confederacy saw him rise to the rank of lieutenant general and he was present for  many of the major campaigns both in the east and also during the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Campaign of late 1863. He also had a crack at independent command in two separate occasions during the war; in Suffolk, Virginia in the spring of 1863 and later that year at Knoxville, Tennessee.

Quote on the back of Longstreet’s tombstone

Some argue that his wound on the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864 was more detrimental to the Confederate cause than Jackson’s accidental mortal wounding by Confederate fire the previous year. One of the reasons was the nature of the unfolding campaign. The Overland Campaign became more of a defensive and blocking strategy for Lee’s army. Secondly, because of his pre-war close relationship with the Union general-in-chief, Ulysses S. Grant. Longstreet had even served in the wedding party for the Grants.

After the war Longstreet advocated reconciliation for Southerners and joined the much reviled Republican Party. He quickly drew the ire and indignation of former Confederates. When he led African-American militia against anti-Reconstruction White League members in New Orleans at what became known as the Battle of Liberty Place, he further alienated himself. The scrutiny continued when he accepted an appointment to become Minister of Turkey during the Republican administration of James Garfield. The following year, 1881, he was appointed United States Marshall for the state of Georgia a post he held for the next three years.

He also wrote his memoirs, titled From Manassas to Appomattox, which was published in 1896 in an attempt to counter some of the vile that was written about him from the more Lost Cause perspective advocated by former Confederates in the previous decades.

Later in life and after the passing of his first wife, Longstreet remarried in 1897 to Helen Dortch of Atlanta, Georgia. In failing health the last few years, suffering from various ailments such as cancer of the eye and rheumatism, Longstreet died of pneumonia on January 2, 1904 in Gainesville, Georgia. He was still serving as United States Commissioner of Railroads. His remains were interred in Alta Vista Cemetery. One of the only Confederate general officers to live into the 20th century.

However, his role at Gettysburg and his disagreement with Lee have been told and retold numerous times. Thus, as the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg has just been honored again, it gave those interested and or inclined to do so, another opportunity to discuss Longstreet’s role on the fields of that Pennsylvania town and also his legacy in the pantheon of Confederate military leaders.

What’s your view?

Longstreet marker at foot of grave site (author collection)


17 Responses to The Final Resting Place of Lee’s “Old Warhorse”

  1. I’m kind of iffy on Longstreet. He was obviously a great officer and certainly ahead of his time in a lot of things related to defensive warfare. But his conduct at Gettysburg has always bothered me. I don’t mind that he respectfully argued with Lee (I’m no Lee partisan, either). What bothers me is him at least twice trying to turn responsibility for operations with which he disagreed over to junior officers. I’m thinking of the march on the morning of July 2 when the Confederates basically had to turn around for fear of being seen; and the beginning of Pickett’s Charge/Longstreet’s Assault. I do appreciate, however, that he quickly accepted the Confederacy’s defeat and basically told southerners something they didn’t want to hear: we lost, deal with it and let’s move on to try to improve the country.

    1. Todd, your views on Longstreet are corrupted by the Lost Cause Myth and the Lee-as-a-God theory of the Civil War. Longstreet was not a “defensive” fighter. See the excellent comments below from David Lady and Ted Savas.

      1. Re Longstreet (and the larger topic of memory and historical truth): I thought about this thread and penned a piece over on my blog On Publishing called “Divining the Past From Recollected Scraps….” You can read it here:

  2. A pragmatic soldier with a pragmatic outlook should not to be confused as recalcitrant or cowardly. His needful preparedness, calculated execution, and mitigating circumstances need not be viewed always through the lens of insubordination and/or dereliction. For all his occupational shortcomings, they were not apparent at Gettysburg. His performances prior to and subsequent of Gettysburg while under Lee’s command were rarely questioned and beyond reproach.

    The Lost Cause mythology surrounding Gettysburg feeds the Lee legend. In no particular order, it was decided to be Stuart’s fault for not being and seeing, to be Ewell’s for not understanding others working definition of “practicable,” or to be Longstreet’s for perceived negativism, opinionated response, and/or the “slows.” Lee was far more gracious and forthright regarding the consequences and the acceptance of responsibility when offering his resignation than future chroniclers. Again the pragmatist, Longstreet chose reconstruction and reconciliation whereas his detractors did not.

  3. I am glad Longstreet is getting another “hearing” lately.I think he got a raw deal in the Lost Cause version. In fact, I am enjoying the second and third looks most of our “heroes” are getting. I prefer them as people, not as statues, and understanding them on a more human level works for me. The Civil War was four years out of one’s life. Important? Yes. Definitive? Not in my opinion.

  4. I find it odd that Longstreet is more consistently rated highly as a defensive fighter than an offensive fighter. Three very successful multi-division assaults were planned and executed by Longstreet and his subordinates, two of them battle-winning attacks: 2d day Second Bull Run, 2d day Gettysburg, 2d day Chickamauga. In each he seems to have practiced different grand tactical techniques: Division on line, division by brigades in echelon, ‘corps’ in column of brigades. His resistance to Lee’s plans for both Gettysburg assaults, second and third days, were based on sound tactical if not strategic reasons.

    1. Dave

      The only reason you find it “odd” is because your common sense tells you it just ain’t so. And you would be right.

      In fact, Longstreet’s Second Manassas charge was the largest ever launched by Lee’s army. (I would also note you could have also mentioned his stunning attack when he came up at the Wilderness (after Lee kept him far to the rear–I believe a mistake), and then again when he attacked later that afternoon and turned Hancock’s flank.

  5. I appreciate James Longstreet far more than most Confederates. I think he “saves” himself with his “doing the right thing” in supporting the Union and fighting racists after the American Civil War. Longstreet was a great general during the C.W. He made himself a great human being by his actions later in life. Both Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet helped the United States to be a country of united federal states. We owe them both a great respect for their actions “after” the war.

  6. I believe when Lee referred to Pete as ‘my old war-horse’ he meant it. Solid not skittish under fire, answering commands purposely and directions without spur, awake and eager in battle. The only times he seemed to ‘fail’ was when he was tasked with serious decisions (the charge) or under his own direction (Knoxville). Yet at Chickamauga the last characteristics are quite evident. I’m inclined to endorse the idea that his wounding in the Wilderness was as big (if not larger) blow than the loss of Jackson. It is hard to imagine the toll on the spirits of the leaders in both armies as they heard of, or saw the death of, old friends, relatives, in-laws etc. Longstreet may have simply become by war’s end the broken-down mount who would take to the plow and till a straight furrow until his death. I’m glad there are these 2nd and 3rd looks at a ‘true soldier’.

  7. What has often intrigued me about the whole Lee-Longstreet debate is just how inconsistent Lee’s conduct was at Gettysburg compared to the other battles he had fought in the previous year. Nothing brings this out more clearly than his clash of opinion with Longstreet concerning the notion of moving around Meade’s left flank. It is worth recalling that Lee and Longstreet disagreed several times over tactics and strategy before Gettysburg. In September 1862, Longstreet voiced opposition to Lee’s Special Orders No. 191. He then argued against defending the passes at South Mountain in favor of falling back to Sharpsburg. When the army did fall back to that location, he argued it should continue on to Virginia. Lee, meanwhile, always sought to get around his opponent’s flank instead of making frontal assaults. At Second Manassas, Lee directed Longstreet’s command to strike Pope’s left. He tried to attack McClellan’s right several times at Sharpsburg, but lacked the men to do it. Finally, he worked with Jackson to attack Hooker’s right at Chancellorsville. Compare these battles (2 victories and 1 draw) to Gettysburg where Longstreet urged a flank attack while Lee demanded a frontal assault. What changed in Lee for him to demand this course of action? Here Longstreet was suggesting a tactical move straight out of Lee’s book and Lee disagreed with it! To me that is the most bizarre legacy of the Lee-Longstreet clash at Gettysburg.

    1. A valid observation, Alex.

      On at least three major occasions, Longstreet was right in his decision-making contemporaneously with events–not long after (dividing the army up in Maryland, and assaulting on July 2, and again on July 3). I think it is safe to wager that had he not been wounded in the Wilderness, the fighting thereafter (Spotsy, North Anna, etc. would have been substantially different).

      Would Grant have still reached Richmond and Petersburg? Yes. Would the North have still won? Yes. But getting to the James would have been considerably harder. Lee could not do it all and after Longstreet fell, he had no one of the caliber of Jackson or Longstreet to depend upon.

  8. After digging into firsthand accounts for 30+ years, and publishing books for nearly that long, I have reached a few conclusions. One is that what you think are “accepted facts” are “facts” only untill you research them yourself and check the sources relied upon (and copied, endlessly, each time a tad differently) by others. Quoted material is often wrong and out of context–or simply made up, or has nothing to do with conclusions reach, or is cherry-picked evidence to grind a particular axe.

    Little is as it seems or as it has been fed to you.

    Second, as a former trial lawyer and historian, I have reached a second conclusion: Eyewitness evidence is wholly untrustworthy MOST of the time–and especially under stress. Here is a classic example:

    Judging someone’s “attitude” or “demeanor” or basing a conclusion on a couple sentences someone overheard or recalled or saw days, weeks, years, or decades later is just foolish and naive.

    Ask yourself: How many words do you think Longstreet spoke during the three days at Gettysburg? Thousands, right? How many people did her personally interact with? Hundreds? How many words do we have that were written down contemporaneously as Longstreet spoke? Essentially none. How many people who interacted with him have firmly and credibly recorded their interactions? A slim handful. Yet, we are to take another person’s recollections, accept a sentence or two he may or may not have spoken written often years after an event, and recalled during high stress and when how things were recalled mattered–and from all this ascertain his “attitude”–and reach sweeping conclusions. That has always struck me as ridiculous.

    Ask yourself: How many words do you think YOU spoke last weekend? How many people di you speak with? Did you laugh and cry during that same weekend? Raise your voice? Speak calmly with someone? Likely yes to ALL those, right? Now, what if one person who interacted with you during ONE of those states wrote later (and perhaps years later) to tell others what your demeanor was like that weekend.

    If this makes sense to you, have at it. It has never made sense to me.

  9. Interesting and informative article Mr. Greenwall. And very interesting discussion. Thanks. Bill Baltz attributes Longstreet’s embrace of the abolition of slavery and reunification of North and South to his pragmatism, and at least one reader agrees with him. I am not a student of Longstreet’s post-war life, so I will neither agree nor disagree with his assertion. I am curious if any of one out there in the ECW universe knows if Longstreet’s support of and involvement in post-war United States government and institutions had anything to do with a personal revelation or moral awakening to the fact that slavery was wrong. Any thoughts?

  10. it is merely hierography excluding the memory and sacrifice of all the others who died from both sides – civilians, soldiers, loss of lively hoods, family…. the leaders have privilege the others do not have in the catechism of the conflict..

  11. hagiography and hierography – collecting the holy relics of the saints and their scared personas to fit into the catechism that we have heard so much about and are debated ad nauseum…”Battles and Leaders” ;”Lines and Arrows” – the major themes of the publishing industry that dominates the historiography and we still cannot really settle the obvious idea of two parallel empires in North America – and the reason why they fought…….

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