Lee and Jackson remembered, but where is Longstreet?
Date published: 6/7/2008
ALTHOUGH THE Civil War osten- sibly ended in 1865 when Southern armies surrendered, a group of officers from the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia continued to fight the war in print and in politics.
Heroes such as J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson had been killed during the war, and, by 1870, the venerated Robert E. Lee had passed. Lee’s other corps commander, James Longstreet, on the other hand, had the temerity to admit that the South had lost the war. He even suggested that Lee had made some tactical errors during its course.
This vocal group of former Confederates avoided tarnishing the gentlemanly Lee with the stain of defeat. Instead, they turned on Longstreet, blaming him for losing the war, citing his supposed failures at Gettysburg and elsewhere. They were also not inclined to admit the valor and competence of the Union army as a factor in the war’s outcome.
Some of these former officers also shamelessly enhanced their own reputations at Longstreet’s expense, beyond what would have been justified by actual wartime events.
Longstreet’s clumsy reaction to years of character assassination, however, usually did more harm than good. History has not been kind to this commander whom Lee himself referred to as his “Old War Horse.”
The reach of this controversy exceeded the lives of the participants. The early administration of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park came under the War Department. The early markers put up by that branch of the government still reflect the biases of those years.
Anyone driving along Lee Drive can see the old metal markers along the trench lines. In the sectors held by elements of Longstreet’s 1st Corps, the metal markers reflect the names of his division commanders. Thus the signs read: McLaws’, Pickett’s or Hood’s division.
In the sector held by the Confederate 2nd Corps, however, the War Department markers read: Jackson’s Line. The disparity in recognition does a disservice not only to Longstreet but also to Jackson’s division commanders.
The Smith markers, reflecting the period during which they were created, also make no mention of Longstreet. At Fredericksburg, the Union attacks against Marye’s Heights on Dec. 13, 1862, were repulsed decisively by Longstreet’s troops. No markers were placed to acknowledge these events until National Park Service historians developed their interpretive panels during the 1930s.
On May 5, 1864, the arrival of Longstreet’s Corps turned the tide in the Battle of the Wilderness. In the heat of the moment, Lee personally tried to lead the Texans into battle, but the soldiers hesitated to move forward until Lee moved to the rear. The marker Smith placed in 1903 celebrated the drama of this event, which neatly avoided any mention of Longstreet.
–Erik F. Nelson
Copyright 2008, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.