General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier

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General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier

Author: Jeffry D. Wert
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 1994
Pages: 528
Cover Price: $ 18.00

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This isn't the first biography to be written on Confederate General James Longstreet, but it's the best--and certainly the one that pays the most attention to Longstreet's performance as a military leader. Historian Jeffry D. Wert aims to rehabilitate Longstreet's reputation, which traditionally has suffered in comparison to those of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Some Southern partisans have blamed Longstreet unfairly for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg; Wert corrects the record here. He is not uncritical of Longstreet's record, but he rightly suggests that if Lee had followed Longstreet's advice, the battle's outcome might have been different. The facts of history cannot be changed, however, and Wert musters them on these pages to advance a bold claim: "Longstreet, not Jackson, was the finest corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia; in fact, he was arguably the best corps commander in the conflict on either side." Wert describes his subject as strategically aggressive, but tactically reserved. The bulk of the book appropriately focuses on the Civil War, but Wert also briefly delves into Longstreet's life before and after it. Most interestingly, it was framed by a friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, formed at West Point and continuing into old age. Longstreet even served in the Grant administration--an act that called into question his loyalty to the Lost Cause, and explains in part why Wert's biography is a welcome antidote to much of what has been written about this controversial figure. --John J. Miller

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Background Information

James Longstreet was one of the leading generals in the army of the Confederate States and after the war became a Republican and a friend of Ulysses S. Grant. The Battle of Gettysburg represented the high water mark of the Confederacy when it was fought in July 1863. Robert E. Lee was served in the United States Army in Mexico and led the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Stonewall Jackson, one of the Confederacy's most able generals, was killed by friendly fire during the battle of Chancellorsville. The Army of Northern Virginia was the Confederate army commanded by General Robert E. Lee in the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant rose from obscurity to head the victorious Union army in the Civil War and later became President.