OK, attention all you polo-wearing skinheads out there who say that defending statues of Confederate generals isn’t hatred, it’s just an effort to “preserve your heritage.” Well I’ve got two words for you: James Longstreet.
C’mon, really, even if you haven’t picked up a history book in your life, you’ve heard of this guy. Born in South Carolina, he worked from the age of nine on his uncle’s plantation, graduated from West Point in 1842, and served under Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War, earning a handful of awards for capturing Chapultepec alongside his friend George Pickett. (All this sounding pretty good?)
During the Civil War, Longstreet’s performance and contributions make him second in importance to only Robert E. Lee. (I’ll list his accomplishments now, y’all can hoot and holler while I go through it.) His actions at First Manassas earned him a promotion to Major General. He kicked McClellan’s butt so badly during the Seven Days that he was assigned to lead half of Lee’s army. He held off the entire Army of the Potomac at Second Manassas long enough for Stonewall Jackson to march completely around it and surprise it from behind. When both he and Jackson were promoted after their performances at Antietam, General Lee dated Longstreet’s promotion one day earlier than Stonewall’s, to indicate that Longstreet was now the most senior officer behind Lee. (Read that again and give me a Rebel Yell.) At Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Longstreet – whom Lee was now calling ‘my old war horse’ – perfected what history now regards as the seminal Confederate tactic: take up an impregnable defensive position, let the enemy make a futile attack, and then counterattack mercilessly.
After Stonewall’s death and the disaster at Gettysburg (there, there, boys, it happens to the best of us), Longstreet was shipped out west, where he smashed the enemy at Chickamauga, the second-largest battle of the war. He then returned east, and was Lee’s right hand all through the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Richmond and Petersburg. At the very end, at Appomattox, as Lee was riding off to surrender to Ulysses Grant, Longstreet said, “If he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.”
What a fighter! So now…I ask you…show me all the great Longstreet statues. (Keep looking.) Doesn’t he look great alongside Lee and Stonewall up on Stone Mountain? (Nope, that third guy is Jeff Davis.) And where is his massive mausoleum? (It’s actually a modest headstone in Alta Vista Cemetery in Georgia.) What’s going on here, how come Longstreet isn’t prominently featured in the good-ole-boy hall of heroes? (That sound you’re hearing is Spanish moss growing…)
I’ll tell you one reason why. Longstreet committed the ultimate sin at Gettysburg: he told Robert E. Lee that he was wrong. After the first two days of the battle went fairly well for the Confederacy, on the third day Lee ordered a full frontal attack on the Union army. It was exactly the reverse of what had consistently worked for the South, and Longstreet pleaded with Lee not to do it. “Pickett’s Charge” resulted in the disaster that Longstreet had predicted.
But here’s the real reason for the erasure of Longstreet: he committed the unforgivable sin of accepting the defeat. After the war, he was one of very few southern generals to join the Republican Party, which favored northern Reconstruction of the south, emancipation of the slaves, and national union. He was appointed adjutant general of the Louisiana state militia, and he enlisted black troops to keep the peace in New Orleans. (All y’all’s grandpappies in their white hoods weren’t too pleased.)
In short, he became an upstanding, law abiding, patriotic American. For this he was branded a carpetbagger and a traitor. One of his lifelong friends wrote, “our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” No wonder, then, that when a wave of “southern pride” monuments were erected in the 20th century, Longstreet was nowhere to be found.
So now, boys, tell me more about how you’re not racists and haters, you just want to celebrate your history. (I reckon you might want to put the torches down and give it some thought.)
You want to celebrate a hero? Repeat after me: “Long-Street! Long-Street! Long-Street!”
(Boy howdy that sure sounds purdy.)