James Longstreet Biography

James Longstreet, a prominent Confederate general during the American Civil War, played a crucial role as the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee. Known as Lee’s “Old War Horse,” Longstreet served as a corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia and fought in numerous major battles in the Eastern Theater. He also collaborated with Braxton Bragg in the Army of Tennessee in the Western Theater. Longstreet’s military career began at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he participated in notable battles of the Mexican-American War. Despite personal tragedies, including the loss of three children to scarlet fever, he displayed valor in the Seven Days’ Battles of 1862, as well as the Battle of Second Bull Run and the Battle of Fredericksburg. However, Longstreet faced controversy when he disagreed with General Lee’s tactics at the Battle of Gettysburg and reluctantly led unsuccessful attacks, such as Pickett’s Charge. He also played significant roles in the Battle of Chickamauga, the Battle of the Wilderness, and the Siege at Petersburg. After the war, Longstreet joined the Republican Party and supported Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential campaign in 1868, earning him criticism and the nickname “scalawag.” He later served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and held the position of railroad commissioner before his death in 1904.

Quick Facts

  • Nick Name: Old Pete
  • Died At Age: 82
  • Spouse/Ex-: Helen Dortch Longstreet (m. 1897), Maria Louisa Garland (m. 1848–1889)
  • Father: James Longstreet
  • Mother: Mary Ann Dent
  • Siblings: Anna Longstreet, Eliza Parke Longstreet, Henrietta Longstreet, John Longstreet, Julia Longstreet, Maria Longstreet Nelson, Rebecca Longstreet Ruff, Sarah Longstreet Ames, William Longstreet
  • Children: Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, James Longstreet, John Garland Longstreet, Maria Louisa Longstreet, Mary Anne Longstreet, William Dent Longstreet
  • Born Country: United States
  • Height: 6’2″ (188 cm), 6’2″ Males
  • Died on: January 2, 1904
  • Place of death: Gainesville, Georgia, United States
  • Notable Alumni: Academy Of Richmond County
  • U.S. State: South Carolina
  • Cause of Death: Pneumonia
  • Education: United States Military Academy, Academy of Richmond County

Childhood & Early Life

James Longstreet was born on January 8, 1821, in the Edgefield District of South Carolina. He was the son of a farmer named James Longstreet and his wife, Mary Ann Dent. He was the fifth child of his parents and their third son. His father was of Dutch descent, while his mother had English origins. His parents owned a cotton plantation. He was raised in Augusta, Georgia, and Somerville, Alabama.

He initially attended the ‘Academy of Richmond County.’ During his school days, he briefly lived with his uncle, humorist Augustus Baldwin Longstreet.

Longstreet joined the ‘United States Military Academy’ at ‘West Point’ and was part of it from 1838 to 1842. His classmates included the future Civil War generals George Pickett and Ulysses S. Grant. Longstreet was not academically good but was a decent cadet.

U.S. Military Career

After graduating from the ‘U.S. Military Academy,’ he was made the brevet second lieutenant of the ‘4th U.S. Infantry.’ He spent 2 years in the ‘Jefferson Barracks,’ Missouri. There, he met his future wife, Maria Louisa “Louise” Garland, the daughter of a lieutenant colonel.

Longstreet fought his initial battles at the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), participating in the battles of Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Vera Cruz. He sustained a severe thigh injury at the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, and spent the next several years away from wars. On his recovery, he married Louise.

On January 1, 1850, he became the chief commissary for the ‘Department of Texas.’ He resigned from the ‘U.S. Army’ on May 8, 1861, and joined the ‘Confederate Army’ as a lieutenant.

Early Civil War Service

He initially offered his services to Alabama. He was sent to Richmond, Virginia, and made a brigadier general under General P.G.T. Beauregard.

Longstreet fought valiantly in the Battle of First Bull Run. In October 1861, he was promoted to the post of major general and was in charge of a division. He made significant contributions during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, when the ‘Confederate Army’ stopped ‘Union’ General George B. McClellan during the Seven Days’ Battles (1862).

Most of his major victories came after Robert E. Lee became the commander of the ‘Confederate Army’ in mid-1862. During the Battle of Second Bull Run, Longstreet’s forces almost destroyed Union General John Pope’s ‘Army of Virginia.’ At the Battle of Antietam, Longstreet’s army resisted a ‘Union’ force nearly double its size. Soon, he was promoted to the position of lieutenant-general. He became one of the most reliable field commanders in Lee’s ‘Army of Northern Virginia,’ along with General Stonewall Jackson. Lee eventually named him his “Old War Horse.”

In the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862), his army made use of the terrain, by digging trenches and making fieldworks. They assured a victory over the ‘Union’ forces.

The Battle of Gettysburg

On July 1, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysberg, part of Lee’s invasion in the North, Lee decided to attack early morning. However, Longstreet’s troops had to take a time-consuming detour, which made them arrive late.

Lee had instructed Longstreet to order Major General George E. Pickett to be at the battlefield by a certain time on July 3, 1863. Longstreet failed to do so. Thus, Pickett’s division reached late, leading Lee to cancel his original plan. They decided to launch a frontal assault on the ‘Union’ army, now known as the ‘Pickett’s Charge.’ Both Longstreet and Lee were responsible for their lack of preparation. The ‘Confederates’ were defeated and lost half their soldiers.

Later Civil War Service

Longstreet was then transferred to the Western Theater, under Braxton Bragg.

In September 1863, Longstreet won the Battle of Chickamauga. An ego clash with Bragg made Longstreet move to east Tennessee, where he aimed to take Knoxville from ‘Union’ General Ambrose Burnside but failed.

In early 1864, Longstreet went back to Lee’s ‘Army of Northern Virginia.’ In May that year, at the Battle of the Wilderness, Longstreet was accidentally injured by his own forces. Despite his right arm being paralyzed, he returned to duty in October 1864. He was also part of the Siege of Petersburg (1864–1865).

Later, Longstreet was in charge of critical railroad lines while managing forces between Richmond and the James River. In 1865, Longstreet and Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

After the War

Following the war, Longstreet settled in New Orleans and started a cotton brokerage business. He became a supporter of the ‘Republican Party.’ In 1868, he supported ‘Union’ commander Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential campaign. This action destroyed his reputation in the South.

Longstreet was a lifelong target of the Lost Cause movement, which was aimed at shifting the blame for the ‘Confederate’ defeat away from Lee. Longstreet spent much of his later life defending himself from this accusation of betrayal of the ‘Confederacy.’

In the 1870s, he became the adjutant general of the state militia in Louisiana. Back then, he led a group of African–American soldiers against the anti-Reconstruction ‘White League’ at the Battle of Liberty Place (1874). This further damaged his reputation in the South. He thus gained the nickname “scalawag.”

He returned to Gainseville, Georgia in 1875, as a result of threats by Southerners. He then served in a number of government positions. He was the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 1880 to 1881. He also served as a railroad commissioner for a while.

Family & Personal Life

In 1844, Longstreet met Maria Louisa Garland, also known as Louise. She was the daughter of Lt. Col. Garland, Longstreet’s commander. Following his recovery from the wound he had sustained at Chapultepec, he got married to Louise Garland on March 8, 1848. They had 10 children. However, in 1862, three of their children died from scarlet fever.

On April 9, 1889, a fire destroyed his house and personal belongings. Louise died in December that year.

In 1897, he married Helen Dortch in a ceremony held at the governor’s mansion in Atlanta. He was 76, while she was 34 at the time of their marriage. Longstreet’s children did not approve of the marriage. However, Helen proved herself to be a devoted wife till his death.

Longstreet suffered from rheumatism and eye cancer in his later years. He died of pneumonia on January 2, 1904, in Gainesville. He remains buried in the ‘Alta Vista Cemetery’ in Gainesville.


The 1974 novel ‘The Killer Angels,’ by Michael Shaara, was about the Battle of Gettysburg. It won the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ and was adapted into a film, ‘Gettysburg,’ in 1993. Tom Berenger portrayed Longstreet in the movie.

The book ‘God and General Longstreet’ (1982) spoke about his exploits in depth.

A statue showing him on a horse was erected at the ‘Gettysburg National Military Park’ in 1998.

The ‘Longstreet Society’ in Gainesville is a museum dedicated to the life and career of Longstreet. The ‘Agribusiness Council Heritage Preservation Committee’s educational initiative titled the ‘General Longstreet Recognition Project’ is geared toward raising public awareness about Longstreet’s efforts.

The house in Russellville, Tennessee, where Longstreet stayed in the winter of 1863–1864, also known as ‘Longstreet’s Billet,’ has been turned into ‘The Longstreet Museum.’

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