General James Longstreet fought in nearly every campaign of the Civil War, from Manassas (the first battle of Bull Run) to Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, and was present at the surrender at Appomattox. Yet, he was largely held to blame for the Confederacy's defeat at Gettysburg. General James Longstreet sheds new light on the controversial commander and the man Robert E. Lee called "my old war horse."
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