James Longstreet: The Man, the Soldier, the Controversy, edited by R.L. DiNardo and Albert A. Nofi, Combined Publishing, Conshohocken, Pa., 1998, $27.95.
When former Confederate general James Longstreet died in 1904, there was no great outpouring of grief throughout the South he had served during four years of bloody warfare. His former comrades, men who had served under and beside him, did not write flowery expressions of loss and admiration for the general; windows were not draped in black, nor did a movement arise to immortalize the man whom Robert E. Lee called his “old war horse” with some statue in a place of honor. The death of the man who had been Lee’s second-in-command and fought in practically every major battle from Manassas to Appomattox went largely unnoticed by the same people for whom he had fought during the Civil War.
Why did the passing of a man who had played so prominent a role in the war meet with such apparent apathy? This and other questions about Longstreet are considered in James Longstreet: The Man, the Soldier, the Controversy. Springing from a series of lectures delivered during a conference on Longstreet sponsored by the New York Military Affairs Symposium, this collection of six essays deals with such far-ranging topics as how political and social connections influenced Longstreet’s preCivil War career to a look at the anti-Longstreet faction that evolved after the death of Robert E. Lee in 1870. As Longstreet’s military record is reviewed and compared to those of a number of his contemporaries, a very different picture of the general emerges than the one that led to his less-than-favorable place in Southern history.
To be sure, Longstreet provided ample ammunition for his critics. He was a man of strong convictions and was not always overly diplomatic in his comments about former comrades, including the revered Lee. Still, it is incredible to think that for 94 years after his death not a single statue or memorial was raised to the memory of a man who once had been a household name and who was, for four years at least, a respected figure throughout the South.
Nofi writes in the introduction that this collection is by no means the final word on the subject. This is a fair statement, as a couple of the essays are a bit general in content, leaving the reader wanting more specifics. Still, this does not diminish the worth of the compilation, but rather points to the fact that there is room for future research.
There is no question that the essays are pro-Longstreet. This is not to suggest that facts are bent to present the general in a more favorable light. It should be noted, however, that devotees of the Jubal Early/Robert Krick school of thought regarding Longstreet will find little to warm their hearts. But rather than apologize for the slant of the material, the essayists simply take the approach that after more than 90 years of slander and, in some cases, outright lies, Longstreet deserves the chance to be judged on the basis of his historical record alone. To borrow the motto of the General James Longstreet Memorial Fund, “It’s about time” the general was afforded this courtesy.
The authors of the essays have generously donated all their royalties and proceeds from the book to be shared by the Longstreet Memorial Fund and the New York Military Affairs Symposium. This contributes to making James Longstreet: The Man, the Soldier, the Controversy a worthwhile investment.
B. Keith Toney