LONGSTREET had half New Jersey blood and probably part Dutch. It shows in him. He is far more the modern, practical nineteenth-century American than most of his fellows. What Southern romance he has sits awkwardly and is mixed with mocking. He reminds you again and again of Grant and Sherman in his bull-dog pugnacity and tenacity, his brusque, sharp fashion of hitting right out at men and measures. Southern easy-going ways and shiftlessness vexed him. ‘Our people have been so accustomed to having things at their hands that they seem at a loss for resources when emergencies arise. “ Where there is a will there is a way” of overcoming all human obstacles. It is left for us to find it out.’
He was hard-headed, solid, stolid; and he looked it. ‘A thick-set, determined-looking man,’ says Fremantle. And Pollard describes his appearance as ‘not engaging. It was decidedly sombre; the bluish-gray eye was intelligent:, but cold; a very heavy brown beard was allowed to grow untrimmed; he seldom spoke unnecessarily; his weather-stained clothes, splashed boots, and heavy black hat gave a certain fierce aspect to the man.’ His health, vigor, power of supporting fatigue, were remarkable. ‘The iron endurance of General Longstreet is most extraordinary: he seems to require neither food nor sleep.’
As a fighter he was superb; the best fighter in the Army of Northern Virginia, the soldiers called him. This, perhaps, refers more to character than brains, as it is admitted that he was no great student at West Point or anywhere else. In Mexico he fought most creditably, side by side with Grant and other contemporaries. From Bull Run to Appomattox he was always where the fighting was hottest. His soldiers believed in him and trusted him. He spoke straight out to them, as if he meant it. Sometimes it was with a heavy sarcasm, as at Gettysburg, to an officer who complained of not being able to bring up his troops: ‘Very well, never mind, then, General, just let them remain where they are, the enemy ’s going to advance, and will spare you the trouble.’ More often he gave them sound, direct, practical advice of the kind to put heart, into a man. ‘Let officers and men, even under the most formidable fire, preserve a quiet demeanor and self-possessed temper. Keep cool, obey orders, and aim low. Remember, while you are doing this, and driving the enemy before you, your comrades may be relied upon to support you on either side, and are in turn relying upon you.’
Such advice, coming from the War Department, might not have amounted to much. Coming from a man who was as cool in battle as in a ball-room, it must have been almost as if he had laid a hand on your shoulder. How imperturbable he was is shown by many witnesses, notably Fremantle. ‘No person could have been more calm or self-possessed than General Longstreet under these trying circumstances [after Gettysburg], aggravated as they now were by the movements of the enemy, who began to show a strong disposition to advance. I could now appreciate the term bulldog which I had heard applied to him by the soldiers. Difficulties seem to make no other impression upon him than to make him a little more savage.’ He may not have felt the dancing ecstasy with which Stuart charged and which Longstreet himself admirably describes in another: He came into battle as gaily as a beau, and seemed to receive orders which threw him into more exposed positions with peculiar delight.’ But he was always ready to face any danger or any exposure, too ready. ‘Every one deplores that Longstreet will expose himself in such a reckless manner. To-day he led a Georgian regiment in a charge against a battery, hat in hand and in front of everybody.’
The same imperturbable coolness that distinguished Longstreet in actual fighting characterized him as a leader. He was never anxious, never flurried. Victory could not over-excite him with triumph, nor defeat with despair. He made every preparation, took every precaution, was ready for difficulties, and indifferent to dangers. Unfortunately, however, consummate generalship requires something more than imperturbability. It requires brains and speed. Had Longstreet these? His work as an independent commander suggests some doubt. Intelligence of a certain order, the solid, firm, Dutch grasp of a situation, and common sense in the handling of it, can never be denied him. But quick insight, long penetration, the sudden conception of what is daring to be done and not too daring, in short, a brain like Jackson s, I do not think he had. As to speed there will be less question. Even Lee is said to have remarked, ‘Longstreet is the hardest man to move in my army.’ In every case the general was able to give a good reason for not arriving in time. But Jackson arrived in time in spite of good reasons.
Both these defects and many of Longstreet’s excellences are intimately bound up with one strongly marked trait, which is often an excellence, but runs into a defect too easily: I mean a singular, an unfailing, an almost unlimited self-confidence. Self-confidence does nearly all the great things that are done in the world. ‘Trust thyself, says Emerson; ‘every heart vibrates to that iron string.’ Doubt of one’s powers, doubt of one’s nerve, dread of responsibility, — these weaknesses will paralyze the keenest perception, the finest intelligence. But self-confidence, to achieve the highest, must be tempered with insight and sympathy. A man must trust himself, but he must trust others. Before he decides, resolves, executes, he must listen. His own judgment must prevail with him; but it must be his own judgment qualified, enriched by the judgment of those wiser, or even less wise. No one can impose his own personality, however solid and sturdy, on the whole world.
This is what Longstreet tried to do, with exquisite and naïve unconsciousness. And this quality of an immense self-confidence runs through his whole career with a steadiness which is very peculiar, very unfortunate,—and very instructive. Note that Johnston s trouble was an over-sensitive pride. This is not Longstreet’s main trouble; nor was he largely stirred by wounded ambition. ‘I am not prompted by any desire to do, or to attempt to do, great things. I only wish to do what I regard as my duty — give you the full benefit of my views.’ And again: If there is no duty to which I can be assigned on this side of the Mississippi River without displacing an officer, I will cheerfully accept service in the trans-Mississippi Department.’
Note also that it is not a foolish conceit, or pig-headed pride of opinion. Once convince the man that he was wrong and he would have been perfectly ready to say, ‘ All my fault,’and begin over again. But you never could convince him that, he was wrong. There was one way to see a question and that was the way he saw it, one way to act and that was the way he acted. Other ways and other views were incomplete, or unenlightened, or simply stupid. No single quotation can sum up this attitude, naturally. It will, I think, appear in overwhelming significance, as we go on. Page after page of Longstreet’s book is stamped with it. ‘Speaking of the impending struggle [spring of 1861], I was asked as to the length of the war, and said, “At least three years, and if it holds for five you may begin to look for a dictator,” at which Lieutenant Ryan, of the Seventh Infantry, said, “ If we have to have a dictator, I hope that you may be the man.”’ No doubt, for the good of the country, Longstreet himself hoped so, too.
It is in his relation to Lee that this stolid self-confidence of Longstreet appears most interestingly. The two men loved each other. Lee showed his affection for his second in command more frankly and directly than for almost any one else, even Jackson. ‘ My old war-horse,’he called him, perhaps characterizing the subordinate more fully than he meant. If so, Longstreet was quite oblivious of it and refers to the phrase with proud complacency, as he does to another point which most of us are inclined to view a little differently: that is, the fact that ‘on his march he [Lee] usually had his headquarters near mine.’ Lee has other words, however, of a less equivocal nature. Thus he writes to the general in the West, ‘ I think you can do better than I could. It was with that view I urged your going.’ But he longs to have him back: ‘I missed you dreadfully and your brave corps. Your cheerful face and strong arm would have been invaluable. I hope you will soon return to me.’
Longstreet’s love for his great; chief was equally fervent. Speaking of him after the war he says, ‘The relations existing between us were affectionate, confidential, and even tender, from first to last. There was never a harsh word between us.’ Writing to Lee from the West he expresses feeling as evidently deep as it is genuine: ‘All that we have to be proud of has been accomplished under your eye and under your orders. Our affections for you are stronger, if it is possible for them to be stronger, than our admiration for you.’ And Fremantle, who had observed both men closely, corroborated these words in the most charming manner: ‘It is impossible to please Longstreet more than by praising Lee. I believe these two generals to be as little ambitious and as thoroughly unselfish as any men in the world.’
But Longstreet did not propose to allow judgment to be hoodwinked by affection. Not for him was the attitude so passionately expressed by Jackson: ‘General Lee is a phenomenon. I would follow him blindfold.’ On the contrary, the commander of the First Corps was keenly aware of his chief’s defects and has recorded them mercilessly for posterity. ‘In the field his characteristic fault was headlong combativeness. In the immediate presence of the enemy General Lee’s mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited.’ These defects it was naturally the duty of an affectionate lieutenant to watch for and remedy in every possible way. And Longstreet watched.
From the first day Lee took command, we have his subordinate’s delightful accounts of the way in which he advised, suggested, or, as one might almost say, dictated. It was Longstreet who conceived the plan by which Jackson was to be called from the Valley that McClellan might be driven from the Peninsula; and if Jackson had been at all equal to the occasion, a great triumph would have been achieved. It was Longstreet who found Lee hesilating about going into Maryland on account of supplies. ‘But I reminded him of my experiences in Mexico, where sometimes we were obliged to live two or three days on green corn. . . . Finally he determined to go on,’ It was Longstreet who pointed out to his commander the folly of the Harper’s Ferry scheme and supposed it was abandoned. But he could not be on the watch all the time and the pestilent Jackson took advantage of his absence to impose on a mind always too easily led. Later Longstreet did his best to devise a remedy for a bad state of things. ‘Lee listened patiently enough, but did not change his plans, and directed that I should go back the next day and make a stand at the mountain. After lying down, my mind was still on the battle of the next day, and I was so impressed with the thought that it would be impossible for us to do anything at South Mountain . . . that I rose and, striking a light, wrote a note to General Lee, urging him to order Hill away and concentrate at Sharpsburg. To that note I got no answer.’ Do you wonder why?
But Gettysburg is the cream of the whole. And observe, I take no part in the controversy as to what Longstreet actually did, or as to the course he advised. It does not become an outsider and a civilian to do so. The general’s judgment as to possibilities before, and as to events after, may have been wise, may have been correct. What interests me solely is Longstreet’s character as displayed in Longstreet’s own words.
To begin with, then, he is opposed to the campaign from the start, believing that the main operations should be carried on in the West. However, finding Lee unwilling to agree to this, Longstreet permits his commander to enter upon his project. ‘I then accepted his proposal to make a campaign into Pennsylvania, provided it should be offensive in strategy, but defensive in tactics.’ Judge of his disgust when they found themselves at Gettysburg and the commander ventured to overstep the lines which his mentor had laid down for him. ‘I suggested that this course seemed to be at variance with the plan of the campaign that, had been agreed on before leaving Fredericksburg. He said, “If the enemy is there to-morrow, we must attack him.” . . . I said that it seemed to me that if, during our council at Fredericksburg, we had described the position in which we desired to get the two armies, we could not have expected to get the enemy in a better position for us than he then occupied. . . . He, however, did not seem to abandon the idea of attack on the next day.’
And they attacked and failed all along the line; because Longstreet’s heart was not in it, say his enemies; because success was impossible, says Longstreet himself.
The scene was renewed the next day, Lee deciding and ordering, Longstreet protesting, with imperturbable confidence in his own judgment, and snubbed in a fashion made tenfold more dramatic by its being Lee who did it and Longstreet who recorded it, apparently without the dimmest perception of what it meant. ‘I said, “General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know as well as any one what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position,” pointing to Cemetery Hill. General Lee in reply to this ordered me to prepare Pickett’s division for the attack.'1
When everything was over, Lee declared, with divine humility, that it was all his fault. ‘Fine,’ says Longstreet, in effect, ‘especially as it was.’
In the autumn of 1803 Longstreet went West. He had long felt, that he was needed there and he finally prevailed on Davis and Lee to let him go. It would be impossible to surpass the serene confidence with which he viewed this undertaking. Note also that he disclaims, and no doubt sincerely, all thought of personal ambition in the matter. ‘If my corps cannot, go west, I think that we might accomplish something by giving me Jenkin’s, Wise’s, and Cooke’s brigades, and putting me in General Bragg’s place, and giving him my corps. . . . We would surely run no risk in such a change1 and we might gain a great deal. I feel that I am influenced by no personal motive in making this suggestion; and will most cheerfully give up, when we have a fair prospect of holding our western country. I doubt if General Bragg has great confidence in his troops or himself either. He is not likely to do a great deal for us.’
He was not put in Bragg’s place, however, but under Bragg’s orders, and, therefore, was naturally unable to accomplish all the great things that he had counted on. If he had found it difficult to place much reliance on Lee, how was it to be expected that he should place any on Bragg? He did not, and said so. Here again I do not think there was any set purpose of malice or mischief-making. Bragg was wrong. Longstreet was right. This must be so obvious to every one that outspoken comment could hardly make it any plainer. The effect, however, was not happy, witness Mackall, who was no friend to Bragg: ‘I think Longstreet has done more injury to the general than all the others put together. You may understand how much influence with his troops a remark from a man of his standing would have to the effect that Bragg was not on the field and Lee would have been.’
This sort of thing seems incredible in a man of Longstreel’s age, training, and soldierly habits; but the language of his own letters shows abundantly what his attitude was. He writes to Buckner, ‘As every other move had been proposed to the general and rejected or put off till time made them more inconvenient, I came to the conclusion that this was to be the fate of our army—to wait till all good opportunities passed, and then, in desperation, to seize upon the least favorable one.’
And here again, as at Gettysburg, we can ask nothing more characteristic than the little scene that the general paints for us, apparently quite unconscious of its significance, but depicting himself and a dozen men of similar type, that we all know, as effectively as Rembrandt might have done. ‘The only notice my plan received was a remark that General Hardee was pleased to make: “I don’t think that is a bad idea of Longstreet’s.” ... I repeated my ideas, but they did not even receive notice. It was not till I had repeated them, however, that General Hardee even noticed me.’ Unconscious self-interpretation like this, as with Pepys, amounts to genius.
No one could attack Bragg without attacking Davis, and to Longstreet Davis — when he was wrong — was no more than Bragg. Twice, at least, in full and formal military council, the general gave his advice to the president— and was snubbed. The first time was early in the war, before the Peninsular campaign. ‘From the hasty interruption I concluded that my opinion had only been asked through polite recognition of my presence, not that it was wanted, and said no more.’ The second time was in connection with the movements of Bragg and Johnston in the West and involved Lee as well as Longstreet. As described by the latter, it is a singularly impressive and characteristic incident. He had given his views in regard to the situation at some length, and assumes that Lee agreed with them. The president did not. ‘General Lee wore his beard full, but neatly trimmed. He pulled at it nervously, and more vigorously as time and silence grew, till his nervousness was conquered. The profound quiet of a minute or more seemed an hour. When he spoke, it was of other matters, but the air was troubled by his efforts to surrender hopeful anticipations to the caprice of empirics. He rose to take leave of the august presence, gave his hand to the President, and bowed himself out of the council chamber. His assistant went through the same forms, and no one approached the door to offer parting courtesy.’
Even after this Longstreet could not get the responsibility of the matter off his mind. After returning to the West, ‘it occurred to me to write to the President, and try to soften the asperities of the Richmond council. ... In reply the President sent a rebuke of my delay.’
The most significant element of all in Longstreet’s western campaign is his dealings with his own subordinates, McLaws, Law, and Robertson. The dramatic genius of Sophocles could not have devised a finer climax than that situation. At Gettysburg, just before, as second in command to Lee, the general had thoroughly disapproved of his chief’s action, and had not hesitated to say so. Likewise, he had failed to carry out his chief’s wishes, through either obstinacy or inability. Lee, with supreme tolerance, intent on the future, not on the past, had accepted the latter solution and found no word of fault with his lieutenant’s motives in any way whatsoever.
Then Longstreet goes West and is placed in charge of the Knoxville expedition. His second in command, McLaws, disapproves of the assault on Fort Loudun, exactly as Longstreet disapproved of the assault at Gettysburg. Hear McLaws’s own words in his later defense: ’I object to being put forward as a blind to draw attention away from the main issue, which is the conduct of the campaign in East Tennessee by General Longstreet. I assert that the enemy could have been brought to an engagement before reaching Knoxville; that the town, if assaulted at all, should have been on the first day we arrived or on the next at furthest; that when the assault was made on Fort Loudun it was not called for by any line of policy whatever.’
If he had been endowed with divination, could he have anticipated more perfectly Longstreet’s final attitude with regard to Gettysburg?
But how different was Longstreet’s treatment of his subordinates under these circumstances from Lee’s! As soon as he suspects disaffection, he writes sharply through his aide, ‘I am directed to say that throughout the campaign on which we are engaged you have exhibited a want of confidence in the efforts and plans which the commanding general has thought proper to adopt, and he is apprehensive that this feeling will extend more or less to the troops under your command.’ When the assault is imminent, he insists that previous conviction of failure is the surest road to it. ‘Please urge upon your officers the importance of making the assault, with a determination to succeed. If the assault is made with that spirit, I shall feel no doubt of its success.’ And again: ’If we go in with the idea that we shall fail, we will be sure to do so. But no men who are determined to succeed can fail. Let me urge you not to entertain such feelings for a moment. Do not let any one fail, or any thing.’ Oh, imagine how Lee would have liked to say just that to Longstreet on the morning of July 3, and, if he had, what Longstreet would have answered!
When all is over he does, indeed, admit to the War Department, that it may have been his fault. ‘It is fair to infer that the fault is entirely with me, and I desire, therefore, that some other commander may be tried.’ This does not mean, however, that he forgets or forgives, so far as his subordinates are concerned. He prefers charges against McLaws, Law, and Robertson. They are tried by a court-martial, which only partially sustains the commander, and even this insufficient verdict is reversed by the Richmond authorities. ‘ The proceedings, finding, and sentence of the court are disapproved. MajorGeneral McLaws will at once return to duty with his command.’ Longstreet rebels and receives an even harsher snub from Davis: ‘General Longstreet has seriously offended against good order and military discipline in rearresting an officer who had been released by the War Department, without any new offense having been committed.’ Longstreet has a final word on the matter in his book, whether to his own advantage or disadvantage, I leave to the reader’s judgment. ‘Confidence in the conduct of the war was broken, and with it the tone and spirit for battle further impaired by the efforts of those in authority to damage, if not prevent, the success of work ordered in their own vital interest.’
It might be supposed that, after these varied experiences, the general would have returned to Lee’s supremacy with a saddened and a chastened spirit. I do not find this indicated. Through the spring of 1864 and later, when he returned to duty after his Wilderness wound, he was always cheerfully ready to patronize his commander and to give abundant advice, when it was asked for, and when it was not. ' I am pleased at all times to have any suggest ions that you may make, and am gratified to find that you in your numerous duties do not lose sight of these small matters,’ is the usual tone. Perhaps the most curious suggestion offered is that the military authorities should ‘impress’ all the gold in the country and use it for the necessities of defense. Unfortunately most of Lee’s replies to his subordinate’s exhortations are lost. We have his comment on this gold matter, however, a gentle reminder that the specie is not accumulated in chests which troopers can walk off with, but is scattered and hidden all over the Confederacy. Longstreet, perfectly unconcerned, insists as before: ‘The gold is in the country, and most of it is lying idle. Let us take it at once and [use] it to save Richmond and end the war.’
Finally, in considering Longstreet’s conduct after the war was over, I think we shall find the best excuse or explanation for it in this same trait of overmastering self-confidence. Here we should turn to Mrs. Longstreet. It is worth observing that the lives of three of the most prominent Southern leaders — Davis, Jackson, and Longstreet — have been written by their wives with loving eulogy, and that in each case these ladies furnish — quite unintentionally — striking testimony as to their husbands’ weaknesses and defects. It is a notable illustration of the old poet’s remark,
Those have most power to hurt us that we love: We lay our sleeping lives within their arms.
Thus, when Mrs. Longstreet insists that her hero, in joining the Republican party and accepting government office, sacrificed personal advantage to a spirit of lofty patriotism, much as did Lee at the beginning of the war, she makes him ridiculous. Her own naïve account of the activities and the luxury of his last years proves this, and the swelling phrases of her affectionate enthusiasm require no comment. ‘I love best to think of him, not as the warrior leading his legions to victory, but as the grand citizen after the war was ended, nobly dedicating himself to the rehabilitation of his broken people, offering a brave man’s homage to the flag of the established government, and standing steadfast in all the passions, prejudices, and persecutions of that unhappy period. It was the love and honor and soul of the man crystallized into a being of wonderful majesty, immovable as Gibraltar.’
Verily, ‘Those have most power to hurt us that we love.’ Yet, as to the substance, I think Mrs. Longstreet is right, and those Southerners who suspect her husband of place-hunting, of adopting the winning side for his own aggrandizement, are totally wrong. He was a practical American. The war was over. The Union must be restored. The sooner it was restored, the better. And the more good men that took hold to restore it, the better still. The sentiment of lost causes, of fallen flags, of consecrated graves was — sentiment. Those who were to make the future had no time for it. That was his view. And, as all his life, he could not imagine that there could be any other. He acted on it at once — and found himself, among thousands of his old comrades, all alone.
And now, surely, we are eager to probe the ‘wonderful majesty’ of this ‘immovable Gibraltar’ for what was human under it; to thrust below the stolid, Dutch, phlegmatic surface of grim work and rock-like confidence and find the emotions of mortality.
They were there. Let us take the unsightly ones first and be rid of them. They had a grip on the man’s soul that forbids us to pass them by. He was jealous, he was harsh, he was bitter to his enemies. Much there was, undoubtedly, to bring out these feelings in him. But others have borne as much in a different spirit.
To begin with his attitude toward Lee — or Lee’s admirers. Immediately after Gettysburg, perhaps under the influence of Lee’s example, he wrote the noble letter to his uncle in which he says, ‘As we failed, I must take my share of the responsibility. In fact, I would prefer that all the blame should rest upon me. As General Lee is our commander, he should have all the support and influence we can give him. If the blame, if there is any, can be shifted from him to me, I shall help him and our cause by taking it.’ But this mood did not last. On which side the faultfinding began is disputed, but it soon grew into bitter recrimination. Longstreet’s course during the battle, justly or unjustly, was condemned far and wide, and he retorted with the utmost acridity, in the Philadelphia Times articles, in Battles and Leaders, and finally in his book. The lofty determination to exonerate Lee at his own expense was gradually transformed into assertions — before quoted — that his old chief was not a master of offensive battle, that ‘in the field his characteristic fault was headlong combativeness,’ that ‘in the immediate presence of the enemy General Lee’s mind, at all other times calm and clear, became excited,’ and that the fighting at Gettysburg had to go on until ‘blood enough was shed to appease him.’
But Longstreet’s attitude toward some of his comrades-in-arms shows even more unpleasant features than his attitude toward his beloved commander. And let me repeat that these things must be insisted on because they indicate such a fatal and such an instructive flaw in a nature of unusual depth and power. The proposed duel with Hill early in the war, if it really was proposed, sprang from pride in his troops as much as in himself. No such excuse will avail for his cruel language toward Early. It is true that Early had criticized him; but just here Longstreet’s weakness comes out most. Early, in explaining his criticisms later, says, with noble and Christian charity, ‘You will observe that in my article there is some causticity of expression, which was provoked by the character of the article I was replying to. I now sincerely regret the necessity which called forth the personal strictures contained in my replies, and would be glad if they could be eliminated.’ Yet Longstreet, writing his book much later still, could express himself in this venomous fashion: ‘There was a man on the left, of the line who did not care to make the battle win. He knew where it was, had viewed it from its earliest format ion, had orders for his part in it, but so withheld part of his command from it as to make coöperative concert of action impracticable. He had a pruriency for the honors of the field of Mars, was eloquent, before the fires of the bivouac and his chief, of the glory of war’s gory shield; but when its envied laurels were dipping to his grasp, when the heavy field called for bloody work, he found the placid horizon, far and away beyond the cavalry, more lovely and inviting.’
The same spirit is apparent in Longstreet’s remarks about Jackson and Virginia. Here again one should read Colonel Allan’s noble expression of Virginia’s opinion about Longstreet. This only emphasizes such remarks as the following, in regard to Harper’s Ferry: ‘Jackson was quite satisfied with the campaign, as the Virginia papers made him the head of Harper’s Ferry, although the greater danger was with McLaws, whose service was the severer and more important’; or this other, when Jackson declined Longstreet’s assistance in the Valley: ‘ I had been left in command on the Rapidan, but was not authorized to assume command of the Valley district. As the commander of the district did not care to have an officer there of higher rank, the subject was discontinued.’ These things make one recur to Mrs. Longstreet’s eulogy and to her quotation of his appeal to his countrymen at the outbreak of the Spanish War: ‘If I could recall one hour of my distant but glorious command, I would say, on the eve of battle with a foreign foe, “Little children, love one another.” ’
The most characteristic, most important, and most unfortunate of all Longstreet’s writings about his old companions is the deliberate close of his article in the second volume of the Century War Book. I do not think the most ardent admirer of Lincoln can approve either the feeling or the taste with which his name is introduced here. ‘ I cannot close this sketch without reference to the Confederate commander. When he came upon the scene for the first time, General Lee was an unusually handsome man, even in his advanced life. He seemed fresh from West Point, so trim was his figure, and so elastic his step. Out of battle he was as gentle as a woman, but when the clash of arms came, he loved fight, and urged his battle with wonderful determination. As a usual thing he was remarkably well balanced — always so, except on one or two occasions of severe trial when he failed to maintain his exact equipoise. Lee’s orders were always well considered and well chosen.
He depended almost too much on his officers for their execution. Jackson was a very skillful man against such men as Shields, Banks, and Frémont, but when pitted against the best of the Federal commanders, he did not appear so well. Without doubt the greatest man of rebellion times, the one matchless among forty millions for the peculiar difficulties of the period, was Abraham Lincoln.’
But who could leave Longstreet so? It is incontestable that with all these marked and disastrous defects the man was immensely lovable, and had not only force, but charm. Under the stolid exterior there were kindly emotions as well as sharper ones.
Socially he is said to have been quiet and undemonstrative, yet at times he showed a tenderness and affection which were all the more appreciated.
There can be no doubt that, his patriotism and devotion to the cause he served were strong and genuine. ‘While we weep with the friends of our gallant dead, we must confess that a soldier’s grave, in so holy and just a cause, is the highest honor that a man can attain.’ ‘For myself,’ he says, after Vicksburg and Gettysburg, ‘I felt that our last hope was gone, and that it was only a question of time with us.’ Yet he fought on as steadily, as bravely, as persistently as ever, and declared, in January, 1865, ‘we are better able to cope with the enemy now than we have ever been, if we will profit by our experience and exert ourselves properly in improving our organization.’
He was as thoughtful in his sympathy for non-combatants as he was hardy in fighting. Thus after Fredericksburg he directs a subscription to be taken up for the inhabitants of that city, and describes their sufferings and their devotion with the most evident tenderness.
I have cited many bitter words that he wrote of his enemies. Alas, they are in print, set solid in history, and injure him far more than those he attacked. But we should weigh against them the kindly, charitable things which Mrs. Longstreet describes him as saying. When Gordon, who had uttered harsh words about Gettysburg, was reported ill, Longstreet inquired, with touching concern, about his condition. Judge Speer and the general had had disagreements. When asked how he would receive the judge, Longstreet answered, ‘As I would receive any other distinguished American. And as for our past differences, that has been a long time ago, and I have forgotten what it was all about. General Hampton felt bitterly as to Longstreet;’s politics and would not meet him. Mrs. Longstreet commented on the matter with some harshness. But. her husband said, ‘There is not a finer, braver, more gallant officer in the Confederate service than Wade Hampton.’ Most touching, also, is Mrs. Longstreet’s picture of her husband’s yearning for the lost esteem of his fellow Southerners. ‘General Longstreet said nothing, but his eyes slowly filled. While he bore unjust criticism in silence, he was visibly moved by any evidence of affection from the Southern people.’ And he is said to have been stirred most deeply by the enthusiasm shown for him by his old followers at the unveiling of the Lee monument.
Indeed, if one wishes to forget the general’s unamiable peculiarities, one must turn to his relation with his soldiers, and one cannot fail to appreciate what a really great heart he had. He loved his men, sympathized with them, laughed at and understood their failings, saw their needs and strove with all his might to remedy them. When he found troops altering the works for better security, although the engineers objected, he approved, saying, ‘If you save the linger of a man’s hand, that does some good.’ When the cavalry leaders were inclined to scoff at the infantry, he rebukes them. ‘The commanding general regrets that you entertain the impression that your forces are fighting for the bread of the infantry. Your troops arc in the service of the Government, and are battling for a common cause and a common country. The infantry of this army have fought too many battles to be told that their bread is earned by the cavalry.’
And better even than Longstreet’s affection for his men is his men’s affection for him. The large number of testimonial letters printed in Mrs. Longstreet’s book goes far beyond mere conventional eulogy. It shows a devotion and a regret which can only have been bred by something great. Concretely, these feelings are best illustrated by the old soldier who brought his gray jacket and his enlistment papers to be buried in his general’s grave. ‘I’ve served my time, and the General, he’s served his time, too. And I reckon I won’t need my uniform and papers again. But I’d like to leave them with him for always.’ Beside which should be put Stiles’s most striking account, well paralleled by another instance in Fremantle, of the behavior of the officers at the time of Longstreet’s wound. ‘The members of his staff surrounded the vehicle, some on one side and some on the other, and some behind. One, I remember, stood upon the rear step of the ambulance, seeming to desire to be as near him as possible. I never on any occasion during the four years of the war saw a group of officers and gentlemen so deeply distressed. They were literally bowed down with grief. All of them were in tears. One, by whose side I rode for some distance, was himself severely hurt, but he made no allusion to his wound and I do not think he felt it. It was not alone the general they admired who had been shot down — it was rather the man they loved.’
To inspire devotion like that a leader must , indeed, have noble qualities; and, moreover, it confirms one in the belief that a round self-confidence, backed by tried capacity, is a trait men cling to, as much as to anything, in the hour of trouble.
Toward the end of his life Longstreet joined the Catholic Church. This forms such a remarkable close to his career that it cannot be passed over. Mrs. Longstreet, with another of those shrewd blows that come most stingingly from those we love, says that he did it because his former Episcopal associates would not sit in the same pew with him after his political conversion, and he wanted a church that had more charity.
I cannot suppose that he was a man of naturally religious bent. Such references as he makes to the subject have an excess of unction which I would not for a moment call insincere, but which suggests an excursion into paths not habitually traveled; and they have a rhetorical turn which appears in almost all his attempts to express unusual emotion. Thus he writes of General Jenkin’s death, ‘In a moment of highest earthly hope he was transported to serenest heavenly joy; to that life beyond which knows no bugle-call, beat of drum, or clash of steel. May his beautiful spirit, through the mercy of God, rest in peace! Amen!’ He himself closes his book with a little anecdote which strongly confirms my opinion as to this phase of his character. He visits an old servant long after the war. “‘Marse Jim,” says the man, “do you belong to any church?” “Oh, yes, I try to be a good Christian.” He laughed loud and long, and said, “Something must have scared you mighty bad, to change you so from what you was when I had to care for you.”'
Yet this man became a Roman Catholic! This man who had all his life trusted nobody, who had placed his own judgment above that of every other, took the church which sets itself above all judgment, treats kings and commanders and babes and sucklings alike! It may have been for this very reason. If he was to make the surrender, he may have preferred to make it absolute, and where the Lees and Jacksons would have had to make it, too. Nevertheless, I find a singular piquancy in the image of him who is said to have jeoparded great battles by his stout self-will, prostrating himself before the Madonna and confessing senile peccadilloes to a black-frocked priest.
- The italics are mine.↩