Longstreet’s Command Audition: Tennessee in the Fall of 1863

August 1-4, 2018
A BGES Civil War Field University Program
With Norm Dasinger from Dalton, GA

James Longstreet was a Joe Johnston man. He had been so since the start of the war. Strong early performance in leadership roles rapidly advanced him in the Army of Northern Virginia and when promotions were made Longstreet was always senior. When the organizational structure called for the creation of Corps, Longstreet was promoted to Lieutenant General and command of Lee’s First Corps. Lee called him his “Old War Horse.”

In the early part of the war, Joe Johnston depended on Longstreet and indeed he was given a leading role in the Confederate attack at Seven Pines in late May 1862. When Johnston was wounded in the battle, Robert E. Lee assumed the command of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Johnston recovered in Richmond and when he was ready to return to the field in October 1862, he was tapped to take the late Albert Sydney Johnson’s command of the western theater. Before he assumed command, Longstreet wrote him a fawning letter urging him to be careful and offering to serve him in any capacity that he could be useful. This from a man who had already achieved acclaim for his sledge hammer blows at Second Manassas. Longstreet had opinions and he was not reluctant to express them. After the December 1862 battle at Fredericksburg, Lee assigned Longstreet the command of Southeastern Virginia and Eastern North Carolina.

In semi-independent command Longstreet was slow to respond to Lee’s call to return to the army and advocated in April 1863 that he be sent with two divisions to augment Braxton Bragg’s command thus releasing troops to confront US Grant’s moves against Vicksburg. But with the death of Stonewall Jackson and Lee’s plans to move into Pennsylvania Longstreet’s ambition was thwarted. Perhaps flattered by Lee’s attention, Longstreet fancied himself Lee’s confidant and perhaps his equal.

After the Gettysburg campaign, Longstreet wrote a letter to Senator Louis Wigfall asking his assistance in getting him released to go to the west–noting that he was suffocating under Lee’s yolk. Weakened by his first major failure, Lee released Longstreet and two of his divisions to go west where the unpopular Braxton Bragg was under harsh criticism for his leadership style. Officers were calling for Bragg’s relief–Longstreet was an outside solution–over the next three months he would cement his destiny as a Lieutenant General–nothing more. This is the record of his performance.

The complete itinerary is here on our main website: Longstreet’s Command Audition: Tennessee in the Fall of 1863.

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