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General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier Paperback – December 1, 1994

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

This is the most comprehensive military biography to date of the man Robert E. Lee called "my war horse." Wert ( Mosby's Rangers ) makes a strong case for James Longstreet (1821-1904) as the best corps commander on either side of the Civil War. A superb battle captain and a masterful tactician, he clearly recognized the limitations of the offensive under mid-19th century conditions. For Longstreet, Gettyburg in particular was not an opportunity, but a mistake. Wert argues convincingly that events vindicated Longstreet's opposition to Lee's insistence on repeatedly attacking the strong Union positions. Longstreet also recognized more clearly than most of his Confederate contemporaries that war was not an absolute. He accepted the political consequences of military defeat; his reconciliation with the restored Union brought him the open contempt of irreconcilables like Jubal Early. The resulting controversies obscured Longstreet's military reputation. This work restores a balanced view of the career of one of America's great soldiers. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (December 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671892878
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671892876
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on February 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
Villified or (recently) greatly admired, James A. Longstreet sparks strong assessments among Civil War enthusiasts. Wert explains why.
This biography tells the story of the rise and military career of the general Lee referred to as "my old warhorse." A superb fighter - perhaps the most tenacious of Lee's Corps commanders, Longstreet had a preference for the defense, or at least a defensive posture awaiting an opportunity to counter-punch. His one independent fighting command, against Burnside in East Tennessee, revealed that the General was best suited to Corps command under a Lee or other officer of strategic vision.
Yet Longstreet served his cause well. Unwilling to join in the deification of Lee after the war (and even criticizing him on some matters), Longstreet also became a Republican and accepted an appointment from his old pre-war friend (now president) U.S. Grant. These moves caused a significant anti-Longstreet backlash across the South -- which taints his reputation even to this day.
I must say that Wert does a good job of exploring the controversary over his reputation and examining the highlights of his career. The information in the book is significant, if less than thorough and somewhat unevenly presented. I also found the voice of the author too present in the reading -- something in the way the book is written doesn't allow it to reach it's own voice or a consistently even flow. I would give this four stars for the subject and facts and three stars for the quality of the writing.
All in all, not bad and worthwhile if someone wants to acquaint themselves with Longstreet.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 1997
Format: Paperback
Wert's biography of Longstreet is one of the most balanced and thoroughly researched books about any Civil War general that I have ever read. Wert presents in detail the many sides of Longstreet - and those with whom Longstreet served. From the first chapter Wert shows that Longstreet was a soldier to be both praised and criticized - and Wert does not hesitate to do either........ One of the many features that I liked was Wert's willingness to present many sides of an issue. Even when Wert later offers his personal opinion, the reader is made aware of evidence that would support the opposite opinion. Most refreshing in an author of military history!........ The book is packed with information and Wert obviously conducted very exhaustive research. Not the usual dry biography, I found it hard to put down each night. My only complaint with the book was that it was not longer - I longed for more....... This is a great work and most ceratinly a MUST read.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Mike Powers on February 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
"General James Longstreet, The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier: A Biography" is a candid, fair and balanced portrait of a man who should, but doesn't, rank at the top of any list of the greatest American military leaders. James Longstreet's place in history has always been shrouded in controversy, much of it of his own making. In the decades since the Civil War, he has traditionally been blamed by historians for the Confederate army's loss at Gettysburg, and condemned for his service in the Grant administration as a traitor to the "Lost Cause."
Jeffry D. Wert's able pen (he writes in a very clear, concise and easily comprehensible style) and obviously meticulous research presents Lee's "old war-horse" as a general possessed with great strategic vision, an outstanding ability to lead troops in the field, and with tactically conservative, yet sound, instincts. Longstreet's personal flaws - his inability to control his emotions and support his superiors when he disagreed with them, and his vindictiveness toward his subordinates when they disagreed with him - are also fully explored. The author's admiration for his subject is evident throughout this book. The overall portrait that emerges is favorable - a general beloved by his troops and depended upon for his wise counsel and military skills by his boss, General Robert E. Lee; but also a military leader capable of serious misjudgments both on the field of battle, and in his dealings with both his superiors and subordinates.
This is one of the better biographies of one of the major figures of the Civil War, and a book I enjoyed thoroughly. I would have preferred a bit more detail on Longstreet's life after the Civil War, but that is my only (and very minor) reservation. Highly recommended for all Civil War enthusiasts!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Fitzgerald on December 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
From his assumption of command during The Seven Days, Robert E. Lee had two formidable Lieutenants: James Longstreet and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. This troika wrought more havoc on the Army of the Potomac, defeated that army so often and in such detail that the Army of Northern Virginia was thought to be invincible by everyone, North and South. The Army of Northern Virginia had made a habit of winning; the Army of the Potomac had made a habit of losing.

But Lee looses Jackson at Chancellorsville, a victim of Confederate friendly fire. It is at that moment most historians think the fortunes of the war changed. They are possibly correct. Jackson was an eclectic, prickly sort, who was totally committed to his enemy's destruction. He was an excellent tactician, drove his men to the extreme and had a habit of doing the unexpected. He was an offensive minded General, always seeking to attack. His loss was irreplaceable. So when it came time to again invade the North, the influence of Jackson within the command structure is missing.

James Longstreet has long been credited with Lee's loss at Gettysburg. After the war, as scapegoats for the South's loss were sought, Jubal Early rewrote the South's Gettysburg battle strategy, blaming Lee's loss at Gettysburg on Longstreet. Southern apologists were only too eager to adopt Longstreet as the reason the South lost the war. To be fair, no one else was offered up who made as much sense as Longstreet. Everyone agreed Lee could not be liable for his own decisions. And Jackson was dead. Today, looking back, Jackson would seem to be the most likely candidate, since he could not fight back, but after the Valley campaign, the Seven Days and his pivotal role in the Chancellorsville victory, he, like Lee, had been deified.
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