Saturday, July 2, 2011

Longstreet Arrives in Manassas

James Longstreet
Around the same time Captain Porter Alexander joined Brigadier General G.T. Beauregard's staff, the general with whom his fate would be most connected also came to Manassas - Brigadier General James Longstreet. Called "Pete" (Civil War generals seemingly were never called what history has taken to calling them), Longstreet may even have arrived on the same date as Alexander, his future chief of artillery, though Alexander's uncertainty about the date makes it hard to be sure.

What is sure is that when Pete Longstreet stepped off the train at Manassas Junction he became commander of the Fourth Brigade of Beauregard's army, replacing Colonel G.H. Terrett, who took over command of the garrison at Camp Pickens on the railroad (near the site of the Olde Towne Inn today). The brigade was made of three Virginia regiments, the 1st (from the Richmond area, led by Colonel P.T. Moore), the 11th (from Lynchburg, under Colonel Sam Garland), and the 17th (local men from around Manassas, led by Alexandria-native Colonel Montgomery Corse). Within the next two weeks, the 5th North Carolina would be added too.

It was a sign of temporary President Jefferson Davis's deep respect for Longstreet that the Georgian replaced a Virginian in charge of three regiments of Virginia troops. Even among Northerners in 1861, there was a much stronger sense of belonging to one's state, than one's nation in America. As Shelby Foote famously noted in Ken Burns' classic PBS documentary on the Civil War, in the early 1860s it was more common for people to say "the United States are" rather than "the United States is" (though Foote somewhat overstates the role of the war in the grammatical transition to today's version).

In addition to the three regiments, Longstreet inherited a staff. Lieutenant Frank Armstead as acting assistant adjutant-general, Lieutenant Peyton Manning as aide-de-camp (leave it to someone on the internet to debug the theory that he is related to the quarterback), and Dr. J.S.D. Cullen as medical director (who would decades later loyally defend Longstreet, when other Southerners turned on him). With him, Longstreet had brought his own aide-de-camp (a helper in general matters), one T.J. Goree, a Texan that he had befriended while coming east and invited to join him. Together, they would have to turn their three (later four) regiments from a collection of local militia companies into a functioning brigade of warriors.

The person most surprised by this important responsibility had to be Longstreet himself. The military culture that had prevailed since after the War of 1812 up until the Civil War had a strict division between "the line" (soldiers and officers that did the fighting) and "the staff" (soldiers and officers that did the planning). Longstreet had graduated from West Point in 1842, 54th out of 56 in his class. With such a poor academic standing and with a very poor disciplinary record, Longstreet was had no choice but to take up a commission of Brevet Second Lieutenant in the infantry - regarded as the lowest possible position. His first post was with the U.S. 4th Infantry at Jefferson Barracks in Lemay, Missouri, where the good-natured Longstreet became close friends with Ulysses "Sam" Grant. It was Longstreet and Grant met the Georgian's fourth cousin (looking for social company to pass the time, as young officers did), Julia Dent, who (after several tries) Grant proposed to. Meanwhile, Longstreet had fallen for his commanding officer's daughter, Louise Garland.

But the romances was delayed by outbreak of war with Mexico. Longstreet was transferred to the U.S. 8th Infantry and fought first with Zachary Taylor, and then for Winfield Scott. He received brevet promotions to captain and major for his roles in battle, and at Chapultepec, the key defensive position in Scott's siege of Mexico City, Longstreet took a bullet in the thigh carrying the 8th's flag to the top of the castle. He passed it off to Lieutenant George Pickett, who took it to the top.

Longstreet ended the war a captain (and still a brevet major) in command of a company of the 8th Infantry. He married Louise and Grant married Julia in 1848 (some Grant biographers say Longstreet was his best man, but all agree he was at the wedding), and Longstreet went on duty patrolling the newly conquered southwest territories. Ten years later, he finally received the promotion to major and took over as his regiment's paymaster - the staff position responsible for making sure everyone in the regiment was paid.

When Beauregard began the bombardment of Sumter, Longstreet was still in the southwest. "It was a sad day when we took leave of lifetime comrades and gave up a service of twenty years," Longstreet wrote much later about his decision to take Louise and his children and head towards home. A fellow officer asked him to reconsider, but he asked them what he would do in the same situation when his state was calling for him to leave the Union. "He confessed that he would obey the call."

As Longstreet was leaving Fort Craig he was approached by a sergeant from Virginia, who said that he and several privates wanted to leave with him to return to Virginia and fight.

I explained to him that private soldiers could not go without authority from the War Department; that it was different with commissioned officers, in that the latter could resign their commissions... but that he and his comrades had enlisted for a set of specified term of years, and by their oaths were bound to the term of enlistment.
Longstreet was a major because of the nomination of the President and a confirmation of the Senate, a vestige of the old European system where officers were also gentlemen -- the aristocracy. But the sergeant held a grade descended from the feudal peasants, who were bound to the land and therefore had no choice in their status. Even today, every officer is nominated for a commission by the President and confirmed by the Senate, while enlisted men are promoted by decision of officers -- though both are now considered equally bound by terms of service. The U.S. Army had about 1,080 officers on the eve of the Civil War, 286 of which left to become Confederates, a whopping 26 percent. Of the roughly 13,550 enlisted men, only 26 can be confirmed as having fled to join the Confederacy.

Longstreet left his family in El Paso for the dangerous cross-country trek through Indian territory to Galveston, Texas, then took a small boat New Orleans, where he made T.J. Goree's acquaintance and was named a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army. Goree would remain his aide from the banks of Bull Run until Appomattox Courthouse. When Longstreet finally reached Richmond on June 29, he barely had a day's rest before being ordered to Manassas to take over the Fourth Brigade as a brigadier general, much to his surprise. "When I left the line service under appointment of paymaster," he reasoned, "I had given up all aspirations of military honor, and thought to settle down into more peaceful pursuits."

Longstreet could see already that he would need to abandon the peaceful pursuits of a paymaster, the job for which he considered himself most qualified. Whether he might now aspire to military honor would depend primarily on if he could train the men now under his command.

Print Sources:
  • From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America by James Longstreet

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