James Longstreet

General James Longstreet / General Longstreet

Lieutenant General James Longstreet was second in command to General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate army had been reorganized just a few weeks earlier after the death of Stonewall Jackson following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

General Longstreet met with Lee mid-May to discuss the splitting of forces to reinforce Confederate positions on the western front. Vicksburg was under unrelenting pressure from General Ulysses S. Grant and Longstreet felt it best that they concentrate some of their forces to relieve the beleaguered Confederate army.

James Longstreet, General James Longstreet, General Longstreet_Lee disagreed with Longstreet's suggestion and instead chose to focus their attention on invading the north and winning a victory on enemy soil. On the other hand, Longstreet felt they should fight a defensive war and pick and choose the fields of battle carefully always assuring that they held the best ground and forcing the Union army to attack.

As the Confederates engaged Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg on day 1, James Longstreet arrived on the scene around midday. The Confederates won a victory on July 1 and Longstreet thought they should move around the Union left flank and put their army between the Union forces and Washington.

Longstreet suggested to Lee that they could find a strong defensive position on the ground of their choosing and General Meade would have to attack to protect the capitol. Lee was determined to attack the Union stating "If the enemy is there tomorrow, we must attack him".

On Gettysburg day 2, the plan was for James Longstreet to lead an attack on the Union left flank. In order to mask the movement of his troops however, it took most of the day marching in July heat to get his men in position for the assault. Longstreet also had to wait for the arrival of some troops needed for the assault as they had been streaming in all night and into the morning of July 2.

James Longstreet, General James Longstreet, General Longstreet_With his troops finally in position, Longstreet began his assault on the Union left at 4pm. Wave after wave of Confederate troops attacked Union positions in locations such as The Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Devil's Den and Little Round Top. Later in the day Ewell attacked the Union right and was unable to attain the heights. At the end of Gettysburg day 2, the Confederate attacks failed to dislodge the Union troops from the high ground.

James Longstreet did not meet with General Lee that night as would be typical. Instead he drew up plans to swing around the Union left and attack the enemy rear and flank. At first light, Longstreet gave the orders to attack as per his plans yet General Lee was distressed to hear that he ordered this attack without consulting him.

Lee had planned an early coordinated attack similar to the day before and would utilize General George Pickett's fresh divisions to lead. Because of this and with the unexpected attack on the Confederate troops that occupied lower Culp's Hill, Lee ordered a massive infantry assault on the Union center to be led by Longstreet.

Longstreet advised against this attack saying, "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 fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position".

Despite Longstreet's objections the attack was ordered and he had to carry it out. He could not even speak but only nod his head upon giving the order to General George Pickett to attack. The assault was a disaster and the Confederates sustained casualties that they would never recover from.

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