Sunday, August 30, 2009

Longstreet: Unfairly Maligned

Since today is the anniversary of the third day of Second Bull Run or Manassas, it is fitting to discuss General James Longstreet's role in it.

On the third day of the battle, his corps launched the largest mass attack of the war, 25,000 men, and broke General Pope's army on the Bull Run battlefield. This assault overshadowed Picketts Charge by 10,000 men.

Longstreet prevailed upon Lee to delay launching the attack until the afternoon of August 30th. On three prior occasions, Longstreet and his staff persuaded Lee to wait for more advantageous conditions. At one point, Longstreet's corps would have had to assault the fortified position on the Warrenton Turnpike. He launched his attack at 4pm on Day 3 of the battle, causing a rout of the Union Army.

Advocates of the Lost Cause, especially the Lee biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, argue that the seeds for the disaster at Gettysburg were laid at Second Manassas. They point to the fact that Longstreet was able to persuade Lee from attacking earlier than was done.

This argument presupposes that Lee was infallible. Robert E. Lee was a great general but he made mistakes. The attack on Day 3 of Gettysburg was a failure of military judgment. On the other hand, Longstreet's attack on the third day of Second Bull Run succeeded because he sent his men forward under favorable conditions. Longstreet clearly did not believe in assault for its own sake. I think he was maligned partially because of his stands during Reconstruction.

His assault on this day in 1862 was an impressive achievement.

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