Micheal Shaara's The Killer Angels

General Longstreet's Influence at Gettysburg

by: Reid

Click here to go to the bottom of the page.

Click here to hear my sound of a cannon.

General James "Pete" Longstreet-- a symbol of wisdom and conservatism in the Confederate Army. In Micheal Shaara's The Killer Angels, Longstreet is one of the few high ranking officers not from Virginia. He has three children up until the Civil War when all three of them die from fever the winter before Gettysburg. It seems as if part of him dies when his children die, because he no longer partakes in games like poker which once lured him. Longstreet is second in command to General Robert Lee. The two generals, Lee and Longstreet, come into conflict about strategy because the two are very different. Longstreet uses defensive strategies unlike Lee and the rest of the Confederate Army which utilizes an all out Napoleaonic attack on the North, as witnessed by Longstreet: "thereís no strategy to this bloody war. What it is is old Napoleon and a hell of a lot of chivalry. Thatís all it is" (251). General James Longstreet, with his defensive strategies, tries to take warfare to a new level at Gettysburg, but under the scrutiny of General Robert Lee, his attempts die, and with it a number of good and honest men that he considers family.

General Longstreet is General Leeís right-hand man. Lee sometimes refers to him as his "old war horse,"(XVII) meaning that Longstreet is dependable when Lee really needs him to be. Lee counts on him to tell the honest truth, even though Lee may not want to hear it at the time. However, Lee also knows Longstreet is a very stubborn man, and if there is a disagreement, it will be difficult to persuade Longstreet to think in terms of Lee: "He wanted no argument now. He had been down this road before, and Longstreet was immovable, and there was no point in argument. . ."(84). Longstreet, a very knowledgeable man, advises defensive strategies during the Battle of Gettysburg. However, all of his suggestions are shot down. After the first day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Longstreet suggests disengaging and cutting the Union army off from the rear. Longstreet does not want to risk an all-out attack, which Lee favors, because he knows the north occupies high ground, a tremendous advantage, and a large amount of lives would be lost if Leeís plan is carried out. This is the reason Longstreet does not want to attack because he is "under the impression that it would be our strategy to conduct a defensive campaign, wherever possible, in order to keep this army intact" (111). However, the army receives heavy casualties during the second day at Gettysburg when they try to attack the heavily fortified Union position.

On the third day, Longstreet again tries to persuade General Lee of using a defensive strategy by saying, "Sir, Iíve found a way south that seems promising" (285). Lee does not listen to Longstreet : "General, the enemy is there and thereís where Iím going to strike him" (285). Leeís tactic is to attack the center of the Union line, hoping that the North has fortified the flanks overnight, since previous attacks took place there, leaving the center weak and vulnerable. Lee is dead wrong. The south loses a lot of good men on the third day of Gettysburg.

Longstreet hates to see his men go down like flies and says to Fremantle, "I appreciate honor and bravery and courage . . . but the point of the war is not to show how brave you are and how you can die in a manly fashion, face to the enemy. God knows itís easy to die. Anybody can die" (133). Some of the fellow officers, such as John Hood, agree with Longstreetís proposals but their input is not really valued. Once the army is out on the field nothing can be done to change the orders of Lee or else the whole master plan would be ruined. The main reason why Longstreet has a defensive standpoint to the war is because he is out on the battle field, participating, and watching the terrors of war, men suffering and men dying. Lee, however, does not participate in the battles, so it is easy for him to come up with a plan knowing that many soldiers will die because he is not involved.

Longstreet is a very sensitive man. Having lost all of his children from illness, Longstreet knows what it is like to lose somebody who is loved. Longstreet remembers the deaths of his children and the "sweet faces: moment of enormous pain" (127). This image continually haunts him throughout the war. In relation to Longstreetís children, his children at the present time are his soldiers. He knows that for every soldier out there, someone is going to miss them greatly if they die in the war, and he does not want to create a life of mourning for the fallen soldier. On the third day of the battle, Lee orders a full out attack on the Union army down the middle of Cemetery Hill. Lee hopes to split the army in two. However, Longstreet knows that Leeís plan is going to be a disaster because the Union troops will pick off the waves of men as they walk in the open for a mile. Longstreet can only protest, knowing that nothing will be done. When the time comes to start the attack, "Longstreet was crying" (319). There is an overwhelming sense of emotion knowing that it could be the last time a friend is seen alive because Longstreet knows that there is going to be tremendous casualties, more than the Confederate army has ever seen. Longstreet watches helplessly from a "rail fence, hugging his chest with both arms" (330) and "the neat military lines beginning to come apart as they crossed the road and no order beyond that but black struggling clots and a few flags in the smoke, tilting like sails above the white sea, going down one by one" (330). Longstreet is lost in a world of his own as he contemplates his actions, knowing many good men will die or are already dead.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. The north gained momentum from this battle and used it until the south surrendered at Appomattox two years later. Longstreet feels, to his dying day, that what General Lee did was wrong and he should have used a more defensive tactic during the Battle of Gettysburg. However, all Longstreet can do in the war is only make suggestions because General Lee is the commander in chief. Longstreet is a man of honor whose ideas could have helped the Confederate Army be victorious at Gettysburg, but in the end is ignored by General Lee.

Click here to go to the top.