Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CWL--- James Longstreet Inexpertly Defamed

General James Longstreet in the West: A Monumental Failure, Judith Lee Hallock, McWhiney Foundation Press, 1998, 134 pp., maps, b/w photographs,order of battle index, 134 pp., $11.95.

A diatribe is defined both as a long monotonous piece of writing and a wooden or metal strip serving as a guide for making a true level surface on wet concrete pavement. General James Longstreet in the West: A Monument Failure may be viewed as having the attributes of both types of diatribe. It is a monotonous, simplistic and negative presentation of Longstreet's late 1863 generalship. It is also a scraper of sorts, one that simplifies by trimming away all that is excess and all that does not support the end that is desired by the worker. Yet, this slender work is padded.

Of the 134 pages, 39 are Orders of Battle for four armies. Two of these armies are Federal and two Confederate. So about 25% of the text is extraneous since the book is about a personality and not regiments or brigades. Of the remainding pages, one half to two-thirds of each page is taken up by a mini-biography, a map, or a photograph. Several of biographical enteries do not bear on the topic. Mary Chesnut's biography takes up major portions of two pages. She is not mentioned in the text at all, except in an other extraneous biographical entry, that of James Seddon.

In this book, there are maybe 25 pages of orignal text and even that is padded. Five pages, nearly the entire description of the Battle of Chickamauga is a direct quote from a soldier of the 28th Alabama. In a simplistic fashion and using her own words, the author informs the reader that Longstreet at Gettysburg potters around in sullen activity. The source of the author's conclusion is an unnamed staff officer serving an unnamed general. At Gettysburg the author has Lee accepting full responsibility for the defeat and leaves Longstreet "basking in his innocence." Lee may have been relieved to be "rid of the sulking subordinate" when Longstreet and his command is sent to Bragg immediately before the Battle of Chickamuaga. (pages 23 and 24)

After briefly covering the Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Knoxville Campaigns, the author states that military historians have concluded that a competent commander must possess intelligence, intuition, determination and moral courage. For the author, Longstreet pocesses none of these traits but is lazy, disobedient, obstinate, morally a coward. (p. 84)

Now, I am not a Longstreet worshipper and he does have his faults. Far from perfect, Longstreet fiddled with his own biography, feuded with McLaws during and after the war, was less than cooperative or supportive of Bragg at Chattanooga and failed to achieve a success at Knoxville. The Knoxville campaign, both Grant and Longstreet knew was pointless. Knoxville could fall to Longstreet but would be outflanked and given up because Chattanooga was held by the Federals. On the other hand, if the Union retreated from Chattanooga then Knoxville would easily fall to the Confederates.

The author states that "despite his delusions of competence, Longstreet proved himself incapable of independent command. His incompetence was exceeded only by his arrogance" (p. 84) Her argument is decidedly unproven in this book which never rises above being a diatribe padded with extaneous material.

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