Longstreet vs. Jackson
Jeffry Wert’s cover story “Lee’s Best Subordinate” in the August 2006 issue is in my opinion wrong. James Longstreet was not Lee’s best general.
Longstreet was a failure when given independent command. His conduct at the Battle of Seven Pines, in which he was in charge of 30,000 troops and provided the primary attack force, was less than exemplary. His orders were vague and misunderstood, causing the columns under Maj. Gens. D.H. Hill and Benjamin Huger to take the wrong road and march south instead of toward the isolated Union position to the east. These delays caused confusion, and the subsequent attack on Brig. Gen. Samuel Heintzelman’s III Corps was slow and piecemeal. Longstreet blamed General Huger for the failed assaults. Later in the Knoxville campaign in late 1863, he led a failed attack, then blamed Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws for it this time. It was always someone else’s fault.
The victory at Second Manassas was due to Lee’s bold strategy and Lt. Gen. Thomas Jackson’s excellent decision to attack Union Maj. Gen. John Pope and then pull him into counterattacking his corps, which was in a great defensive position with artillery placed to sweep the entire field to the front. If Longstreet had attacked on the afternoon of August 29 when Lee urged him to, he could have captured or destroyed Pope’s entire army. But Longstreet said, “The time was just not right.” Again he was too slow to act, and it cost the South a huge victory.
At Gettysburg Longstreet’s behavior and lack of first-rate generalship hurt the Confederates dearly. He disagreed with Lee on strategy, as a result delaying the movements of his divisions. He failed to attack in the early morning of day two like Lee planned. He failed to have Pickett’s Division brought forward for an early attack on day three. And quite possibly the worst mistake Longstreet made was in not properly planning the tactical details of the battles on days two and three. Lieutenant General James Longstreet was one of the major contributors to the South’s loss. His conduct bordered on dereliction of duty and insubordination.
No, Stonewall Jackson was head and shoulders above Longstreet. His Valley victories of 1862 at McDowell, Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic are legendary and still studied to this day at West Point. His resolve and fearless conduct greatly perpetuated the Confederates’ victory at the First Battle of Manassas. He chose a great defensive position at the unfinished railroad cut and drew Pope to him at Second Manassas. His performances at Harpers Ferry, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were superb. Jackson understood that if you act swiftly at the crucial moment, you can achieve great victories. Longstreet did not.
Lee summed it up with these words on Jackson: “Such an Executive Officer the sun never shone on! I have but to show him my design, and I know that if it can be done, it will be done. No need for me to send or watch him. Straight as the needle to the pole he advanced to the execution of my purpose. Oh the daring, skill, and energy of this great and good soldier.”
C. Michael Black
Jeffry Wert responds: Most of the criticisms that Mr. Black notes of Longstreet’s generalship are contained in my article. Like all men, Longstreet had failings. He also performed skillfully, if not brilliantly, on some battlefields of the war. Mr. Black is in error when he blames Longstreet for not attacking on August 29 at Second Manassas. Lee wanted to attack until reports came in of a Union force on the army’s right flank, finally concurring with Longstreet to delay an assault. What Mr. Black does not note is Stonewall Jackson’s failure, as instructed, to support Longstreet’s counterattack the next day. Jackson may have had good reasons not to advance, but he never explained why he had not done so.
Lee did not order an early morning assault on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg. Mr. Black is wrong in that contention. Longstreet, as he himself admitted, deserves some of the responsibility for the battle’s outcome, but ultimately primary responsibility rests with Lee. Longstreet’s objections to Lee’s plans, notably on July 3, were sustained by the results.
It was not my intention to compare Jackson’s generalship with Longstreet’s. It should be noted that Jackson was not always brilliant. He bungled attacks at First Kernstown and Cedar Mountain. His failure to act on June 30, 1862, was in the estimation of E. Porter Alexander more important to ultimate Confederate defeat than events at Gettysburg. Jackson was a great soldier, but not an infallible one. It was Longstreet who was made the senior subordinate in the army, not Jackson.
I think that this debate will continue for a long time. It is part of what makes history so fascinating to serious students.
In referring to Thomas Francis Meagher as an “alcohol fogged blowhard” and a “bloviating fraud,” Richard F. Welch, in his article “The Green and the Blue” (October 2006), maligned a man who risked his life speaking out against British oppression in Ireland and who, as a Union officer, fought gallantly for his newly adopted country.
Lieutenant Colonel David Strother, an aide to General George McClellan, started the rumors of Meagher’s inebriation at Antietam. In his diary, Strother stated that Meagher was drunk and fell off his horse. Strother’s comment was made even though he had been a mile and a half away from the battle while Brig. Gen. Meagher was in the midst of shot and shell, urging his men forward. Eyewitnesses stated that Meagher’s horse was shot from under him. Major General Edwin Sumner, in his dispatches from the battle, would mention Meagher’s “zeal and devotion,” and Brig. Gen. Francis Barlow stated, “Meagher rode before his troops during fire.”
At Fredericksburg, as attested by Surgeon Lawrence Reynolds, Meagher was suffering from a severe leg ulcer, which left him unable to lead his troops. Although Thomas Francis Meagher will remain a controversial figure, his oratory and exploits are a testimony to his bravery.
Massapequa Park, N.Y.
Richard Welch responds: The statement attributed to Francis Channing Barlow in Mr. Fitzpatrick’s letter comes from the October 23, 1862, entry in the diary of Maria Lydig Daly (published as Diary of a Union Lady, Harold Earl Hammond [ed.], Funk and Wagnall’s, New York, 1962). Assuming the statement means Meagher rode before the Irish Brigade and not Barlow’s two regiments, it does not necessarily contradict the rumors that Meagher was intoxicated, causing him to fall from his horse later. Indeed, the rumors of his tumble spread so fast and so far that it is difficult to see how they could be entirely traceable to a comment privately written by one staff officer.
Maria Daly was the wife of Judge Charles P. Daly, an influential Irish-American Democrat, and Barlow’s patron. She personally knew Corcoran, Meagher and virtually every important Democrat and Irish military figure. As such she was privy to various eyewitness reports and personal reminiscences of the Irish Brigade’s battles. Perhaps it is instructive to read her account of Meagher’s conduct at First Manassas. In her February 5, 1862, entry she wrote: “It would seem, from all we can learn, that Meagher was intoxicated and had just sense and elation enough to make one rush forward and afterwards fell from his horse drunk, and was picked up by the troopers, who…brought him off the field behind him. So much for our Irish hero, Thomas Francis Meagher. He has made bitter enemies in the 69th Regiment.”
That a brigadier general, especially one who sought military glory, could not commandeer a horse, or at least find aides to take him to the field at Fredericksburg where his men were making a desperate charge, is hard to ignore in any analysis of Meagher’s military career. The New York Irish press tried to ignore it by conspicuously omitting his name from published accounts of the battle. From here Meagher’s personal stock plummeted, leading him to seek his fortunes in the West, where he ultimately met his death.
Englishmen in the Irish Brigade
In his article on the Irish in the Union Army “The Green and the Blue,” Richard Welch references the 1861 creation of the “Irish regiments” including the 28th and 29th Massachusetts, which were “quickly combined into one regiment, the 28th Massachusetts.” It is true that the Irish volunteers of these two regiments were combined into the 28th due to a failure to reach recruiting goals (mostly because large numbers of Irishmen had already joined other Massachusetts regiments such as the 15th and the 19th). Interestingly, the 29th Massachusetts Regiment was not abandoned but remained in service with mostly native-born volunteers from around the state.
When mustered in by Governor John Andrew, neither regiment was immediately sent to the Irish Brigade. The 28th was dispatched to participate in the Siege of Charleston, S.C., and the 29th to garrison duty at Hampton Roads, Va. In the late spring of 1862, both regiments were assigned to the Army of the Potomac as part of the buildup for the Peninsula campaign. As is to be expected of military bureaucracy of every era, the regiment assigned to Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade of the II Corps was the native-born 29th, while the all-Irish 28th, recruited specifically to reinforce that brigade, was instead assigned to the IX Corps under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside.
The 29th fought with the Irish Brigade for five months and saw action at Malvern Hill and in the attack on the Bloody Lane at Sharpsburg. To show their respect for the 29th, Brig. Gen. Meagher and the Irish officers of the brigade secretly purchased a green “fine silk Irish” flag for the regiment and arranged for II Corps commander Maj. Gen. Edwin Sumner to present it on Thanksgiving 1862.
The 29th’s Lieutenant Augustus Ayling recorded the following in his diary: “By some means it came to the knowledge of our Colonel [Joseph] Barnes who also learned it was the wish of General Meagher that the flag be carried by the regiment. While we would have been proud to receive the flag as a token of the respect from our Irish comrades, and fully appreciated the spirit in which the gift was to be offered, we felt that not being an Irish regiment, we could not carry it. This was explained to General Meagher, the matter was dropped but it was a very kind thing on the part of the officers.”
A week after the incident the long anticipated occurred—the 29th was switched for the truly Irish 28th. A few weeks later the 28th would lead the Irish Brigade up the slope of Marye’s Heights and into immortality. Over the course of the following 12 months the 29th marched with Burnside’s “traveling circus” from Vicksburg, Miss., to its own moment in history at Fort Sanders in Knoxville, Tenn.
In the Nov./Dec. 2006 Reviews department we mistakenly credited the essay “A Stampede of Stampeeds” found in The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 to Robert K. Krick, when it was actually written by Robert E.L. Krick.
Send letters to Civil War Times Editor, World History Group, 741 Miller Drive, S.E., Ste. D-2, Leesburg VA 20175, or e-mail to CivilWarTimes@thehistorynet.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.