Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writings about Longstreet

On pages 182-2 of Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant, James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History William Garrett Piston wrote "Works critical of Longstreet meanwhile appeared in great number, overwhelming the few that cast him in a favorable light. Two of the best-selling authors of the Centennial period were journalists: Bruce Catton and Clifford Dowdey. . . Catton's view of Longstreet conformed to that of the anti-Longstreet faction. . . Dowdey wrote a number of popular histories, all critical of Longstreet in the extreme. . ."

"Longstreet's reputation also suffered from the cumulative effects of many lesser assaults. Biographies of Civil War figures were enormously popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Preoccupied with their own subject, biographers all too often accepted and repeated without question the prevailing derogatory view of Longstreet. As it had since 1872, Gettysburg remained crucial to Longstreet's place in history. Works which accepted and perpetuated the anti-Longstreet faction's version of the battle include Joseph Mitchell's Decisive Battles of the Civil War (1955), G.F.R. Henderson's The Civil War: A Soldier's view (1958), and Shelby Foote's three-volume The Civil War: A narrative (1958-1974). Books which used all or part of the standard accusations against Longstreet ranged in quality from monographs by professional historians, such as Clement Eaton's A History of the Southern Confederacy (1959) to poorly researched works by writers cashing in on the burgeoning popular interest in the war. Examples of the latter include Rebel Boast (1956), by Many Wade Wellman; They met at Gettysburg (1956), by Edward Stackpole; and The Guns of Gettysburg (1958), by Fairfax Downey.

Piston concludes his book rather depressingly with the following: "James Longstreet's negative image is not likely to change. His role in Southern culture has been that of villain, not hero, and cultural roles cannot be overturned by scholarship. The most laudatory biography imaginable could not give Longstreet anything to compare with the hundred years of adoration accorded Lee and Jackson. The artificiality of the stereotypical Confederate hero is not the issue. Longstreet's picture did not hang in schoolrooms for generation after generation. His birthplace did not become a shrine nor his grave a place of pilgrimage, and his birthday was not made a state holiday. As long as Southern history remains something that is lived and felt as much as read, Longstreet will be remembered primarily as Lee's tarnished lieutenant."

Piston wrote his book in 1987 based upon the doctoral dissertation he published in 1982.  I couldn't find out much about him. Here is CSPAN video of Piston talking about another of his books (on the Battle of Wilson Creek) Battle of Wilson's Creek - C-SPAN Video Library

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