James Longstreet was the son of a farmer and had 11 brothers and sisters. He spent his early years in Augusta, Georgia. After the death of his father in 1833, he went with his mother to Somerville, Alabama. He entered West Point from Alabama in 1838. He graduated 54 out of 62 in the Class of 1842.
Longstreet was commissioned in the Infantry.
He served in the Indian Campaigns and in the Mexican War. Brevetted 2nd lieutenant of the 4th Infantry for tours in Missouri and Louisiana, he served with the 8th Infantry in Florida. Longstreet participated in the Mexican War under Gen. Zachary Taylor and later joined the forces with Gen. Winfield Scott for the expedition to Mexico City. After he was shot in the thigh in Chapultepee, while he was carrying the regimental flag, he went home and married Marie Louis Garland, the daughter of one of his former brigade commanders. He was brevetted to major.
After the start of the Civil War, Longstreet resigned his commission as a major in the U.S. Army on June 1, 1861, and joined the Confederacy. Seeking the post of Paymaster, which he held in the U.S. Army, he was instead appointed to Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. As a result of his skillful leadership at 1st Manassas/Bull Run, he was promoted to major general.
Being promoted to be the Confederacy's senior lieutenant general, he led an independent expedition into southeastern Virginia where he displayed a lack of ability on his own. Rejoining Gen. Robert E. Lee, he opposed attacking at Gettysburg in favor of maneuvering Meade out of his position. Longstreet had come to believe in the strategic offense and the tactical defense. He felt that the Gettysburg Campaign should be a strategic offensive but a tactical defensive plan and thought that Lee thought the same way. His delay in attacking the Union army on the 2nd day at Gettysburg and his lethargy in organizing "Pickett's Charge" on the 3rd day exposed him to the most vindictive criticism by Southerners after the war.
Detached to reinforce Gen. Braxton Bragg in Georgia, he commanded a wing of the army on the second day at Chickamauga. In the dispute over the follow-up of the victory, he was critical of Bragg and was soon detached to operate in East Tennessee. Here again he showed an incapacity for independent operations, especially in the siege of Knoxville.
During the Wilderness Campaign, he was wounded by being accidently shot by his own men on May 6, 1864.
The bullet had entered near his throat and went into his right shoulder. He was out of action until October 19. He resumed command in October during the Petersburg operations and commanded on the north side of the James River. He remained with Lee through the surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Lee referred to him as "My Old War Horse" and his men called him "Old Pete."
After the war, Longstreet became president of an insurance company and supervised the Louisiana State Lottery. Later, he befriended President Ulysses S. Grant and became a Republican, by which he alienated fellow Southerners. He served as President Rutherford B. Hayes Minister to Turkey. He also served as commissioner of Pacific Railroads under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, from 1897 to 1904, and became a U.S. Marshal for Georgia.
Southern sentiment turned against him with increasing vehemence as it became more evident that gettysburg had been the turning point of the war, and that he might be considered largely responsible for the Confederate loss. As a result of this, he had to rely on his political appointments for a living.
Being criticized by many former Confederates, he struck back with his book, From Manassas to Appomattox. He outlived most of his high-ranking postwar detractors. He died at Gainsville, Georgia, on January 2, 1904, the last of the high command of the Confederacy. He is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery, Gainesville, GA .
Brigadier General - June 17, 1861
Major General - October 7, 1861
Lieutenant General - October 9, 1862
Department of Virginia and North Carolina: February 25-May 1863
Department of East Tennessee: November 5, 1863-April 12, 1864