Art, Civil War, Gettysburg, Museums

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part III.

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Gettysburg Longstreet Monument Sculptor Gary Casteel and Alan E. Hunter.

 

Original publish date:  June 22, 2018

Any student of history knows that Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War. Up until 2:00 pm on July 3rd 1863, when General James Longstreet ordered General George Pickett out of the woods along Seminary Ridge, the South still had a chance. Pickett’s charge would fail miserably and less than 2 years later, the war for Southern independence was over. But the battle to restore both men’s reputations had just begun. As detailed in parts I and II of this series, that battle was waged by the General’s widows and would last well into the 20th century.

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Longstreet and his former Union adversaries in Gettysburg.
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Enlargement of the William Tipton image. Civil War commanders (from left)
Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Butterfield, James Longstreet and one-legged Dan Sickles
 pose in Gettysburg on July 3, 1888. Sickles lost his leg at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

After the General died in 1904, his widow Helen Dortch Longstreet, known as the “Fighting Lady,” spent the next half century fulfilling a promise made to her husband that “in the future, so long as I shall live, whenever your war record is attacked, I will make answer.” In 1939, as the founder of the Longstreet Memorial Association, she arranged to have a statue of her late husband placed at Gettysburg. The proposed Longstreet memorial would be created by sculptor Paul Manship and a scale model of the statue was unveiled at the site dedication event in July, 1941. The sample statue featured General Longstreet on a horse (with one foot up) urging his men forward with a wave of his hat held in his outstretched arm. At 12 feet high and 12 feet wide, it was placed atop a base of red marble and would be surrounded by stone seats for viewing.

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1940 Paul Manship model of James Longstreet Memorial at Gettysburg: never placed.

However, after a photo of the proposed statue was published in a local newspaper, the National Park Service wrote a letter to Mrs. Longstreet voicing a concern: “There is one feature that has caused considerable local comment and one I feel to be of sufficient importance to be called to your attention…The position of the horses’ feet in each of the existing equestrian statues now in the park tell a story. This fact is widely known and has become one of the items of which the visiting public likes to check. 1. Both feet of the ground: Rider died in action. 2. One foot off the ground: Rider wounded in action. 3. All four feet on the ground: Rider unscathed. As far as I have been able to determine this uniformity of position is but a happenstance. However, it is true within the park.”

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

Mrs Longstreet replied: “This will thank you warmly for your constructive criticism of the model of the proposed equestrian statue of General Longstreet for the Gettysburg field. I am forwarding it to Mr. Manship, the sculptor, who will, I am sure, will appreciate it as sincerely as I do. I know it is Mr. Manship’s intention to make the Longstreet Memorial the noblest on the Gettysburg battlefield and to correspond in every respect with the magnificent memorials already there.” And that is where the question remained until December 7. 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed everything and put the brakes on the Longstreet memorial plans at Gettysburg.

 

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Helen Dortch Longstreet (center) at the original site set aside by the National Park Service for the Longstreet Memorial, October 27, 1939. Park Superintendent James R. McConaghie (left of Mrs. Longstreet) and sculptor Paul Manship (right of Mrs. Longstreet). Little Round Top can be seen behind them.

With the coming of World War II, raising funds to build the Longstreet monument seemed pointless in the face of homefront shortages and War Bond fund raising rallies to fight the Axis. After the war, interest for Civil War monuments evaporated. Although Mrs. Longstreet’s efforts to raise funds for her husband’s monument continued, her health declined rapidly. By the mid-1950s, Mrs. Longstreet developed “mental problems” and in 1957 she was placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. She remained institutionalized there until her death on May 3, 1862. Three years later the Soldiers and Sailors of the Confederacy monument would instead be placed on the original ground selected for the Longstreet memorial.

 

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Helen Longstreet (left) with actress Mary Pickford and UCV Commander Julius F. Howell at the Gettysburg groundbreaking ceremony for the Longstreet equestrian statue on July 2, 1941. National Park Service Dr. J. Walter Coleman is at the left.

The Longstreet memorial remained forgotten for the next 30 years until pop culture and history collided to rekindle the legend of General James Longstreet. Ken Burns 1990 PBS documentary miniseries on the Civil War changed everything. Suddenly the Civil War was brought to the forefront like never before. Then came the 1993 movie Gettysburg which detailed the complicated men and ideals of this highly misunderstood period of American history. One of those most affected by the tarnished legend of Longstreet was a Sanford, North Carolina state forestry service heavy-equipment operator named Robert C. Thomas.
Thomas was moved to action after reading a 1990 book, “Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History”, written by Dr. William Garrett Piston, editor of North and South magazine and Professor at Southwest Missouri State University . Thomas shared the book with fellow Civil War enthusiasts and together they decided that Longstreet’s time was overdue. In June 1991, Robert & Joe Thomas, along with Ray King, Bill Bates and Sion Harrington formed the Longstreet Memorial Fund Committee. This band of dedicated activists began selling mugs, T-shirts, tote bags, pens and cross-stitch portraits of the general at re-enactments across the country to raise funds for a proper monument to honor General James Longstreet. Gettysburg sculptor Gary Casteel was enlisted to craft a monument for placement in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue on the battlefield.

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The former Hall of Presidents & First Ladies Museum-Now Gary Casteel’s Studio.

As fate would have it, during a late April trip to Gettysburg, I happened across the studio of Mr. Casteel. My habit is to wander the battlefield on early fog wrapped mornings before the tour buses role in while my wife Rhonda sleeps in. Last year, the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies wax museum was closed and all of the figures were sold off. The 363 lots sold in a January 2017 auction for a total of $217,409. If you’re interested, as am I, the average cost of a wax president was $3,088 while the average cost of a wax first lady figure was $437 proving that the wage gap transcends the pages of time. The top three highest-selling presidents were Abraham Lincoln ($9,350); Teddy Roosevelt ($8,800); Ulysses S. Grant ($6,820). Mary Todd Lincoln sold for $990 while Rosalynn Carter hammered down at a mere $247.50.
While relaxing atop my sunny perch on the Hancock equestrian monument base (across from the Evergreen cemetery gatehouse) I noticed that the old wax museum had undergone a facelift. So I wandered over to take a peek at the new digs and quite happily stumbled across the studio of none other than Gary Casteel, the sculptor of the Longstreet monument. i could hardly contain my excitement. I had heard stories about that monument for years since it’s 1998 installment and unveiling and immediately altered my travel plans in hopes of meeting this accomplished artist. It was well worth the wait.
Rhonda and I ventured over to the studio (at 789 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg) and much to my amazement, we were greeted by the artist in the flesh. Gary Casteel is the epitome of a southern gentleman. He speaks in measured tones that bespeak his West Virginia birthright. When I hear a West Virginia accent, I think of General Chuck Yeager. Tom Wolfe said it best in his book “The Right Stuff” when he described it as: “a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness” that seems to draw the listener in and immediately put them at peace. Phrases like “Oh my” frame words like Riv-ah, He-ah and Nev-ah to form sentences with genteel insight rarely heard in Hoosier land.

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Sculptor Gary Casteel in his Gettysburg studio.

Classical music fills the air of Gary Casteel’s studio and adds to the importance of the moment. Gary’s studio, adjacent to the entrance to the National Cemetery, is sparkly clean and meticulously organized. Not at all like certain media portrayals would lead you to believe an artist’s studio should look like. There is no tortured artist at work here my friends. This is the workplace of a practiced hand that is straight as a preacher and as long a memory. One look at Gary’s work and that attention to minute detail is easily discerned. Although his work appears effortless, it is obviously the result of decades of difficult training and practice.
Gary Casteel grew up in the coal mining region of West Virginia and resolved early to become a sculptor while attending grade school there. Contrary to the stereotypes of the region, from an early age, he listened to classical music on the radio, devoured the works of William Shakespeare and idolized Michelangelo. In Gary’s own words, “through marriage, divorce, military service, occupation transfers, relocation, business ownership or family strife, I stayed true to my commitment to become a sculptor.” The Longstreet commission was the culmination of a lifetime dream for sculptor Casteel.
“My point of view has always been that heroes are larger than life. They are to be physically and mentally looked up to.” says Casteel. “In my youth, I was reared with ideals of heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Robert E. Lee, George Patton. Now as a middle aged man with more than half a century of experience, living in an age of of hero deterioration and downfall, I choose my Icons with more wisdom. Longstreet, the General, was larger than life.” Gary Casteel decided that the memorial to Longstreet should be larger than life as well.
Unlike most monuments at Gettysburg, Casteel’s Longstreet rests at ground level and is not perched upon a lofty pedestal. The General is shown astride his favorite horse, Hero. Longstreet is pulling hard at the reins as Hero’s hooves dig into the soft Pennsylvania soil. The General’s attention is directed towards the copse of trees, the focal point of attack, mere moments before his troops would emerge from the treeline behind him. The field has become known as Pickett’s Charge and the copse of trees is forever referred to as the high water mark of the Confederacy. General Longstreet’s steely gaze is forever fixed on the target his men would never attain and one he never believed was attainable in the first place.

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Jamie Longstreet Paterson-The General’s Granddaughter at the dedication.

Longstreet's grandaughterI asked Mr. Casteel if it was true that Longstreet’s granddaughter attended the unveiling ceremony. He answered quickly, “Oh yes. Jamie Longstreet Paterson attended the dedication ceremony. We brought out a ladder and she climbed up to get a better look at the General. I was worried because she was 67-years-old but more worried when she started to cry,” said Gary. “I thought, oh my, we may have a problem here. When she came down, I realized they were tears of joy as she said, ‘I never thought I would look him in the face’.” Sculptor Casteel’s Longstreet memorial was one of the last monuments erected at the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was dedicated on July 3, 1998, the 135th anniversary of the end of the battle of Gettysburg. Jamie Paterson Longstreet died six years later on August 4, 2014.
IMG_3339It should be noted that Casteel is not only an accomplished sculptor, knowledgeable historian and well versed art scholar, he has deeper personal roots in the Civil War and Battle of Gettysburg itself. Casteel says that his own family had two ancestors -brothers in fact- who actually fired at each other from opposing sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. “I call him Uncle Bill and he placed his rifle against that stone wall and fired our way from right over there” as he points out his studio window. Casteel is currently hard at work on several pieces for the proposed National Civil War Memorial. “Did you realize that there is no national monument to the Civil War?” he asks.

 

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Me inside Gary Casteel’s studio.

z 31398193_1822681077763147_4410866842453671936_nGary guides us to a loose leaf binder containing images of the large sculpture medallions he has created for the museum. Lincoln, Lee, Jefferson Davis, and John Wilkes Booth are just a few of the completed images resting on the drying racks in the back of Gary’s studio. Gary remarks, “I asked Ed Bearss (Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service), who serves on the museum board, why there was no plaque for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Hero of Gettysburg’s Little Round Top) in the selection. He responded, ‘Gary, no one ever heard of Chamberlain before Gettysburg or afterwards for that matter.” Yes, talking with Gary Casteel gives new perspective to an old subject and promises to make a visit to his studio an unforgettable memory.
If Longstreet had died in battle, he undoubtedly would have been placed among the South’s greatest heroes, with monuments located everywhere he led men into battle. But after the death of Lee in 1870 and Pickett’s death five years later in 1875, Longstreet became the living scapegoat for the South’s defeat at Gettysburg. Gary Casteel’s statue has helped alter that view. Sometimes all it takes a new perspective from an old school craftsman to help cast things in a new light.

 

Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Gettysburg

The Confederate Monument Debate. Ad Infinitum.

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Protesters in New Orleans Louisiana. May 16, 2017. Photo by Matthew Hinton

Original publish date:  August 17, 2017

There has been a lot of talk lately Confederate Civil War monuments and what they stand for. In fact recently, several of those monuments to rebel leaders and soldiers toppled by protesters and removed in the dark of the night by officials. My wife and I traveled to Gettysburg 2 to 3 times every year and a fairly wear out my Facebook friends with the many pictures I post from that famous battlefield. The monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield had escaped the relevant racial scrutiny and have often been viewed as untouchable and different from the ones being protested across the nation until last week when the debate hit the pages of the Gettysburg compiler newspaper.
Scott Hancock, an associate professor of History and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, says it may be time to question the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield. “As an African American, I’m glad for one that we seem to have a broader public movement consensus of people that want to get the history right,” Hancock said.

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Scott Hancock, associate professor at Gettysburg College.

Hancock explained that, in the last decade or so, a majority of historians have concluded that slavery was the central issue of the Civil War. As a result, the monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and Confederate figures represent a “narrow, twisted version of history,” Hancock said. For some, the Confederate monuments on the battlefield help tell the full story of the Battle of Gettysburg. If nothing else, Hancock’s story begs the question: Is there a difference between Confederate monuments found in public parks and those found on battlefields? What about Confederate monuments in cemeteries?
The root of the question may be historical context. Should Confederate soldier’s sacrifices, and in many cases their deaths, be recalled and remembered at the spot of their struggle? In my opinion, the battlefield monuments to both sides speak to all who view them. Not only do they represent the soldiers that fought there, they are also valuable pieces of public art. Often, they are made of stone native to that soldier’s state or placed upon a sacred spot of battlefield relevance.

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Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.

One need only look as far as Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address to understand why those monuments are placed there. Lincoln said, ” Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
To most Americans that should be reason enough to leave the Confederate Civil War monuments found on battlefields in cemeteries in place. The question is not only consigned to the Gettysburg battlefield however. Indianapolis, although never the scene of a major Civil War battle, has monuments to Confederate dead as near as Garfield Park and Crown Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, the question of whether or not they should remain there will be debated soon.
The argument as to whether these monuments are part of our cultural landscape will most likely continue. As for their presence on battlefields and in cemeteries, these site-specific memorials were designed to be educational markers to interpret history. From Professor Hancock’s perspective is it appropriate to have markers of any kind honoring the Confederacy placed on public land and maintained by public money? For the record, that debate goes on within the Hunter household. But, I guess I’m just a late stage baby boomer who grew up during the Cold War and who is proud to have been born during the centennial celebration of the Civil War. So I guess it’s a generational thing.
I’m not prepared to make a personal political statement in this article but I did want to share an item from my collection that I feel speaks to the issue from a different perspective. Among the many collections I obsess over is my gathering of items of all sorts relating to the battle of Gettysburg. One such item is a set of documents I bought several years ago from January 1903.

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One is a two-page handwritten document on legal sized paper from the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Headquarters post Bradberry Pennsylvania near Philadelphia dated January 28, 1903. The official resolution document reads: “Whereas the War of the Rebellion is over, and its memories alone remain. Among these memories none are more sacred or vivid than the three days fight on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. We remember the invasion of our soil by the Army of Rebels under the command of General Robert E Lee. Three days we fought the faux under the command of one who had sworn to support the Constitution and Sons of Our Country. Who had been educated at the nation’s expense, and honored by all the people: yet who in the hour of the country’s need proved himself an Arch Traitor.
What Gettysburg is we and our comrades have made it. The glory, the fame, the sentiment and reverence that cluster around that historic field, is all ours, and that of our fallen comrades. And whereas, it is proposed to erect a monument on the field of Gettysburg to the memory of this traitor Gen. Robert E Lee, at the joint expense of this Commonwealth and that of Virginia.
Therefore resolved, that we appeal to the Senators and Representatives of Pennsylvania in General Assembly met to defeat this insult to the memory of our dead comrades not only of Pennsylvania but of the whole country; as well as to those who survive, who gave the best efforts of their youth, to drive from Pennsylvania’s soil, the rebel hordes under the command of the Rebel General, to whom it is now proposed to honor.

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Resolved. That Thomas V. Cooper, a comrade of this post in presenting this bill and favoring its passage, voices but one comrade and does not speak for post-149. Resolved. That a copy of these resolutions under the seal of the post attested by the commander and adjutant, be sent to the Senate and House of Representatives of the State: and a copy of the same, sent to Headquarters of This Department.” The document is signed by three members of the post, (Thos. J. Dolphin, O. F. Bullard, & James H Worrall) All of whom I’m sure our former Union soldiers.

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The other is an 8.5 x 11 handwritten letter dated January 29, 1903 on the ornate letterhead of the “Headquarters John A Koltes Post No. 228 Department of Pennsylvania, G. A. R. Keystone Hall, 835 North Second St., Philadelphia” the letterhead features an image of the G.A.R. soldier’s badge at the top. The letter reads: “To the Officers and Comrades of Bradford Post No 149 Department of Pa. G. A. R. Comrades! The following resolution was unanimously adopted at a regular slated meeting of the above named Post, and I take pleasure in transmitting a copy thereof to you as directed. Namely, that we heartily congratulate our brave comrades of Bradford Post No 1494 the action they have taken so far regarding the erection of a memorial statue to Robert E Lee on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, through the apparent willingly given assistance of one of those members, Representative Thomas V Cooper, and we hope and earnestly trust, that in future Bradford post will endeavor and use the utmost ability to defeat said Thomas V Cooper for any further public position of honor or trust whatsoever. Resolved that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to Bradford Post No 149. Daniel L Hornick Commander.”
The letters illustrate that this debate was going on 40 years after the close of the Civil War and was being waged by the soldiers who participated in it. Think about the strife and turmoil that must’ve been swirling within the walls of this lodge as they protested the placement of the statue to the Rebel General they fought so bravely against. The ex-soldiers were so vehement in their opposition that they were willing to take on one of their most accomplished lodge members, Senator “Red Headed and Hopeful” Tom Cooper.

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Senator Thomas Valentine Cooper 1835-1909

Cooper served as a delegate to the 1860 Chicago Republican Convention and played a pivotal role in the nomination of Mr Lincoln. At the outset of the Civil War, Thomas helped organize Company F of the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment and later enlisted in Hartranft’s Company C, 26th Regiment, serving three years in the Army of the Potomac. He mustered-out at Independence Hall, June 14, 1864, having served in 13 major engagements, including Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. Thomas represented Delaware County in the State House of Representatives, 1870-72, and was elected to the state Senate in 1872. He served 17 consecutive years in the upper house. Cooper was a Mason, a member of the Bradbury G.A.R. Post . Cooper died in his home on December 19, 1909 after a freak fire engulfed his room, most likely, the result of an ash falling from his trademark cigar. Cooper had as much right to protest the placement of the Robert E Lee statue as anyone. His patriotic credentials were unquestioned. Yet he supported the placement of a Confederate monument on a battlefield he risked his life fighting on.

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The Virginia Monument at Gettysburg.

Despite the Bradford Post’s attempt to thwart the placement of the Lee Monument at Gettysburg, the iconic landmark was indeed placed there in the days just before World War I. The Virginia monument, located on West Confederate Avenue, was the first of the Confederate State monuments at Gettysburg. It was dedicated on June 8, 1917 and unveiled by Miss Virginia Carter, a niece of Robert E Lee. It is the largest of the Confederate monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield, a fitting tribute for the state that provided the largest contingent to the Army of Northern Virginia, its commander, and its name. Lee’s figure, topping the monument astride his favorite horse, Traveler, was created by sculptor Frederick Sievers from photographs and life masks of the general. He even went to Lexington, Virginia to study Traveler’s skeleton, preserved at Washington and Lee University. The monument stands 41 feet high. The statue of Lee and Traveler stands 14 feet high. The total cost of the monument was $50,000. Virginia contributed over 19,000 men to the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg, the largest contingent from the twelve Confederate states. Almost 4,500 of these – almost 1 out of 4 – became casualties, the second highest state total at Gettysburg.
When it comes to the battlefield, Hancock pointed out that, while most of the park’s monuments and markers were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, several Confederate memorials were erected in the 1960s and 1970s. Hancock points out that many of those monuments to the Confederacy were erected before, during and after the civil rights movement and deserve particular scrutiny “because of the social and racial context of the time.” Hancock singled out the Confederate monuments along Confederate Avenue, in particular that of Mississippi, which was erected in the early 1970s. The monument speaks of Mississippians fighting for the “righteous cause” and “sacred heritage of honor.”
Voices on both sides of the issue will certainly attempt to add clarity in the days ahead. For instance, former Martin Luther King Jr. right-hand man, UN representative under Jimmy Carter and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young recently said, “I think it’s too costly to continue to fight the Civil War.” Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush, said this: “”When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing.” The debate promises to continue. But let’s not forget this is a debate that has been going on for over 150 years now.

Civil War

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part II.

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Original publish date:  June 15, 2018

Confederate General James Longstreet’s reputation was thrown under the bus by the widow of his former friend, General George Pickett. It was Longstreet who ordered Pickett forward at Gettysburg, in what has become known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The incident is widely acknowledged by historians as General Robert E. Lee’s biggest tactical mistake of the Civil War. Pickett’s widow, LaSalle, considered it her mission to resurrect the damaged career of her slighted husband. Sadly, she did it at the expense of James Longstreet.

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General James Longstreet and his bride Helen Dortch Longstreet

LaSalle (aka “Sallie”) spent the decades following her husband’s 1875 death (by scarlet fever) writing, speaking and creating an idealized version of “her soldier” as the ideal Southern gentleman. Her campaign to sainthood for General Pickett began when she published the book “Pickett and His Men”, a history of her husband’s military campaigns in 1899. She also published 2 other books, The Heart of a Soldier, As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Gen’l George E. Pickett (1913) and Soldier of the South: General Pickett’s War Letters to His Wife (1928). All 3 works projected Pickett as a figure cloaked in “Lost Cause” mythology.
20070103000545!James_Longstreet_later_lifeHer efforts worked and today, Pickett is widely remembered as a tragic hero of the disastrous charge at Gettysburg that bears his name. Rather than place blame at the feet of the South’s “Marble Man”, Robert E. Lee, LaSalle shifted blame to James Longstreet. Her effort was well received by the purveyors of the Lost Cause and Pickett’s reputation was posthumously restored.
l1But General Longstreet had a secret weapon of his own: his young bride, Helen Dortch Longstreet. The General married her in 1897 in a ceremony at the governor’s mansion in Atlanta. She was 34 and he was 76. She would outlive her husband by 58 years, passing away in 1962 during the National Centennial Celebration of the Civil War. By the time of her death, she had accomplished more than most any other woman of her era and helped restore her husband’s legacy along the way. And I have the letters to prove it.
As detailed in part I of this series, Confederate General James Longstreet was an important figure in American military history. He was pivotal in every battle he participated in (which includes most of the important battles of the Civil War) and was one of the first to question the wisdom of strategies and leaders that shaped the course of the Great Rebellion. He was present when hostilities ceased at Appomattox and was one of the first of the Rebel leaders to reintegrate into the Union. While disappointed by the outcome, he was quick to recognize the results of the struggle. For his reluctance to embrace the “Lost Cause” and refusal to “wave the bloody shirt”, Longstreet paid a high price.
IMG_9766Longstreet served in a variety of government positions after the war, including ambassador to Turkey and as a Federal Marshall. He served as a railroad commissioner and spent his final years trying to refute continued attacks on his character raised by his former friends and brothers in arms who labeled him as a traitor to a failed ideal. His 1896 memoirs, a labor of five years titled “From Manassas to Appomattox”, he attempted to set the record straight.

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Widow Longstreet at the General’s Grave.

Longstreet’s final years were marked by poor health and partial deafness. By 1902 he suffered from severe rheumatism and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. By January 1903, his weight dropped from 200 to 135 pounds, cancer developed in his right eye, and he underwent X-ray therapy in Chicago to treat it. He contracted pneumonia and died in Gainesville, Georgia on January 2, 1904, six days before his 83rd birthday. Longstreet outlived most of his contemporary detractors, and was one of only a handful of Civil War Generals to live into the 20th century.

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

For the next 58 years, Helen Longstreet worked tirelessly to rebuild the General’s tattered legacy. She wrote “Lee and Longstreet at High Tide” in which she stated that “the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet.” Regardless, white ex-Confederates could never forgive his postwar racial and political treason, so they trashed his wartime military record. Helen determined that her husband would not become a scapegoat for the Lost Cause. Widow Longstreet’s idea for the big “get even” was that the best revenge was success. Both the success of the General and that of her own.
Helen Dortch Longstreet earned the nickname of the “Fighting Lady” for being a champion of many causes including environmental preservation, physical fitness, women’s rights, civil rights and as a Confederate memorialist. She was the first woman to run for public office in the state of Georgia and was thereby instrumental in breaking down the prejudice against women holding high political positions. She was the driving force behind the creation of a state park at Tallulah Gorge. She opposed a plan by Georgia Power to build a series of hydroelectric dams along the Tallulah River. Although unsuccessful, her campaign was the first conservation movements in America championed by a woman.

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1949 letter on Longstreet Memorial Association letterhead.

Originally, my personal interest in the widow Longstreet was directly tied to her husband’s exploits at Gettysburg. That all changed several years ago when I came across a trio of letters written by Mrs. Longstreet. I was astonished to find these letters were dated 1949-51, nearly half a century after General James Longstreet died and 90 years after the Civil War began. How could this be? I began to research Helen Dortch Longstreet and discovered what an amazing woman she was. These letters were written just before and shortly after Mrs. Longstreet ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for governor of the State of Georgia against Herman Talmadge in 1950. Her main complaint? Blacks were not allowed to vote in the primary.
The first letter, dated May 16, 1949, is on the ornate letterhead of the “Longstreet Memorial Association” that was “Organized on the Gettysburg field by Veterans of Longstreet’s command during the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of the battle” in 1938. Association member names are listed at the side and include 20 Governors (there were only 48 states at the time and Indiana’s Clifford Townsend is among them), College / University Presidents, Congressmen, Senators and military officers. The letter was written to Col. Carl W. Breihan of Lemay, Missouri. Breihan, a former St. Louis County Police Commissioner, was recognized as an authority on outlaws Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers and author of 12 books on Wild West anti-heroes including Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Quantrill’s Raiders.
Widow Longstreet writes, “I think of nothing during the day, but plans for raising money for the Longstreet Monument and I dream about it at night.” Mrs. Longstreet details her plan to raise funds for the monument by awarding a new 1949 Kaiser-Frazer automobile to the “prettiest girl in the County whose citizens make the largest contribution to the Longstreet Memorial Association in proportion to population.” Mrs. Longstreet states, “I thought this would cause the ordinaries to contribute and to appeal to their friends for contributions…I would risk my life on the bet that this plan will prove a glorious success.” Mrs. Longstreet’s ambitious plan included buying 48 Kaiser-Frazer cars (at $ 2,000 each) on credit to be awarded in all 48 states.
IMG_9769The letter continues, “The auto dealers will pay more attention to the plan if presented by a young, vigorous, intelligent gentleman like yourself, than by an old woman….I could never make them understand that behind the wrinkles and gray hairs the vigor and enthusiasm of youth still lives…When the monument stands finished on the field of glory, Carl W. Breihan, more than any other person in the world will deserve the credit.” She added the postscript, “I went on a little speaking trip to Cleveland, Ohio and received such an ovation, I may run for President.”
IMG_9767The next letter is in the form of a press release. Dated Feb. 26, 1951, it mentions the unveiling of a marker at General Longstreet’s South Carolina birthplace that likely includes excerpts from her planned speech at the ceremony. “I would send a message to Stalin’s Red Divisions wherever they march today-American soldiers wrote across the pathway of the stars, from ’61 to ’65, that Americans surrender only to Americans….Americans want PEACE and FREEDOM for ALL MEN. AMERICANS ABHOR WAR; but if war is forced upon us we have the power which will exercise to WHIP THE WORLD…At the birthplace of an American soldier whose grip never relaxed, whose guns never ceased to thunder, we strike a note which will reverberate against the stars.”

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The third and final letter was written on New Years Eve of 1951. It is a typed letter on the ornate letterhead of the “Physical Culture Hotel” in Dansville, New York. Again written to Mr. Briehan, it reads in part, “My great loneliness and longing for ‘the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is stilled,’ seem greater than I can bear at Christmas.” The letter mentions the Longstreet Monument briefly but is mostly devoted to finding Briehan an editor for his first book (The Complete and Authentic Life of Jesse James 1953). In my opinion, the letterhead speaks more about the widow than does the text.
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IMG_9772The Physical Culture Hotel, founded by former professional wrestler and magazine mogul Bernarr MacFadden, began life as the “Jackson Sanitorium” (founded in 1854), a health spa credited with inventing granola and launching the Kellogg cereal company. The Hotel was a pioneer in the use of hydrotherapy but also emphasized recreation and social activities such as swimming, sunbathing, tennis, and dancing. McFadden and his hotel were on the cutting edge of the physical fitness movement in America and at age 88, Helen Dortch Longstreet was right in the center of it. To me, this letter is emblematic of the widow Longstreet. She was ahead of her time, unpredictable and most of all, she never gave up.
Riveter-LongstreetFurther research reveals that, during World War II, Mrs. Longstreet was a Rosie the Riveter assembling B-29 bombers at the Bell Aircraft plant in Atlanta. She explained, “I was at the head of my class in riveting school. In fact I was the only one in it.” She worked in the factory for two years, refused to join the union, never missed a day of work or showed up late for a shift. Widow Longstreet told Life magazine reporters, surprised to find a Civil War General’s widow alive and well and working for the war effort, “I just want to build bombers to bomb Hitler.”
Mrs. Longstreet had been a Progressive Party member who had supported Theodore Roosevelt for President as a delegate to the Progressive Party convention in 1912. With her spirit of progressive political activism reinvigorated, Longstreet spent the next 50 years trying to resuscitate her husband’s wartime reputation. Not only did she organize the Longstreet Memorial Association, she created both the Longstreet Memorial Exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco in 1940. In 1947, she became the first woman to have her portrait placed in the Georgia State Capitol. By 1956, Helen Longstreet was suffering from deteriorating mental health. She was placed in the Central State Mental Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1957, where she remained until her death on May 3, 1962. She is buried in West View Cemetery in Atlanta.

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Helen Dortch Longstreet

And what became of her husband’s chief detractor, LaSalle Corbell Pickett, wife of General George Pickett? She died on March 22, 1931, having outlived her husband by more than 55 years. But she would not rest in peace. Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery declined to allow her to be buried next to her husband. That was until Pickett’s grandson, Lieutenant George E. Pickett III, threatened to have his grandfather disinterred and moved to Arlington National Cemetery where they could rest side-by-side. Hollywood Cemetery quickly agreed to permit LaSalle’s interment there, but for reasons unknown, the request went unfulfilled.
LaSalle’s remains were cremated and interred at Abbey Mausoleum in Arlington, Virginia. Originally a mausoleum for the wealthiest citizens of Washington, DC, it went bankrupt in 1968. The structure fell into disrepair and was vandalized many times and several graves desecrated. In 1976, vandals opened and desecrated 12 coffins and 10 urns. One crypt was completely opened and the coffin left opened. Vandals placed a copy of heavy metal magazine “Circus” on the chest of the skeleton. Additionally, ashes were poured on the floor and smiley faces drawn in them.
In 1979, 45 crypts were broken into, coffins removed, and the corpses decapitated. The skulls were left perched atop broomsticks and left upright around the tomb. In the late 1980s, vandals opened urns and poured the contents onto the floor, mixing remains together and again writing in the ashes. In 1994, police discovered bloody hand prints, candles, dead cats, pentagrams, and other signs of occult worship. Two crypts were opened, the coffins placed on the floor, and the remains exposed.
z IMG_8534In 1998, the Military Order of the Stars and Bars and United Daughters of the Confederacy worked together to pay for LaSalle’s disinterment and reburial in front of the George E. Pickett Memorial in Hollywood Cemetery. Widow Pickett was buried on Saturday, March 21, 1998. She was the first woman interred in the Confederate military burial section. On July 3 of that same year, one of the last monuments was erected on the Gettysburg National Military Park. It was an equestrian statue of General James Longstreet on his horse “Hero” in Pitzer Woods on Confederate Avenue. Perhaps most astonishingly, 135 years after the battle, Jamie Longstreet Paterson, the 67-year-old granddaughter of General Longstreet was there to see it.
Next week-Part III

Civil War, Gettysburg, Politics

General James Longstreet at Gettysburg. Part I.

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General James Longstreet

Original publish date:  June 8, 2018

Visiting Gettysburg has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now. If you are a fan of American history, there is no better place for you than Gettysburg. Although it’s been 155 years since the last shots were fired, the landscape of Gettysburg is ever changing and the battle goes on. In the three decades since I first visited the Borough, (in Pennsylvania, they are called Boroughs, not towns) I’ve seen battles over towers, casinos, cycloramas, visitor centers, hotels, railroads, Harley Davidson’s and monuments. And the one thing I’ve learned from all of them is that there’s always a story behind the story.
This is a story about a General, a monument, an artist and one of the most interesting women you’ve never heard of. And, like the battlefield itself, this is a story of duty, devotion, romance and controversy. Confederate General James Longstreet is a name familiar to all students of the Civil War. Longstreet, born January 8, 1821, looms large among the luminaries of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy but most likely not in the way you might think. The Lost Cause was a misguided Victorian Era view of the war that downplayed slavery and lionized the Confederate military resulting in a movement to glorify the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The ideology continues with the modern day Confederate monument debate I’ve written about in past columns.

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Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet at Gettysburg.

Longstreet was the principal subordinate to General Robert E. Lee, who called him his “Old War Horse.” He served under Lee as a corps commander in the venerable Army of Northern Virginia, participating in many of the most famous battles of the Civiil War. Longstreet’s most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, where he openly disagreed with General Lee on the tactics used in attacks on Union forces, most notably, the devastation of Pickett’s Charge.
A month after Gettysburg, Longstreet requested and received a transfer to the Western Theatre just in time for the Battle of Chickamauga. Despite the ineptitude of Commanding General Braxton Bragg, Chickamauga became the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater and Longstreet deserved and received a good portion of the credit. Longstreet’s enmity towards Bragg ultimately resulted in his return to Lee’s army in Virginia where he soon found himself squared up against his best friend on the Union side, Ulysses S. Grant. Both men served together during the War with Mexico and both served as best man for their weddings. The two men were so close that Longstreet called Grant “Sam” and Grant called Longstreet “Pete”. As further proof of the strong connection between the Generals, Grant married Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, on August 22, 1848.

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General James Longstreet

When Longstreet found out that Grant had been elevated to command of the entire Union Army, he told his fellow officers that “he will fight us every day and every hour until the end of the war.” Longstreet’s attack in the Battle of the Wilderness (May 6, 1864) helped save the Confederate Army from defeat in his first battle back with Lee’s army, but it nearly killed him. The General was wounded during the battle when he was accidentally shot by his own men while reconnoitering between lines. The friendly fire incident took place about 4 miles away from the place where Rebel General Stonewall Jackson suffered the same fate a year earlier.
A bullet passed through Longstreet’s shoulder, severing nerves, and tearing a gash in his throat. General Micah Jenkins, who was riding alongside Longstreet, was also shot and died from his wounds. Longstreet’s wound caused him to miss the rest of the 1864 spring and summer campaign, He rejoined Lee in October 1864 and served admirably during the Siege of Petersburg, the defense of the capital of Richmond, and the surrender at Appomattox. As Lee considered surrender, Longstreet told his commander that he though his friend Grant would treat them fairly, but added, “General, if he does not give us good terms, come back and let us fight it out.” General James Longstreet was a man of contradictions whose story was about to get way more contradictory.

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General James Longstreet Circa 1866

After the close of the Civil War, Longstreet angered his former countrymen by daring to criticize Robert E. Lee, campaigning for Ulysses S Grant and assimilating to life in the Union. In Southern eyes, Longstreet committed blasphemy for critical comments he wrote in his memoirs about General Lee’s wartime performance, by joining Lincoln’s Republican Party and voting for U.S. Grant (twice!) and for accepting work as a diplomat, civil servant, and administrator in the reunified Federal Government of the United States.
However, anti-Longstreet feelings were not just limited to his fellow countrymen. When the “Reconstructed Rebel” applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson he was refused, despite a personal endorsement from Union Army General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson reportedly told Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Luckily for Longstreet, the Radical Republicans in the US Congress hated Johnson more than Johnson hated Longstreet and they restored the General his rights of American citizenship in June of 1868.

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General James Longstreet Circa 1876

Leaders of the Lost Cause movement cited Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg as the main reason for the Confederacy’s loss of the war. When Grant appointed Longstreet as surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1868, his old friend General D.H. Hill said: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.” When Northerners moved South for financial gain, they were called Carpetbaggers, Hill wrote that Longstreet “is a native, which is so much the worse.”
In 1868, the Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within the city of New Orleans. Longstreet continued his role as an anathema to his former Confederate colleagues when he led African-American militia against an armed force of 8,400 members of the anti-Reconstruction White League at the Battle of Liberty Place in New Orleans in 1874. Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery.
The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender, the General rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. Federal troops were sent by President Grant to restore order. There were casualties of 38 killed and 79 wounded. Longstreet’s role in this racial battle sealed his fate among his former countrymen. This sad episode ended his political career and he went into semi-retirement on a 65-acre farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that his neighbors derisively named “Gettysburg.” A devastating fire on April 9, 1889 (the 24th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox) destroyed his house and most of his possessions, including his personal Civil War documents and memorabilia.
General-LongstreetThe attacks on Longstreet began in earnest on January 19, 1872, the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birth and less than two years after Lee died. In a speech at Washington College, former Rebel General Jubal Early exonerated Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg: Early said Longstreet was late. Early claimed Longstreet’s delay on the second day somehow led to the debacle on the third. The following year at the same venue, Lee’s artillery chief William N. Pendleton, charged that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Although both allegations were false, Longstreet failed to rebuke them publicly for three years. The delay damaged his reputation, and by 1875, the Lost Cause mythology had taken root.

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General George Pickett

Perhaps the most astonishing of these Longstreet attacks came from a very unexpected source. The widow of his friend George Pickett. Longstreet and Pickett had enjoyed a long, close association stretching all the way back to their service together in the Mexican War and their association to West Point. Longstreet served with distinction in the Mexican–American War alongside many of the men he would find himself fighting with (and against) at Gettysburg. In the Battle of Chapultepec on September 12, 1847, he was wounded in the thigh while charging up the hill with his regimental colors. As he fell, he handed the flag to his friend, Lt. George E. Pickett, who carried it on to the summit.
In the winter of 1862, during a scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Virginia, three of the four Longstreet children (Mary Anne, James and Augustus Baldwin) died within eight days. The blow was almost too much for Longstreet. An aide noted that his “grief was very deep,” while others commented on his change in personality. Because the Longstreets’ were too grief-stricken, it was General George Pickett (and his 16 year-old future bride LaSalle Corbell) who made the burial arrangements. Pickett shared Longstreet’s condemnation of Robert E. Lee’s actions at Gettysburg openly stating “that old man (Lee) had my Division slaughtered.”
Pickett went on to a less than stellar financial career in the insurance business and never forgave Lee for destroying his division (and career). He lived the final years of his life quietly and modestly, farming and battling declining health. Pickett rarely spoke publicly about his war experiences and died on July 30, 1875, at the age of fifty. After Pickett’s death in 1875 Pickett’s third wife LaSalle began to write and lecture about her famous husband. While her general husband had spent his last years brooding about the disastrous charge that bore his name, his financially burdened widow decided to make the most of an opportunity.
In an attempt to revitalize his memory, she traveled around the country lecturing about her famous husband in an attempt to transform him into the hero of Gettysburg by way of the Lost Cause. Often, Pickett’s enhancement came at the cost of Longstreet’s reputation. It is ironic that Pickett should benefit at the expense of his friend and mentor, James Longstreet. Her tales of her husband’s life & times were highly romanticized and exaggerated making it hard to separate fact from fiction.

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General George Pickett and LaSalle Corbell Pickett 

LaSalle Corbell Pickett authored the celebratory history “Pickett and His Men” (1913), which historians claim was plagiarized, and two collections of wartime letters (1913, 1928), which historians claimed were fabricated. Nevertheless, her image of her husband at the moment his charge began—”gallant and graceful as a knight of chivalry riding to a tournament,” whose “long, dark, auburn-tinted hair floated backward in the wind like a soft veil as he went on down the slope of death”—has stuck in the American imagination. And her letters have been cited in works as diverse as Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel “The Killer Angels” (1974) and Ken Burns’s documentary “The Civil War” (1990).
It would take a century of slow reassessment by Civil War historians to restore General James Longstreet’s reputation. Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, based largely on Longstreet’s memoirs and later made into the film “Gettysburg”, helped restore Longstreet’s reputation. Military historians now consider Longstreet among the war’s most gifted tactical commanders on either side of the Civil War. Part of that reassessment is due and owing to a child bride, a gifted artist and one of Gettysburg National Battlefield’s newest monuments.
NEXT WEEK: PART II of General James Longstreet at Gettysburg.