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Longstreet devotees to arrive this weekend in Gainesville
Annual seminar kicks off 150-year anniversary of Civil War
Gen James Longstreet
Gen. James Longstreet

From Manassas to Appomattox: James Longstreet, Civil War General

What: Expert presentations and lectures by various historians on Gen. James Longstreet, a tour of Longstreet sites in Gainesville, a silent auction and an evening social

When: Saturday and Sunday

Where: Holiday Inn Lanier Centre Hotel, 400 E.E. Butler Parkway, Gainesville

Tickets: $155 registration fee for members, $135 for lifetime members. Nonmembers can participate by paying a $185 fee, which includes a one-year membership and subscription to the Longstreet Society News.The fee includes bus transportation and admission to all sessions. It doesn’t include hotel accommodations.

More info: Call 914-381-2147, e-mail or visit the society's website

A Gainesville group that seeks to preserve and celebrate the life of one of the Civil War's most famous generals plans to kick off a 150-year retrospective of Gen. James Longstreet.

The Longstreet Society is sponsoring its annual seminar, "From Manassas to Appomattox: James Longstreet, Civil War General," Saturday and Sunday in Gainesville.

Expert presentations and lectures by various historians are scheduled, as well as a tour of Longstreet sites in Gainesville, a silent auction and an evening social.

"I get excited every time we (hold a seminar)," said Richard Pilcher, the group's president.

Longstreet, known as Gen. Robert E. Lee's "Old War Horse" during the war, retired to Gainesville after the Civil War. He died in 1904 at 83 and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.

His later life was less celebrated — in the South, at least — as he became a Republican and advocated for Southern states to extend civil and voting rights to freed slaves.

He opened the Piedmont Hotel, a restored remnant that stands between Main and Maple streets. The building serves as the headquarters for The Longstreet Society.

The organization has held annual seminars since 1999, skipping only 2005, when the group was scheduled to meet in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina disrupted those plans.

"Most of the battlefields up the East Coast that Longstreet had any connection with, we've been there," Pilcher said. "We've been very fortunate to have top-notch speakers who have been willing to participate."

One of those is William Garrett Piston, who spoke at the first seminar at Brenau University and is set to speak this weekend.

Garrett, who teaches in the history department at Missouri State University, is the author of "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History."

Also scheduled to speak this weekend is Rich DiNardo, a professor for national security affairs at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University, in Quantico, Va.

He is co-editor of "James Longstreet: The Man, The Soldier, The Controversy."

Another speaker is Col. Blackjack Travis, who has written several historical articles for national publications, such as The Civil War News, Artilleryman Magazine and the Confederate Veteran.

Pilcher, a Longstreet Society charter member, plans to talk about the Piedmont Hotel and some famous people who visited there.

Perhaps the most famous guests were Woodrow Wilson (before he was the 28th U.S. president) and his wife, Ellen, who gave birth to one of the couple's three daughters, Jessie, at the hotel.

Today, visitors can walk through the room where the Wilsons stayed, as well as other parts of the Piedmont.

The Longstreet Society doesn't have a guest book from the hotel.

"The only way we know (they stayed at the hotel) is that Mrs. Wilson sent postcards to everybody she knew ... with a picture of the hotel and she drew an arrow to that room," Pilcher said.

"And she wrote across the bottom of the postcard, ‘Jessie was born in this room.'"

The Longstreet Society numbers about 250, with members spread across the U.S., as well as in England and Canada.

With the Civil War beginning in April 1861, or nearly 150 years ago, the upcoming seven-year seminar series takes on special significance.

"We decided to do sort of a preview seminar on the year before (the war) started, get a fix on what was happening in the South and around the country before things got into a shooting war," Pilcher said, referring to this weekend's event.

The series will wrap up in New Orleans, where Longstreet lived immediately after the Civil War.


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