Wounded by friendly fire during the Civil War, Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet seems to have so far dodged bullets in today’s “cancel culture” battle involving Confederate-era statues and namesakes.
Second only to Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Confederate Army, Longstreet – who would settle in and spend his remaining days in Gainesville – fought successfully in battles against the Union and is today still considered one of the war’s most skilled battle tacticians.
But Longstreet never had the celebrated status of Lee, Stonewall Jackson and other Confederate leaders after the war. The opposite is true – he became a pariah as he literally fought for reconstruction and advocated civil rights, including voting rights, for freed slaves.
No Army bases are named after him. And Richard Pilcher, president of the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society, said there’s only two statues of Longstreet – one at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park in Pennsylvania and one off Longstreet Circle on the site where his Gainesville home once stood.
Otherwise, his name is on street signs and businesses in Gainesville – such as Longstreet Café, which is near the general’s homeplace. His grave is in Gainesville’s historic Alta Vista Cemetery.
Longstreet is “world famous in Gainesville,” said Glen Kyle, executive director of Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University in Gainesville.
Kyle doesn’t consider Longstreet completely safe from protesters.
"In certain groups, nobody's name is safe," he said.
Pilcher agrees, saying he wouldn’t be surprised if Longstreet does get targeted.
“These people (involved in tearing down statues) don’t really know Longstreet was a civil rights activist,” he said.
Longstreet has picked up support in articles across the country, including an opinion piece in New York-based Newsday that suggests that, among others, “a monument to one brave Confederate general, James Longstreet, would not be out of place.”
His pro-Reconstruction stance after the war was elevated when he led black militia troops in opposing the White League, which opposed "carpetbagger" Louisiana Republican Gov. William Kellogg, in September 1874.
He was even wounded in the New Orleans skirmish – his first battle injury since the spring of 1864, when he was accidentally shot in the neck by one of his men in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. He and his family then left for Gainesville, where he remained until his death in 1904.
“Had it not been for (his stances), I think Longstreet would be on Stone Mountain,” said Douglas Young, professor of political science at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus.
Stone Mountain Park’s massive Confederate carving featuring Lee, Jackson and Confederacy President Jefferson Davis has come under fire during the recent call to remove Confederate statues, including Old Joe in the downtown Gainesville square.
“Longstreet, in the late 19th century, was by far the most politically incorrect Confederate general in Dixie,” Young said. “But now, he’s the most politically correct. How ironic.”
One other irony is that one of the guests at Longstreet’s Piedmont Hotel – preserved in part in Gainesville and now serving as the James Longstreet Museum off Maple Street – was Woodrow Wilson, whose name was stripped, because of racist views, from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Long before he was president, Wilson’s daughter, Jessie, was born at the Piedmont Hotel – the room where the delivery took place has been preserved. Jessie would go on to become a political activist, fighting for women’s right to vote.
Wilson “did spend a good bit of time at the Piedmont,” Pilcher said. “... We know the Longstreets got to know (the Wilsons). How well, we don’t know. They were at least acquaintances.”