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The Killer Angels

Characters

General James Longstreet

Characters General James Longstreet

After the death of “Stonewall” Jackson, Longstreet becomes Lee’s second in command. A stubborn man, depressed because of the recent death of his children, Longstreet enters the Battle of Gettysburg with high hopes of success, provided that Lee swings the Confederate army to the southeast and comes between the Union army and Washington, D.C. Longstreet knows that this strategy would make the Washington politicians force the Union commander, George Meade, to attack the Confederate army. If the Confederates dig into good ground, then they can simply destroy the Union army as it comes at them. The disagreement between Longstreet and Lee regarding this strategy, however, forms the main conflict between the two characters. Lee is continuously annoyed by Longstreet’s stubbornness, and Longstreet is depressed by Lee’s opposition to his defensive tactics.

Shaara portrays Longstreet as a man ahead of his time, someone who has seen the future of warfare and knows that it will be won through the proper use of technology. He envisions the fact that offensive warfare will become exceedingly difficult in the future. But this vision of Longstreet does not necessarily correspond to history. Longstreet became an advocate of defensive tactics after seeing how well they worked for the Confederate forces at the Battle of Fredericksburg—his belief in their efficacy did not come from some visionary understanding of the future of warfare. Longstreet had some advanced ideas, but few of them were put into effect, and those that were often failed. Lee’s decision not to follow his general’s advice was understandable as well: Lee had an impressive list of strategic victories prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. In this instance, Longstreet’s suggestion probably would have worked well, but Longstreet had made suggestions in the past that had not worked. Also, Lee’s strategies at Gettysburg were continually thwarted, sometimes by his own men. If Lee had with him at Gettysburg “Stonewall” Jackson, a man who understood Lee better than anyone else and knew how to move troops well, Lee’s strategies might very well have worked. When considered in relation to history, Shaara’s portrayal of Longstreet is decidedly too sympathetic. Longstreet takes little blame for the loss, when in fact his delays on the second and third days caused serious problems for the Confederate army’s attack.