The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990

Book Revzews

Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and Hzs Place in Southern Hzs-
tory. By William Garrett Piston. (Athens: University of Georgia
Press, 1987. Pp. xv+252. Preface, acknowledgments, prologue,
maps, illustrations, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95.)
The renewed interest in Confederate military biography now adds a
fresh examination of James Longstreet to its growing ranks. In Lee's
Tarnished Lzeutenant, William G. Piston argues that Longstreet's per-
sistent negative image is at odds with his battlefield contributions.
Piston's is not a traditional biography but rather an attempt to explain
why one of the Confederacy's most accomplished corps commanders
appears so pejoratively in southern history.
Longstreet discharged a variety of wartime assignments and, accord-
ing to Piston, his matchless record deserves the highest regard. Yet, this
conclusion seems inconsistent with the author's own survey.
After extolling Longstreet's minor successes at Blackburn's Ford and
Williamsburg, Piston admits "Old Pete's" shortcomings at Seven Pines,
Lookout Mountain, and Knoxville. Longstreet's performances at Sec-
ond Manassas and Suffolk and his treatment of subordinates Lafayette
McLaws and E. M. Law remain problematic at best. The general's great-
est achievement came at Chickamauga, a victory made possible by an
egregious Federal blunder and one, says Piston, that failed to gather the
fruits of victory.
Longstreet's role at Gettysburg receives the lion's share of Piston's at-
tention. In a labored explanation that rejects six generations of scholar-
ship and ultimately relies upon the testimony of an obscure courier, the
author virtually exonerates Longstreet of any blame for the Adams
County disaster. An unhealthy sprinkling of factual errors further
erodes Piston's credibility as a military analyst.
The second half of Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant is much more convinc-
ing. Piston carefully chronicles the series of events that molded Long-
street into a southern Judas-a scapegoat for Confederate defeat.
Following Lee's death, Jubal Early, J. William Jones, and members of
Lee's staff conspired to discredit Longstreet by holding him solely re-
sponsible for the defeat at Gettysburg, and by implication, the war.
Wielding their pens with malicious intent and abetted by Longstreet's
unpopular affiliation with the Republican party, the anti-Longstreet
cabal sought to elevate their own status by erasing every stain from
Lee's banner.
Piston contends that Longstreet's own postwar writings, induced by
the attacks on his record, evinced a pettiness, vindictiveness, and van-
ity that apparently validated his critics' indictments. Later, the "Lost

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/. Accessed September 22, 2014.