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The Confederate General Who Defied the South

About The Book

An authoritative biography of the controversial Confederate general, who later embraced Reconstruction and became an outcast in the South.

It was the most remarkable political about-face in American history. During the Civil War, General James Longstreet fought tenaciously for the Confederacy. He was alongside Lee at Gettysburg (and counseled him not to order the ill-fated attacks on entrenched Union forces there). He won a major Confederate victory at Chickamauga and was seriously wounded during a later battle.

After the war Longstreet moved to New Orleans, where he dramatically changed course. He supported Black voting and joined the newly elected, integrated postwar government in Louisiana. When white supremacists took up arms to oust that government, Longstreet, leading the interracial state militia, did battle against former Confederates. His defiance ignited a firestorm of controversy, as white Southerners branded him a race traitor and blamed him retroactively for the South’s defeat in the Civil War.

Although he was one of the highest-ranking Confederate generals, Longstreet has never been commemorated with statues or other memorials in the South because of his postwar actions in rejecting the Lost Cause mythology and urging racial reconciliation. He is being rediscovered in the new age of racial reckoning. This is the first biography in decades and the first to give proper attention to Longstreet’s long post-Civil War career.

About The Author

Photograph by Dan Addison

Elizabeth R. Varon is Langbourne M. Williams professor of American history at the University of Virginia and a member of the executive council of UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History. Varon’s books include Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy, and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War. Her most recent book, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, won the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and was named one of The Wall Street Journal’s best books of 2019.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

"A fresh take on Confederate general James Longstreet. . . . A must-read for Civil War buffs that contains valuable insight on today’s political polarization."

– Publishers Weekly

"Tells Longstreet’s story with authority and insight. . . . Readers interested in the Civil War and the horrors of Reconstruction should not miss this book."

– Kirkus Reviews

“At a time when it seems an open question whether human beings have the capacity to learn and to change in politics, the great historian Elizabeth Varon has given us a compelling portrait of a man who did just that: James Longstreet. A Confederate general who became an advocate for justice in the painful aftermath of the Civil War, Longstreet has much to teach us in our own hour of polarization.”

– Jon Meacham, author of And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

"James Longstreet's evolution from an ardent secessionist and prominent Confederate general to a postwar Republican and supporter of black civil rights who repudiated Lost Cause mythologies has long puzzled contemporaries and historians. Elizabeth Varon brilliantly solves this puzzle and links it to the persistent efforts to scapegoat Longstreet for Confederate defeat at Gettysburg."

– James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

“Elizabeth R. Varon’s engaging biography of James Longstreet delivers a long overdue reassessment of the Confederate general turned Republican politician and businessman. Covering his military career in crisp fashion, she devotes most of her attention to Longstreet’s extraordinarily eventful post-war decades. Combining rigorous research with engaging prose, Varon pairs the full life of this fascinating and controversial figure with brilliant insights into a complicated period of U.S. history.”

– Joan Waugh, professor emerita, UCLA Department of History

"James Longstreet is best known as a talented Confederate military figure and a Lost Cause pariah. Elizabeth Varon provides the first in-depth assessment of his substantial postwar career as a politician, diplomat, and reconciliationist. Her superb book reminds modern readers of Longstreet's stature, while also illuminating the complexity and volatility of the nation's racial and sectional politics."

– Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis

"Elizabeth Varon's much anticipated and insightful new biography of James Longstreet deepens our understanding not only of the controversial general himself, but also of the profound and painful complexities of the Reconstruction Era and beyond. Varon carefully reminds us that this period was arduous and perplexing, too, for Robert E. Lee's 'Old War Horse,' Longstreet—and, by extension, former Confederates like him—whose vision and efforts to forge a more peaceful reunion, including important advances for the freedpeople, provoked the enduring ire of generations of 'Lost Cause' apologists."

– Elizabeth D. Leonard, author of Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life

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