College of Arts and Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)
Steven E. Woodworth
American Civil War, James Longstreet
Thomas, Logan E., "A Shattered General: The Impact of Defeat on James Longstreet in East Tennessee, 1863-1864" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 4036.
Confederate General James Longstreet watched his dawn attack on Fort Sanders in Knoxville, Tennessee, fail through the frigid morning air on November 29, 1863. Fort Sanders would only be the beginning of Longstreet's personal descent from confidence he would be a perfect independent army commander to an individual mired in depression and regret. For the previous two years of the war, Longstreet’s star was on the rise, and he certainly gained supreme confidence in his abilities to lead the Confederacy to victory. After being separated from his favorite commander, Joseph Johnston, early in the war, Longstreet often thought he had the best ideas to claim victory and famously reacted poorly during the Pennsylvania Campaign to the orders of his superior officer, Robert E. Lee. Since he believed he knew best how to command an army, Longstreet believed he could make a major difference when he was transferred to the West for a temporary assignment to reverse the Union advances there. With the eyes of the nation on his performance in East Tennessee, Longstreet floundered and could not achieve the victory he sought when he had finally achieved an independent command. To save his reputation after Fort Sanders, he sought retribution in the courts-martial of his subordinates. The First Corps under Longstreet in East Tennessee suffered greatly in the following winter, struggling to find supplies while attempting unsuccessfully to gain a victory over the Union forces in the region. As his belief in his own abilities dissipated and his enemies within the Confederacy multiplied, Longstreet asked to be relieved of command, but the request was denied. East Tennessee became a personal reckoning for Longstreet when he was faced with his limitations as an officer. He returned to the Army of Northern Virginia a changed commander who realized being a corps commander was his best destiny.