Lee's "Old War Horse," Longstreet was prosaic, reliable, brave as a lion. Born in South Carolina, raised in Georgia and Alabama, he graduated from West Point in 1842 near the bottom of his class, with such notable soldiers as Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.
Commissioned into the Old Army as an infantry second lieutenant, Longstreet fought with Zachary Tyler in the Mexican War and participated in the march on Mexico City with Winfield Scott. His actions at Churchbusco and Molino del Rey earned him brevets to captain and major. He transferred into the paymaster corps, declaring that he had "abandoned all dreams of military glory," a statement he began to revise during the secession crisis.
Loyalty to the South inspired Longstreet to resign from the paymaster corps in 1861 and accept a Confederate commission as brigadier general. A veteran of First Bull Run (Manassas) and Seven Days' battles, Longstreet found his true vocation as a corps commander under Leea methodical, precise, and hard-hitting complement to the elusive, fast-moving Jackson. His dogged reliability earned him promotion to lieutenant general late in 1862 and the charge of the newly organized first corps.
Longstreet's corps launched the powerful counterattack that broke Pope's army at the Second Battle of Bull Run(Manassas) and bore the greater share of the fighting at Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg. Stubborn and self-assured, Longstreet did not hesitate to challenge Lee, especially after Jackson's death. He vigorously opposed the Pennsylvania campaign of 1863 and tried to argue Lee out of attacking at Gettysburg in July. Events, especially the debacle of Pickett's charge, proved him right.
Accidentally wounded by his own men in the Wilderness in the spring of 1864, Longstreet returned to duty in the autumn and served with the Army of Northern Virginia to the end, despite a paralyzed right arm. In the remaining months, he took part in the last battles, at Petersburg and Richmond. On April 9, 1865, Longstreet surrendered with Lee.
Although Longstreet was highly regarded by his own men, he became a deeply controversial postwar figure, not least because he embraced the Republican party. Moreover, "Lost Cause" diehards unfairly stigmatized him for the defeat at Gettysburg and its ultimate consequence, the collapse of the Confederacy. His memoir From Manassas to Appomattax (1896), in which he criticized Lee and Jackson, only increased his unpopularity with Southerners.