Sunday, April 24, 2011

James Longstreet, General, CSA

Almost the first thing we noticed at Alta Vista cemetery in Gainesville (Georgia) on a warm, sunny afternoon in April, was the ubiquity of confederate flags. “It must be there,” the passenger in my car said, when he spotted a cluster of them ahead and slightly to the left, just after we had entered the gate. We were looking for the grave of James Longstreet.

No, it was not “there”. In fact, almost immediately we saw conference flags everywhere – to our left, our right and ahead along the streets and avenues that dissect the cemetery. “It must be,” we decided, “because of the observations going on all over the South in connection with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.” Maybe. Maybe these flags had been planted by relatives of those who fought in the war on the Confederate side and simply wanted to honor their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, much as we go to a cemetery on Mother’s Day to lay a bouquet on the graves of the mothers we have lost. Then again, maybe the spirit of the Confederacy and its “lost cause” remains alive in North Georgia.

In the latter case, Longstreet might not have approved.

Archival material suggests that he was not in favor of secession in 1861, but that, once the die was cast, he, a Southerner by birth, signed on and reported for duty, becoming General Robert E. Lee’s Commander of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862.

This post is not meant to retell the story of James Longstreet’s long life, his accomplishments and the controversies for which the locals seem to have forgiven him. But if you find yourself in North Georgia one of these days and have a little time for a drive to Gainesville, you will easily find his grave at Alta Vista (his first wife, Louise, and other relatives are interned there as well, in the same plot). And, you can find, on a dead-end street, among abandoned warehouses in an old industrial section of town, what remains of the Piedmont Hotel.