One of the most controversial Confederate generals, Longstreet was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, January 8, 1821, and reared in Georgia. After graduating near the bottom of his West Point class in 1842, “Old Pete” fought in Mexico, where he won two brevets for gallantry. He resigned his commission in the paymaster's department to join the Confederacy. Longstreet competently commanded a brigade at First Manassas and a division at Seven Pines and in the Seven Days campaign. His tactical abilities at Second Manassas and Sharpsburg won the admiration of General Robert E. Lee and led to his appointment in October 1862 as lieutenant general and commander of the First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. In this new capacity he fought brilliantly at Fredricksburg, but with less distinction at Gettysburg, where his performance is still debated.
Chafing to gain independent command, Longstreet engineered the transfer of his corps to the Army of Tennessee in September 1863, perhaps with hopes of wresting command of that army away from the incompetent and unpopular Braxton Bragg. His troops played a key role at Chickamauga on September 19, but his participation in an abortive attempt to oust Bragg from command shortly thereafter led Bragg to detach Longstreet's troops from the army. Bragg sent Longstreet on a forlorn campaign to retake Knoxville, which had fallen to Major General Ambrose Burnside's Union forces in early September. After losing a footrace with Burnside to Knoxville, Longstreet laid siege to the city and attempted to starve the garrison into submission. Longstreet ordered an assault on Fort Sanders, which he thought was a Federal weak link, on November 29, but was repulsed with heavy casualties. When he received news of Bragg's rout at Chattanooga and the approach of a Union relief column from the south, Longstreet lifted the eighteen-day siege and retreated into winter quarters in upper East Tennessee. While his army rested around Morristown and Greeneville, Longstreet launched a savage attack against his senior officers, blaming division commanders Lafayette McLaws and Evander Law for his failures. Both generals were sacked and their commands given to Longstreet supporters.
By April 1864 Longstreet was back in Virginia, where he participated in the final campaigns of Lee's army. Following the war, Longstreet entered into a protracted and bitter feud with former Virginia officers over his role in the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. His undistinguished attempt at independent command in East Tennessee and his attacks on his own officers did little to enhance his reputation. Lee's “Old War Horse” died January 2, 1904, at his home in Gainesville, Georgia.