Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gen. James Longstreet's granddaughter dies; she helped fight to win him vindication

Jamie L. Paterson at Gettysburg in 1998 (Courtesy Dan Paterson)

Dan Paterson remembers visiting Civil War battlefields where his famous great-grandfather’s name might be mentioned, but no monument stood.

Paterson’s mother, Jamie, also would drive Dan and his younger brother Jimmy to her hometown of Gainesville, Ga, the home and resting place of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.

“When I was kid growing up and visiting that grave site, it was more like a family going to a family graveyard, not what it is today with the lights and the flagpole,” said Paterson, 55.

Recognition for Longstreet was slow in coming. In the latter half of his storied life, the general became the scapegoat for the South’s defeat. Vindication of the controversial general wouldn’t begin until several decades after his 1904 death.

The growing recognition of Longstreet’s contribution to the Southern war effort culminated with the July 3, 1998, dedication of a monument to the warrior at Pitzer’s Woods at Gettysburg, the battle in which Longstreet’s conduct was criticized by many historians.

The dedication was a poignant moment for Jamie Louise Longstreet Paterson, who proudly carried her grandfather’s name and did her part over the years to help remove the tarnish off the general who did the unthinkable after the Civil War -- support the Republican Party, Reconstruction and suffrage for blacks.

Jamie Paterson died at age 84 on Aug. 5 after an extended illness. She was a resident of Bowie, Md.

Fitz Randolph Longstreet in 1929
She was born in Gainesville to Fitz Randolph Longstreet – one of the general’s sons -- and Zelia Stover Longstreet. Randolph’s first wife, Josie, died in 1904 and he remarried in 1929. Jamie was born a year later, when her father was 61. He passed away in 1951.

Jamie never knew James Longstreet, who moved to Gainesville in 1875 and operated a hotel.

Randolph Longstreet was a farmer and loving father, said Dan Paterson. “My grandfather was  … easy-going, he did not go into the military.”

Jamie attended Gainesville Business School and worked for the Gainesville Midland Railway. In 1957, she married William D. Paterson, a Pennsylvanian who wooed her after they met at a dance while he was stationed at an Army Ranger camp in north Georgia. They lived in Washington, D.C. and then Bowie. William Paterson died in 2006.

As he grew older, Dan Paterson helped take up the family mantle in educating the public about Longstreet.

“I made it my life mission to understand his role,” he said. “After all these years of giving programs, living in (Centreville) Virginia and hearing about Stonewall, I know the origin of this.”

Longstreet’s most masterful moments during the Civil War were at Chickamauga and Second Manassas.

Dan Paterson (right) in 1969 at Longstreet grave. His mother is behind marker.
The veteran of Indian wars and the Mexican-American War was devoted and loyal to Gen. Robert E. Lee, who leaned heavily on Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The latter was killed at Chancellorsville only a few months before Gettysburg.

A cabal, which included former generals Jubal Early and John Gordon, claimed Longstreet stubbornly resisted Lee’s plans at Gettysburg, resulting in the loss of the 1863 battle – and perhaps the war.

They said Lee’s “War Horse”, his principal subordinate, was insubordinate at Gettysburg. That he wouldn’t support the attacks. That he moved his 14,000 troops in a slow manner.

Longstreet’s supporters and some scholars counter this. Although Gettysburg may not have been his best effort, they say, the general fought effectively on Days 2 and 3.

Paterson said the claims against his great-grandfather’s conduct at Gettysburg are a lie. “But now the truth is coming out.”

The controversy about Longstreet began two years after the war’s end. While his wife, Louisa, stayed in Lynchburg, Va., with their children, including Randolph, the former general was a successful businessman in New Orleans. He kept the family in Virginia because of persistent fears of yellow fever in New Orleans.

Jamie Longstreet (far right) with relatives, circa 1946.

“The stuff hit the fan” in 1867 when Longstreet wrote in a newspaper report that he believed in reconciliation and black suffrage. His business began to fail, said Paterson, after critics accused him of being a scalawag – a Southern white who supported Reconstruction.

While living in Louisiana, Longstreet led a black militia against unruly white supremacists.

Southerners did not forget that affront or his Republican loyalties. While there is no evidence he was progressive on race, Longstreet thought giving blacks full citizenship and voting rights was the practical thing to do.

“All of this anti-Longstreet material was racially motivated,” said Dan Paterson, adding it’s important that people understand the timeline of events – that his great-grandfather’s stance on issues became clear before he joined the Republican Party and served in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Paterson concedes James Longstreet offended many people in some of his answers to critics.

“He embittered people when he responded. When he wrote his book, it was like it is sending an e-mail out when you were angry.”

Zelia and F.R. Longstreet, circa 1940.

Family members portray Longstreet, who was born in South Carolina, as a pragmatist for his support of Reconstruction.

Among those who promote the general’s legacy is the Longstreet Society, which operates out of the old Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville. The family asks that donations in Jamie Paterson’s name be made to the organization.

Dan Paterson said his mother’s remains will be interred in the Longstreet family plot at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. A date has not yet been set. “I have to bring her home,” he said. “She requested that.”

Over the years, Jamie Paterson attended many functions related to the Civil War and her grandfather. She also spoke highly of the general’s second wife, Helen, whom he married eight years after Louisa passed away.

Dan Paterson said he has been treated well at events, including at “the lion’s den” of Richmond, Va. He met a descendant of Jubal Early and described him as a “real nice guy.”

The descendant said the war was about preserving slavery. “I am more intrigued about the expose of the Lost Cause than I am anything. That is the source for the negative stuff against Longstreet.”

Paterson continues to give occasional presentations and feels he has had some part in helping change the general’s reputation.

He’s been involved in re-enacting for years, portraying both Confederate and Union soldiers. It’s not about politics, Paterson said, but about “trying to follow what those guys did.” 

People joke that Longstreet most be rolling in his grave because Paterson is part of the 7th Maryland Volunteer Infantry, a re-enacting group that portrays Union soldiers. 

“I think he would be happy with what I am doing,” said Paterson.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this article on the legacy of James Longstreet and his family. Thank you for sharing.