September 24, 2010

Lee and Longstreet at High Tide

Georgia-born Helen Dortch (1863-1962) was thirty-four years old when she became the second wife of then seventy-six-year-old General James Longstreet in 1897. When Lee’s “old war horse” passed away six years later, he was still considered a persona non-grata in ex-Confederate circles. As part of the burgeoning Lost Cause mythology which fervently implied that Lee was blameless for anything, many of Longstreet’s ex-Confederate colleagues had for decades made him the fall guy for the loss at the battle of Gettysburg and further scorned him for the manner in which he sought to reconcile with Northern politicians and soldiers.

Following the general’s death, Helen Dortch Longstreet vigorously set about to rehabilitate her husband’s reputation. Her result was Lee and Longstreet at High Tide: Gettysburg in Light of the Official Records, a 346-page work that was privately published (i.e. vanity press) in Gainesville, Georgia in 1904 at a price of $2.75. In her book, she sets out to exonerate her husband through a close examination of the Official Records and concludes that “because of the scurrilous comments made by petty men, the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet."

David Eicher included Mrs. Longstreet’s work is his bibliography of the most important Civil War books (#90), and notes that her analysis was successful and that the case she presented was “strong in Longstreet’s favor.” At the other end, Allen Nevins considered the book to be “painfully defensive in tone” and that while her defense was convincing, it was “at times overdrawn.”

The book is considered an important one on the Gettysburg campaign and first editions are certainly viewed as collector’s items. Expect to pay $300+ for a copy in fine condition, if one can be found. Copies autographed by Mrs. Longstreet will certainly command a higher premium. Sales were such that a second edition appeared in 1905, which is so stated on the copyright page. The book was reissued by Broadfoot Publishers in a facsimile edition in 1988 that included a new introduction by Carl W. Breihan.


Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know that Cornell University has made a scan of its 1904 edition freely available to read or download at

Paul Taylor said...

Anonymous -

Thanks for the information. The 1904 edition is also available in its entirety at Google Print. But being able to merely read the book online for free is not the point... at least to us book collectors.

For us, 1st editions such as this have an intrinsic value as an artifact that transcends mere words on a page. It's hard to explain at times.... :-)