Skip to Main Content


The Confederate General Who Defied the South

About The Book

Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography
American Battlefield Trust Prize for History Finalist

A “compelling portrait” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize­–winning author) of the controversial Confederate general who later embraced Reconstruction and became an outcast in the South.

It was the most remarkable political about-face in American history. During the Civil War, General James Longstreet fought tenaciously for the Confederacy. He was alongside Lee at Gettysburg (and counseled him not to order the ill-fated attacks on entrenched Union forces there). He won a major Confederate victory at Chickamauga and was seriously wounded during a later battle.

After the war, Longstreet moved to New Orleans, where he dramatically changed course. He supported Black voting and joined the newly elected, integrated postwar government in Louisiana. When white supremacists took up arms to oust that government, Longstreet, leading the interracial state militia, did battle against former Confederates. His defiance ignited a firestorm of controversy, as white Southerners branded him a race traitor and blamed him retroactively for the South’s defeat in the Civil War.

Although he was one of the highest-ranking Confederate generals, Longstreet has never been commemorated with statues or other memorials in the South because of his postwar actions in rejecting the Lost Cause mythology and urging racial reconciliation. He is being discovered in the new age of racial reckoning as “one of the most enduringly relevant voices in American history” (The Wall Street Journal). This is the first authoritative biography in decades and the first that “brilliantly creates the wider context for Longstreet’s career” (The New York Times).

About The Author

Photograph by Dan Addison

Elizabeth R. Varon is Langbourne M. Williams professor of American history at the University of Virginia and a member of the executive council of UVA’s John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History. Varon’s books include LongstreetSouthern LadyYankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van LewA Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy; and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War. Her book, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War, won the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and was named one of The Wall Street Journal’s best books of 2019.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

“[Longstreet’s] story is a reminder that the arc of history is sometimes bent by those who had the courage to change their convictions. . . . And for that, Ms. Varon contends, he commands our attention as one of the most enduringly relevant voices in American history.”

– Peter Cozzens, The Wall Street Journal

"Varon brilliantly creates the wider context for Longstreet’s career. . . . [and] the complexity of a brave man whose very 'legacy would prove to be a battlefield of its own.'"

– Brenda Wineapple, The New York Times

"Compelling. . . .[Varon's] knowledge of the historical context is matched by her balanced appraisal of Longstreet’s attitudes, personal and political.”

– Eric Foner, The Atlantic

"For readers interested in the tragedy of America's Civil War, the horrors of Reconstruction and their implications for our own divided time, Longstreet is an essential book."

– Mary Ann Gwinn, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“It’s hard to see Elizabeth Varon’s new biography of James Longstreet becoming a runaway bestseller, and that’s a shame, because her study of the Confederate general—one of Robert E. Lee’s closest confidants, yet an outcast in the post–Civil War South for his embrace of Black emancipation and civil rights—is insightful, well-executed, and sorely needed.”

– Richard Kreitner, Slate

"Tells Longstreet’s story with authority and insight. . . . Readers interested in the Civil War and the horrors of Reconstruction should not miss this book."

– Kirkus Reviews

“At a time when it seems an open question whether human beings have the capacity to learn and to change in politics, the great historian Elizabeth Varon has given us a compelling portrait of a man who did just that: James Longstreet. A Confederate general who became an advocate for justice in the painful aftermath of the Civil War, Longstreet has much to teach us in our own hour of polarization.”

– Jon Meacham, author of And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle

"James Longstreet's evolution from an ardent secessionist and prominent Confederate general to a postwar Republican and supporter of black civil rights who repudiated Lost Cause mythologies has long puzzled contemporaries and historians. Elizabeth Varon brilliantly solves this puzzle and links it to the persistent efforts to scapegoat Longstreet for Confederate defeat at Gettysburg."

– James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

"James Longstreet is best known as a talented Confederate military figure and a Lost Cause pariah. Elizabeth Varon provides the first in-depth assessment of his substantial postwar career as a politician, diplomat, and reconciliationist. Her superb book reminds modern readers of Longstreet's stature, while also illuminating the complexity and volatility of the nation's racial and sectional politics."

– Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Enduring Civil War: Reflections on the Great American Crisis

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images