James Longstreet (1821-1904): Confederate General, Catholic Convert

Soldier and Catholic convert. Born 8 January, 1821, at Edgefield, South Carolina, U.S.A.; died at Gainesville, Georgia, 2 January, 1904. In 1831 he moved to Alabama with his parents, and was thence appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1842. For his services in the Mexican War he was brevetted major and in 1852 was commissioned captain.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned his commission in June, 1861, and entered the Confederate service, in which he afterwards attained the distinction of being one of its greatest fighters and of winning the unbounded confidence and affection of his soldiers. He received at once the rank of brigadier general, and participated with distinction in the first battle of Bull Run, after which he was made a major general in 1862. At Antietam (17 September, 1862) he commanded the right wing of Lee’s army, and with the rank of lieutenant general he was at the head of a corps at Gettysburg (2-3 July, 1863). In the battle of the Wilderness on 6 May, 1864, he was severely wounded, but resumed his command during the siege of Petersburg.

At the close of the war he engaged in business in New Orleans, and accepted the political situation, becoming a Republican in politics. President Grant appointed him surveyor of customs at New Orleans, and later he was made supervisor of internal revenue and postmaster. In 1875 he removed to Georgia, and in 1880-81 was sent as U.S. Minister to Turkey. In 1898 he was appointed U.S. railway commissioner. He left a valuable chapter of war history in From Manasses to Appomattox (Philadelphia, 1904). He became a Catholic in New Orleans, 7 March, 1877.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)

About Pat McNamara
  • Dale

    Loyola University New Orleans posted on its website a senior thesis related to this topic.

    According to that paper, Longstreet’s political realignment put him at odds with many White southerners, who were unhappy with the post-war changes. He found himself deeply unpopular with many of his former Confederate associates Longstreet’s social isolation, and stressful circumstances, may have had something to do with his conversion. Quoting from the student thesis paper:

    “Research located in the Georgetown University Archives revealed a letter in which Father Semper of the New Orleans Jesuits comments about the conversion of Longstreet.31 Semper writes that when Longstreet had lost the battle of Liberty Place that, “Pain to the General’s heart from the familiar voices opened his eyes to vanity of the world and to supernatural grace.”32 Another possible motivation for doing so could quite possibly be tied directly to his social unpopularity.33 The Episcopalian Church that he had formerly been a member of, after all, was the traditional religion of soldiers and various upper-class Southern families who were migrating to New Orleans in search of opportunity. If Longstreet’s life was in danger when he walked the streets, it is not a stretch to believe that he did not any longer feel welcome in his old church. It should be noted, however, that James Longstreet did nothing halfway or without conviction and he as known for being a supporter of the Catholic Church until the end of his


    As a bit of background, the Battle of Liberty Place involved a white insurrection (many Confederate veterans) versus a force of police and militia led by Longstreet. The militia broke and ran, leading to a rout of Longstreet’s side. He was wounded, then captured and is said to have been lucky to escape with his life.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Fascinating, as well as Dale’s comment below. Leaves me to wonder why, as a southerner who had valiantly faught in the Civil War, he was a Republican in politics. I can’t help but suspect that the change in religion and politics were in some indiscipherable way related.
    By the way, that beard in the picture is horrid…lol.