In Longstreet: The Confederate General Who Defied the South, University of Virginia American History Professor Elizabeth Varon gives us a biography that is pleasing to read and reflect on. James Longstreet is probably best known to intelligent readers as General Robert E. Lee’s “warhorse,” the commander whose name is connected to the Confederate effort in many great Civil War battles, including Gettysburg. Less known is his conversion to the Republican Party two years after he stood by Lee at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in 1865. Longstreet’s unusual life, and Varon’s judicious decisions about what to highlight, provoke hard questions about the man and our country. She does not insist on certain answers to those questions, choosing instead to furnish the reader with ample material to ponder while cutting a smooth path through Longstreet’s eventful career.

From the start, Varon frames Longstreet’s story as one grand puzzle. In her prologue, she describes the professional bearing of a militia on parade—then she reveals that the year is 1870, the militia serves Louisiana (recently a slave state), and the members of the militia are African American. In the reviewing stand, overseeing the presentation of the Union flag, is James Longstreet. Varon asks, “How did Longstreet, a man who had gone to war in 1861

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