Publisher: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division
Helen Dortch was thirty-four when in 1897 she married James Longstreet, the seventy-six-year-old former Confederate general. She outlived "Old Pete" by fifty-nine years, spending much of that time defending his reputation. In particular, southerners were angered by Longstreet's decision to join the Republican Party after the Civil War, and many prominent veterans, intent on lionizing Robert E. Lee, attacked his performance at the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). Helen Longstreet was "as combative as Old Pete himself when responding to a slight against his good name," according to the historian Carol Reardon. When she visited the Gettysburg battlefield for a fiftieth-anniversary commemoration, she insisted that Pickett's Charge, in fact, "was Longstreet's." This upset Virginians who, in transforming the failed and bloody charge into a Lost Cause myth, had downplayed the role of non-Virginians like Longstreet in favor of George E. Pickett and his men. Mrs. Longstreet wrote in the New York Times of imagining her husband's feelings of "dumb agony as he looked upon the marching columns and knew that it was their death march." During World War II (1939–1945), Helen Longstreet, then in her eighties, worked as a riveter, and in 1950, she ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia.