The Northeast Georgia Mountain travel region, a popular tourist destination due to the beauty of its mountains, does not have much in the way of Civil War historic sites. The area was more sparsely settled than other regions of the state, with poorer transportation routes. Some of the hardscrabble mountain folk in the area were even more independent than the fire-eating secessionists. Some in the mountains were pro-union.
Gainesville, a mill town on the Chattahoochee River, was the boyhood home of Confederate Lt. Gen. James T. Longstreet. When Gen. Robert E. Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia, he placed Longstreet in charge of the First Corps and General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in command of the Second Corps. This trio won fame as a fighting force early in the war with many victories against larger and better equipped Union armies. Lee called Longstreet his "Old War Horse" and one of his most reliable commanders. In the fall of 1863, Longstreet and his corps of 15,000 men were sent to Gen. Braxton Bragg by railroad from Virginia to Georgia for the Battle of Chickamauga, only the second time that reinforcements had been brought in by railroad during a battle (the first was in Manassas), requiring a trip of nine days and 900 miles over 16 different railroads. On the first day, Sept. 19, Bragg was unable to break through. Longstreet arrived that evening and was put in charge of the left wing. The next day, Longstreet's troops crushed the Federal right wing in the largest battle of the Western Theater.
Longstreet, the son of a Gainesville farmer, was born on Jan. 8, 1821 in Edgefield District, South Carolina, at his grandmother's home. Until he was nine, he lived on the family farm near Gainesville, then moved to live with his aunt and uncle in Augusta in order to attend Richmond Academy. In 1838, he was appointed to West Point, and graduated 54th out of 56 in 1842. Classmates included eight future Union generals and eight future Confederate generals. At his first command in Missouri, he introduced his cousin Julia Dent to U.S. Grant, and the two later married. He fought for the U.S. Army in Mexico with Zachary Taylor, and was with Winfield Scott when he marched on Mexico City and was wounded. He resigned his U.S. commission when the Civil War broke out and won fame as a Confederate general. He was still commanding forces when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. After the war, his criticism of Lee's strategy at Gettysburg, his Republican politics, and support of voting rights for blacks earned him scorn from many Southerners. His wife died in 1889, and he remarried in 1897 at 76 to 34-year-old Helen Dortch. He died on Jan. 2, 1904. His unique gravestone has the Confederate and U.S. flags crossed, and one says from "Palo Alto to Chapultepec"; the other "From Manassas to Appomattox."
After the war, Longstreet lived in Gainesville from 1875 until his death in 1904. Soon after his arrival, he bought a 45-acre farm one mile north of the town's center. At the property's highest point, he built a two-story house and planted a scuppernong grape vineyard, which local residents affectionately called "Little Gettysburg." He was proud of the wine fermented from his grapes. His house burned in 1889, destroying many of his mementos and his almost completed memoirs. Today, the granite steps, outlines of the foundation, and portions of the terraces still remain and one small arbor of Longstreet's grapes has been preserved by a devoted homeowner. The home is in a park maintained by the Longstreet Society.
In 1875, Gen. Longstreet purchased the Piedmont Hotel, which he owned and operated till the end of his life. It served as his political base during his long career as an influential Republican Party leader, and here he played host to many Civil War era luminaries, including Gen. Joseph Johnston. Woodrow Wilson, then a lawyer in Atlanta, was a frequent guest in the 1880s, as his aunt lived one block away. One of Wilson's daughters was born in the hotel. The hotel was demolished in 1918, although the north wing's lower level still exists. The Longstreet Society has purchased and saved approximately 2,000 square-feet of the hotel and has plans to open it for tours. For information on the farm and vineyards or the hotel, contact the Longstreet Society at 770-531-0100.
There are approximately 102 county monuments honoring Georgia's Confederate soldiers located across the state. Sixty-three have soldiers, but only one has a soldier "on guard" or "at ready": the Confederate monument in Gainesville. The Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to erect a memorial "at ready" as a memorial to the veterans of Hall County. The Chicago firm they contacted tried to sell them one "at rest," but the ladies would have none of it. After two years of discussion, they got what they wanted for $2,500, and dedicated it on June 7, 1909.
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