Longstreet’s Last Laugh: Civil War Narratives, Robert E. Lee, and the “blood was up” idiom


[warning: this essay has nothing to do with Florida]

“Longstreet used to say that when [Lee’s] blood was up, there wasn’t anything you could do about it. You just had to hope he would calm down.” Shelby Foote, interviewed by John Carr, 1970, in ed. William C. Carter, Conversations with Shelby Foote (1989), p. 42

“[Lee] was confident, excited, the blood was up. He thought the army could do anything.”
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (1974), p. 281.

“After studying the Union position on the morning of July 2, Longstreet concluded that an attack had little chance of success. He urged Lee to move South (toward Washington) and find some good defensive terrain…. But Lee’s blood was up. He rejected the advice.”   James McPherson, Hallowed Ground (2003), p 63.

When reading about the Civil War, especially popular biographies and narratives of battles and campaigns, you’ll find that writers reliably deploy a battery of colorful phrases and quotations. Regular readers anticipate the appearance of their favorites. For example, any narrative of naval exploits will include Admiral David Farragut’s defiant declaration “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Writing about General John Bell Hood inevitably prompts repetition of Robert E. Lee’s sardonic observation that Hood was “too much of a lion and not enough of a fox.” Authors alluding to Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking will resort to Abraham Lincoln’s wry request for Grant’s brand of whiskey so he could “send a barrel of it to my other generals.” The fact that none of these quotations can be verified as having been uttered by the alleged speaker does not stop writers from routinely repeating them.

One expression that I’ve come across over and over is the idiom “blood was up” in connection with Robert E. Lee’s decision to assume the offensive at Gettysburg. Some quick googling shows that use of “blood was up” to describe Lee is widespread, but that the origin of this phrase is not clear. Some authors credit the quote to General James Longstreet, and some even give citations; most, however, use the phrase without attribution. I raised the question of the origin of Lee’s “blood was up” at the www.civilwartalk.com message board: the knowledgeable members were well aware of the phrase but not sure about its source. Some just assumed that it originated with Longstreet; others thought its origin story apocryphal. This essay is recounts my subsequent investigation into the use of “blood was up” in association with Lee at Gettysburg.

Robert E. Lee’s decision to go on the offensive on the second day of the Gettysburg is one of the most dramatic and critical moments in the Civil War. Despite terrain, numbers, and deployment favoring staying on the defensive, Lee ordered his generals to attack. Ever since the battle, soldiers and scholars have tried to understand, explain, endorse, condemn or excuse Lee’s fateful choice.[1] Immediately upon Lee’s death in 1870, his admirers vigorously defended their hero’s performance at Gettysburg and identified a scapegoat for the ensuing catastrophe: Confederate corps commander General James Longstreet. Since Lee was the Lost Cause’s paramount and infallible hero, only Longstreet’s treachery could explain the debacle. Longstreet, however, lived a long life and defied the growing Lee cult by refusing to take the fall for the loss. In the decades after the war,

Gen. James Longstreet (source: wikipedia)
Gen. James Longstreet (source: wikipedia)

Longstreet fought in print to absolve himself of blame and in the process raised questions about the soundness of Lee’s decision to go on the offense, which ran contrary to Longstreet’s advice to fight a tactically defensive battle. Longstreet’s questions about Lee, in turn, provoked angry rebuttals from Lost Cause partisans who could not accept any impeachment of Lee’s judgment.

Delving into the post-war dispute between Longstreet and Lee’s defenders about Gettysburg requires rummaging through an immense, confusing literature of argument and counter-argument. Entire chapters are devoted to the history of assigning blame for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg.[2] The duality of this debate has presented an irresistible narrative to writers recounting the dramatic moment of Lee’s decision. While not necessarily adopting Longstreet’s excuses and explanations, some authors embrace Longstreet’s challenge by imagining and describing Lee’s temperament. This approach inevitably leads to the question of whether Lee’s choice was calculated after carefully considering the potential options, or whether Lee’s decision-making was impaired by agitation in the heat of battle and, as a result, defied reason.

To address the question about Lee’s state of mind when he determined his army’s fate, contemporary writers have increasingly resorted to the dramatic idiom “blood was up.”[3] While evocative and memorable, this word choice is problematic. Frustratingly ambiguous, “blood was up” repeats the question it is being used to solve: the expression can mean that an individual is excited but still commands logic and reason or it can mean that the actor is unhinged by emotion and acting irrationally. Consequently, two writers employing the same phrase can present radically different appraisals of Lee’s record as a commander: an excited general can inspire his troops, while an irrational leader can sacrifice his soldiers’ lives recklessly. Civil War writers have carelessly used the idiom without recognizing both meanings.

First, let’s examine the definition and use of “blood was up.” The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “to have one’s (also the) blood up” as being in a “state of rage, to be in a mood for a fight.” The earliest citation in the OED is from 1576 “Some of them when their bloud is vp, will rashlye and vnaduisedlye attempte any thinge, and not care for any perills.”[4] In ante-bellum America, the expression was in common colloquial use to represent a state of high emotion at a time of conflict, although it was not considered quite proper as a literary idiom for use by refined speakers. For example, in an early story Walt Whitman gave the words to a killer: “ ‘I was never ignorant of the penalty’ answered the criminal, ‘and yet I murdered, for my blood was up.’ ”

Haley, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" illustration
Haley, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” illustration

In the 1850s, Samuel Northup and Harriet Beecher Stowe each used “blood was up” dramatically to describe the state of mind of a slave – society’s mostpowerless individual – pushed by outrageous injustice to react with rage. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe’s character Haley, a white slave trader uses the “blood was up” phrase in a manner of speech described by the author to be in “free and easy defiance of Murray’s grammar, and… garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions.” In discussing slave-trading, Haley tells another white man about an incident he once witnessed “I knew a real handsome girl, once, in Orleans, as was entirely ruined by this sort o’ handling. The fellow that was trading for her didn’t want her baby, and she was one of your real high sort, when her blood was up.” Solomon Northup/David Wilson use “blood was up” in Twelve Years A Slave to describe Northup’s state of high agitation when fighting back after being attacked by John Tibeats: “…I placed my foot up on his neck. He was completely in my power. My blood was up. It seemed to course through my veins like fire. In the frenzy of my madness I snatched the whip from his hand.” For these authors, maternal devotion of a slave woman about to be separated from her child and the self-defense instincts of a black man threatened with violent death by a white man, do not allow for rational, reaction when their “blood was up.”[5]

Civil War soldiers similarly used “blood was up” to describe a high state of emotion or agitation, particularly during combat. A few weeks after Gettysburg, Lt. William Wheeler of the 13th NY Battery, wrote to his family that a particular combat “exactly suited me, as my blood was up, and I did not like the idea of going back with my Battery. Until nightfall I was hardly out of fire once, and I was raised to the highest pitch of excitement; the danger was so great and so constant that, at last, it took away the sense of danger.” John W. Chase wrote in a letter that his regiment was ready to march “on to the rebels whether they had got orders or not for the Celtic blood was up.” The phrase, however, could be used to comic effect, even within the context of combat. Shortly after the war, a Louisiana soldier recalled with great amusement the “grand spectacle” at the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern when his unit’s African American servant bringing up breakfast to the troops came under fire. “Old Jeff’s frightened horse bolted and followed the charging cavalry. The servant’s “blood was up” as, armed with a coffee pot, he participated in the capture of a Union battery.[6]

Other soldiers, however, relied on “blood was up” to describe their emotional state during less lethal situations when adrenaline may have risen high, but rational thought and self-control were certainly possible. Charles Johnson of the 81st Penn. wrote of a training maneuver when his regiment’s “… blood was up and we were determined to go through the gates of Pluto’s dominions if [the General’s] orders brought us there.” Tasked with administering small pox vaccinations to non-cooperative soldiers at Camp Shaw on the South Carolina coast in early 1864, Thomas Wentworth Higginson reported that his unit’s “ blood was up with hard work and we would have held down Maj. Gen Gillmore commanding department & all his staff upon the wharf & vaccinated them all by main force rather than turn back.”[7]

Narratives written shortly after the Civil War, regularly used “blood was up” in connection with famous generals, but not to describe General Lee. Usually, “blood was up” represented an admired attribute in the officer. If these generals were in fact irrational or unreasonable, it was in a positive example of military leadership. In his 1866 history of the war, J. T. Headley wrote that when General Edwin V. Sumner received orders to withdraw immediately after the Battle of Savage Station (White Oak), “he obeyed reluctantly, for his blood was up, and he wished to punish still further the presumptuous foe.” An early Thomas J. Jackson biographer told of an incident in the Valley Campaign when Stonewall’s “blood was up; and he delivered blow after blow from his insulted left wing, with stunning rapidity and regulated fury.” In his 1867 “Lee and His Lieutenants,” E. A. Pollard commented about General Joseph Johnston that “when his blood was up, he fought with matchless rapidity, and struck right and left with the blows of a giant.” Or the phrase might be used in connection with a group of soldiers: a campaign biography of U. S. Grant recounting the famous charge up Missionary Ridge stated that the Union troops’ “blood was up, and it was impossible to restrain them.”[8]

If “blood was up” was widely used but not in connection with Robert E. Lee in the decades after the war, how did the phrase become so closely associated with Lee, particularly at Gettysburg? Answering this question takes us back to the emergence of the narrative that Lee’s decision-making in Pennsylvania was shaped, or even distorted, by his excited state of mind. The first well-known example of such speculation came from New York Times war correspondent William Swinton, who wrote of Lee at Gettysburg as “[h]aving, however, gotten a taste of blood in the considerable success of the first day, the Confederate commander seems to have lost that equipoise in which his faculties commonly moved, and he determined to give battle.” As a northern journalist, Swinton would not have observed Lee directly at Gettysburg. Swinton, however, cites a first-hand source for this passage: General James Longstreet.[9]

Lee in all his Lost Cause Glory (source:http://www.parentuniversitynrp.org)
Lee in all his Lost Cause Glory (source:http://www.parentuniversitynrp.org)

Swinton’s implication that Lee’s excited state of mind compromised his judgment is a serious charge. Longstreet was among Lee’s closest confidants, and conversed several times with Lee during the battle. Do we have evidence that Swinton accurately portrayed Longstreet’s observations of Lee on July 2, 1863? Longstreet did record his impression of Lee’s state of mind that day on a few occasions, but the first such report did not come until 1877. Longstreet’s choice of words in an 1877 newspaper article was quite close in substance to the observation Swinton attributed to Longstreet eleven years earlier. Longstreet wrote that Lee “seemed under a subdued excitement, which occasionally took possession of him when the ‘hunt was up,’ and threatened his superb equipoise.” Later, in the same article Longstreet returned to this idea: “There is no doubt that General Lee, during the crisis of that campaign, lost the matchless equipoise which usually characterized him, and that whatever mistakes were made were not so much matters of deliberate judgment as the impulses of a great mind disturbed by unparalleled conditions. General Lee was thrown from his balance….” And again, only a few months later in another article, Longstreet wrote that at Gettysburg: “General Lee had lost that matchless equipoise that usually characterized him.”  In one later account, Longstreet excluded any questions about the soundness of Lee’s judgment or state of mind. In his 1895 memoir, however, Longstreet resorted to the most shocking language he would use about his former commander and friend: “That he was excited and off his balance was evident on the afternoon of the 1st, and he labored under that oppression until enough blood was shed to appease him.”[10]

By the time Longstreet had started writing about Gettysburg, he was already a pariah among his former Confederate officers and post-war explanations for Confederate military failure had made him the scapegoat for defeat. His Republican politics and cooperation with Reconstruction together with his daring to defy the rapidly growing post-death cult of Lee’s infallibility turned Longstreet’s image into that of Judas betraying the Christ-like Lee. Longstreet cemented his discredited, outsider status by persisting in criticizing Lee’s performance at Gettysburg while praising his own conduct.[11] Lee’s defenders, lead by former Confederate officers Jubal Early and William N. Pendleton, launched numerous blistering attacks on Longstreet’s performance at Gettysburg. Longstreet’s maladroit retorts exacerbated the dispute and gave more ammunition to his enemies. As Lost Cause mythology took hold among a Southern pubic eager to embrace the image of Lee as the embodiment of honor and nobility, few nineteenth and early twentieth century historians would dare risk the backlash sure to arise from giving credence to Longstreet’s derided comments about Lee’s loss of equipoise. By the late nineteenth century, the sanctification of Lee became inextricably intertwined with betrayal by Longstreet.[12]

The first prominent use of “blood was up” to describe Lee came in the 1930s in Douglass Southall Freeman’s massive hagiography of Lee. Over the course of his four volume biography, Freeman used some form of the idiom in reference to Lee but always in an admirable, even heroic context, free from the taint of Longstreet’s equipoise comments. For example, when arguing with Jefferson Davis over strategy, “Lee would have answered the President’s question and would have said no more, but now his fighting-blood was up.” Or, when hearing of Jackson’s idea to divide the army at Chancellorsville: “The boldness of the proposal stirred Lee’s fighting blood.” Freeman did quote Longstreet’s statement about Lee being “off his balance” at Gettysburg but only to point out Longstreet’s isolation and to discredit Longstreet. In a list of reasons for the Confederate failure at Gettysburg, Freeman’s fourth reason was the “state of mind of the responsible Confederate commanders.” Primary among these offenders, in Freeman’s opinion, was Longstreet who was “disgruntled because Lee refused to take his advice for a tactical defensive.” Longstreet’s “slow and stubborn mind rendered him incapable of the quick daring and loyal obedience that had characterized Jackson.” For Freeman, Lee was always in control of the situation.[13]

Tom Berenger and Martin Sheen decide the fate of nations
Tom Berenger and Martin Sheen decide the fate of nations

Almost at the same time that Freeman was writing his Lee biography, Longstreet’s biographers, H. J. Eckenrode and Bryan Conrad, used “blood was up” to describe Lee in a less heroic sense than their contemporary Freeman. To Eckenrode and Conrad, “blood was up” symbolized Lee’s impulsiveness and represented defiantly aggressive decision-making. To explain Lee’s decision to launch a frontal assault at Malvern Hill, the authors speculated that “…perhaps Lee’s blood was up and he preferred fighting to maneuvering.” Also, at Antietam, although his officers “counseled retreat…. Lee’s blood was up and he was prepared for another day of battle.” The authors, however, did not use the idiom to describe Lee at Gettysburg and did not endorse Longstreet’s charge that Lee had lost his balance or equipoise at that battle.[14]

The advent of “blood was up” to describe Lee at Gettysburg coincides with the rehabilitation of Longstreet’s reputation and the concomitant willingness of historians to criticize Lee. Shelby Foote’s massive Civil War narrative trilogy represented the beginning of a pivot in popular history in Longstreet’s favor. In his second volume published in 1963, Foote echoed Freeman in his admiration of Lee and accused Longstreet of sulking and assigned him some responsibility for the outcome, but Foote also portrayed Longstreet as favorably as any popular writer in nearly a century.[15] Foote already enjoyed using “blood was up” in connection with many Confederate commanders, (e.g., A S. Johnston, Van Dorn, Richard Taylor, and William H.T. Walker), but did not use the phrase in connection with Lee at Gettysburg. Foote did quote from Longstreet’s article about Lee being combative “when the hunt was up,” but Foote chose to mollify the impression made by Longstreet by excluding the subsequent comment about Lee’s loss of equipoise. In 1963, Foote was not ready to suggest that Lee’s judgment defied reason or that he acted out of excitability.[16]

Foote’s evolving portrayal of Longstreet and willingness to entertain Longstreet’s criticism of Lee is evident in an interview he gave at the end of the decade. To describe Lee, Foote improvised on Longstreet’s post-war “equipoise” comments, telling the interviewer that “Longstreet used to say that when [Lee’s] blood was up, there wasn’t anything you could do about it. You just had to hope he would calm down.” Then, in the third volume of this trilogy, published in 1974, Foote used “blood was up” twice in recounting incidents when Lee came under Union fire during the Over Land campaign. In one scene, soldiers grabbed Lee’s horse’s reins, trying to pull him away from danger, but Lee’s “blood was up; he did not seem to hear them, or even to know that he and they were no longer in motion.” And later, in a similar incident, Lee was in no mind to retreat to safety. “His blood was up, now as before; anxiety was on him.” Consistent with the 1970 interview, Foote was using “blood was up” in the context of reckless disregard for personal safety, not simply

Shelby Foote and Ken Burns
Shelby Foote and Ken Burns

courageous leadership. Foote’s 1970 interview story gained wide and indelible exposure when he repeated his statement about Longstreet saying Lee’s “blood was up” in the 1990 Ken Burns The Civil War documentary [17]

At the same time that Foote released his third volume, an unknown writer published the novel that would decisively reverse the public’s perception of Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg and popularize use of the Lee’s “blood was up” idiom. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s novel about Gettysburg, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975 and slowly gained immense popularity, culminating in the adaptation of the novel into the 1993 movie “Gettysburg.” Shaara’s novel represented the turning-point in the rehabilitation of Longstreet’s popular reputation that Shelby Foote had helped to roll forward. Relying heavily on Longstreet’s memoir, Shaara portrayed Longstreet as one of the novel’s heroes and largely adopted Longstreet’s perspective of the battle and of General Lee. Shaara went further than previous writers by presenting Longstreet’s remarks about Lee’s equipoise as credible, instead of merely self-serving. For example, Shaara echoed Longstreet’s memoir and, coincidentally, Foote’s 1970 interview, when writing that Lee “was confident, excited, the blood was up. He thought the army could do anything.” Shaara’s use of “blood was up” at Gettysburg and Foote’s use of the phrase in his third volume to describe Lee under fire, firmly placed the idiom in the context of describing Lee in moments of unreflective, perhaps irrational, recklessness.[18]

After The Killer Angels and Ken Burns’s The Civil War, the use of “blood was up” to describe Lee at Gettysburg quickly spread through popular and scholarly literature, but not necessarily with the meaning that Foote and Shaara attached to that phrase. While before Foote and Shaara, it would have been unusual to describe Lee as impulsive, let alone irrational, “blood was up” subsequently become standard trope to describe Lee at Gettysburg. Some authors, unaware of the origins of the phrase in connection, attributed to Longstreet words he never spoke.[19]

Michael Shaara (source: floridamemory.com)
Michael Shaara (source: floridamemory.com)

Now, we have reached a point where the use of “blood was up” to describe Lee at Gettysburg is so widespread to have become a cliché of Civil War writing. The history of the phrase is indeed confusing, but that is no excuse for writers to continue lazily to repeat it without verifying its origin or accuracy. To add further complications, these same writers have typically ignored the nuanced, but important, differences in the uses of the idiom. All of this has served to cloud the question that “blood was up” is used by these writers to elucidate: was Lee’s decision at Gettysburg reasonable and reached after careful consideration, or emotional, knee-jerk and even irrational?

Some argue that Lee’s decision on July 2, 1863 doomed the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. After that defeat, Lee’s troops never again invaded nor seriously threatened the North. But while consequential, was the decision unsound? Lee never conceded that his decision at Gettysburg was unreasonable. Leading military historians tend to support the rationality of Lee’s decision, at least when considering the options Lee faced. Gary Gallagher evaluated the decision as a gamble but not “entirely unreasonable.” Mark Grimsley observed that “in Lee’s judgment a continued offensive was the only good option available.” Harry Pfanz wrote that “Lee believed that he had no alternative but to renew the attack as early on the following morning as practicable.”[20]

When considering the rationality of Lee’s Gettysburg decision (at least in Lee’s own mind), Civil War writers’ affection for “blood was up” to describe Lee at Gettysburg is not merely confusing but even misleading. As we have seen, the eyewitness evidence of Lee’s excitability at Gettysburg comes only from Longstreet’s post-war observations about Lee’s loss of equipoise. With the exception of the conversation reported by Swinton (but not quoted), Longstreet’s quotations about Lee’s “equipoise” all arose in the course of his efforts to defend his performance at Gettysburg against accusations from Jubal Early and other Lee cult fortifiers. Later, Longstreet admirers, specifically Shaara and Longstreet, gave credence to Longstreet’s “equipoise” comments about Lee without referencing the context of the bitter debate that had prompted Longstreet to question Lee’s strategy. Shaara and Foote, both novelists, translated the awkward “equipoise” remarks into the memorable and dramatic “blood was up” – words that Longstreet never wrote. Previously Longstreet’s reputation was unfairly tarnished, but, in an ironic twist, the widespread embrace of Foote and Shaara’s literary spin on Longstreet’s words has resulted in the equally unjust misrepresentation of Lee’s decision-making at Gettysburg. The time is up with “blood is up.”



Examples of authors writing that Lee’s “blood was up” (chronological order):

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (1974). p. 281. “[Lee] was confident, excited, the blood was up. He thought the army could do anything.”

Geoffrey Ward, Kenneth Burns, The Civil War (Knopf 1990), p. 225 (quoting Shelby Foote about Lee generally, not specifically Gettsyburg).

David G. Martin, Gettysburg July 1 (Da Capo, 1995) p. 506 “Since Lee’s fighting blood was up, Longstreet decided not to push the matter.” [see ft. 182]

David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (Simon and Schuster 2001 ) p. 542, at Gettys: “Lee would have no part of it, however; as we have seen, his ‘blood was up,’ and he could not bear to break off the engagement and appear to be retreating.”

Roy Blount Jr., Robert E. Lee: A Life (Viking 2003), p. 130 “Evidently [Lee] just got his blood up, as the expression goes.”

James M. McPherson, Hallowed Ground (Crown 2003), p. 63 “But Lee’s blood was up. He rejected the advice.”

Glenn W. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863, the Tide Turns at Gettysburg (Vintage, Random House, 2005), p. 49. “Lee would not leave the field to the Federals; his blood was up, and he was determined to attack the Union lines.”

Paul D. Escott:, Military Necessity: Civil Military Relations in the Confederacy (Praeger, 2006) p. 65 describing Lee generally (not specifically Gettsyburg): “His instinct was to attack whenever ‘his blood was up.’”

Barney Sneiderman, Warriors Seven: Seven American Commanders, Seven Wars, and the Irony of Battle (Casemate 2006), pp. 139, 151 At Malvern Hill (not Gettysburg)

Jeffrey C. Hall, The Stand of the U.S. Army at Gettysburg (Indiana 2009), p. 182, “Perhaps General Lee was even secretly pleased that the plans for another complex pair of flank attacks had to be scrubbed. If his ‘blood was up,’ something more direct was the best way finally to crush the Northern army in the East.”

Newt Gingrich, William Forstchen, Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War   (Macmillan 2010) p. 27 “The battle revealed what Henry knew was perhaps the one weakness of Lee, an aggressiveness that bordered on pure recklessness if his blood was up and he smelled victory.”

Ralph Peters, Cain at Gettysburg (Macmillen 2012), p. 178 Lee: “The old man’s blood was up, it was all too plain.”

Philip Thomas Tucker, Barksdale Charge, The True High Tide of the Confederacy (Casemate 2013), p. 49 Lee “whose fighting blood was up after tasting success on July 1.”

Michael Korda, Clouds of Glory (Harper 2014), p. 42 “And once his blood was up, as General Longstreet complained about Gettysburg, Lee was unsparing of his troops and unshocked by fearful casualties.”

Joseph Wheelan The Bloody Spring (2014) p. 99: at the Wilderness (not Gettysburg): “But Lee’s blood was up and he wasn’t listening. His eyes were focused on the front;” and at the Mule Shoe, p. 205: “Lee’s blood was up” stopping fleeing troops.



{the featured image is Mort Kunstler’s painting “Lee’s Old Warhorse” depicting Longstreet and Lee preparing for Pickett’s charge}

[1] Historian Gary Gallagher writes that “[n]o aspect of Robert E. Lee’s career has sparked more controversy than his decision to pursue the tactical offensive at Gettysburg.” Gallagher, Lee and His Generals in War and Memory (1998), p. 50.

[2] For detailed description and analysis of Longstreet’s fall in reputation and post-war debate over blame for the loss at Gettysburg, see, Gallagher, Lee and His Generals, pp. 57-8, 68; William G. Piston, Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant (1987).

[3] For examples, see the Appendix.

[4] OED:“T. Newton tr. L. Lemnie Touchstone of Complexions i. ii. f. 18,

[5] Walter Whitman, “A Dialogue,” The United States Democratic Review, Nov. 1845, p. 362. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncles Tom’s Cabin (1851), p. 5; Solomon Northup & David Wilson, Twelve Years A Slave (1855), p. 111.

[6] Lieut. William Wheeler (13th NY Batt.) to Family, July 26, 1863, at http://www.totalgettysburg.com/william-wheeler-letter.htm; John W. Chase letter , Dec. 26, 1861 in Yours for the Union: CW Letters of John W. Chase: 1st MA Light Artillery eds. John S. Collier and Bonnie B. Collier (2004), p. 40; W. H. Tunnard, A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry (1866), p. 143 (available at: http://name.umdl.umich.edu/abj7391.0001.001).  See also Arthur L. J. Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States, April-June 1863 (1863), p. 24: “After the Harriet Lane had been captured, she was fired into by the other ships; and Major Smith told me that, his blood being up, he sent the ex-master of the Harriet Lane to Commodore Renshaw, with a message that, unless the firing was stopped, he would massacree the captured crew” (available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20928/20928-h/20928-h.htm).

[7] Charles Johnson, Dec. 20, 1861 in Fred Pelka ed., Civil War Letters of Charles F. Johnson, (2004) p. 67. T. W. Higginson, Feb. 18, 1864 in Christopher Looby, ed., Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters (1999), p. 186. See also an account of the Battle of Shiloh: “Like a whirlwind he followed. His Virginia blood was up.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May 1864, p. 832.

[8] J. T. Headley, The Great Rebellion: A History of the Civil War in the United States. vol. 1 (1866), pp. 42-43; R. L. Dabney The Life and Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen Thomas J. Jackson (1866), p. 502; Edward A. Pollard, Lee and His Lieutenants (1867), p. 407; Republican National Committee, Life and Services of General U. S. Grant, Conqueror of the Rebellion, and Eighteenth President of the United States (1868), p.75.

[9] William Swinton, Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac 1866 (1866, rev. 1882), p. 340.

[10] See Gallagher, Lee and His Generals, p. 49, n.4 & p. 50, n.5; Longstreet in Philadelphia Weekly Times, Nov. 3, 1877, repr. in James Longstreet, “Lee in Pennsylvania,” The Annals of the War Written by Leading Participants North and South (Phil. 1879), pp. 421, 433; Longstreet “The Mistakes of Gettysburg” (Phila.) Weekly Times, Feb. 23, 1878, also in Annals of the War, p. 619 (available at: https://archive.org/stream/annalsofwar00philrich#page/618/mode/2up/search/equipoise); Longstreet, “Lee’s Right Wing at Gettysburg,” Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 3, (NY 1884, 1888), pp. 339-41 (available at: https://archive.org/stream/battlesleadersof03john#page/340/mode/2up). An 1879 interview suggests that the word “equipoise” was fixed in Longstreet’s mind. Longstreet stated that Lee’s “great soul rose masterful within him when a crisis or disaster threatened. This tended to disturb his admirable equipoise.” New York Times, July 29, 1879; Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox, (1895) p. 384. Longstreet, again in his memoir echoed earlier language, writing that: “When the hunt was up, [Lee’s] combativeness was overruling.” Ibid., p. 330. Longstreet had difficulty writing because of wartime injuries and typically turned over drafting of his articles to assistants. It is plausible that the exact word choice may not have originated with him. Piston, Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant, p. 145. The eleven-year gap, however, between Swinton’s use of equipoise in connection with Lee and Longstreet’s first use of it raises the unanswerable question of whether Swinton heard the word from Longstreet or Longstreet (or his amanuensis) borrowed from Swinton.

[11] See Piston, Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant, p.111-12; 119, 122, 183.

[12] An early exception comes in the little known narrative by journalist Willis J. Abbot, Battle Fields and Camp Fires (Dodd, Mead & Co. 1890), p. 222. Abbot writes that on Gettysburg’s second day “Lee’s blood was up. The success of the day before, added to the almost uninterrupted series of victories won by his army when opposed to the Army of the Potomac, inspired him with confidence.” Abbot later gave a dispassionate account of Longstreet’s conversation with Lee, but ultimately assigned Longstreet much of the blame for the defeat, pp. 255-56. Abbot’s book, however, seems to be entirely forgotten with no influence over later writers.

[13]Freeman, R. E. Lee: A Biography, (1934-35), vol. II, p. 48; pp. 523-24; vol III, pp. 149, 159. A few years later, Freeman would use “blood was up” to describe Jackson in the Valley. Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, vol, I (1942), p. 454, and Ewell during the 1st day of Gettysburg, vol. III (1944), p. 90. Freeman quoted Longstreet’s equipoise comment in Lee’s Lieutenants only to dismiss it immediately, vol. III, p. 575.

[14] H.J. Eckenrode & Bryan Conrad; James Longstreet: Lee’s War Horse (1936), p. 81, 132.

[15] Piston places Longstreet among the anti-Longstreet faction. Instead, Piston reports a brief appearance of a few books with “favorable views of Longstreet” in 1959 and 1960 but none afterward with the exception of Glenn Tucker’s 1968 Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg. Although Piston’s book came out in 1987, he did not mention The Killer Angels in his survey of pro and anti Longstreet literature. Piston, pp. 182-83. I think in the context of Foote’s evolving treatment of Longstreet, his Gettysburg account in Volume II does not belong in the anti-Longstreet camp. In my opinion, the pro-Longstreet books from the late 50s and 60s listed by Piston did not have the same popular resonance as Foote’s trilogy.

[16] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative, vol. II, (1963), p. 480.

[17] Shelby Foote, interviewed by John Carr, 1970, in ed. William C. Carter, Conversations with Shelby Foote (U. Miss. 1989), p. 42; Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative History, vol. III, pp. 170, 220. Foote: “The first day’s fighting was so encouraging, and on the second day’s fighting he came within an inch of doing it. And by that time Longstreet said Lee’s blood was up, and Longstreet said when Lee’s blood was up there was no stopping him.” Geoffrey Ward, Kenneth Burns, The Civil War (Knopf 1990), p. 225. The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns (1990), episode 5, min. 31.

[18] Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (1974), p. 281.

[19] Paul D. Escott, Military Necessity: Civil Military Relations in the Confederacy (2006), p. 65, describing Lee: “His instinct was to attack whenever ‘his blood was up.’” Barry Sneiderman, Warriors Seven (2006), p. 139: “What Longstreet later wrote about Lee during a later battle – ‘his blood was up’ – is apt here as well.” David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (2001 ) p. 542, at Gettysburg: “Lee would have no part of it, however; as we have seen, his ‘blood was up,’ and he could not bear to break off the engagement and appear to be retreating.” Carl Rollyson, Reading Biography (2004), p. 54: credits Grant for “blood was up” to describe Lee.

[20] For Lee’s brief explanations of his decision at Gettysburg in his own words and as reported by fellow officers,sSee Gallagher, Lee and His Generals, pp. 52-57. For Gallagher’s evaluation, Ibid, 74-76; Mark Grimsley: “Review Essay: The Continuing Battle of Gettysburg” Civil War History, June 2003, pp. 181-187: 183; Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg – Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill (1993), pp. 81, 84.


  1. Al Avant March 26, 2015 Reply
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