James Longstreet Constrained by the Economy of the Reconstruction

John Swlentochowski, "High Silk Hat," watercolor and graphite on paperboard, ca. 1935, National Gallery of Art.

During his years in New Orleans
Longstreet pursued several commercial ventures
including the sale of insurance
and membership in the city’s cotton brokerage,
either of which, before the war,
might have brought him a comfortable return.

But the General,
who had known command
in a different world,
was too blunt and naïve
for the scarce and subtle business of those
post-war days, found his means reduced,
and wrote letters seeking
accommodation of his debts.
His penury, of course, remained
both private and a matter of degree,
since he was a man of modest habits.

He was discomfited, then,
each of the several times
there was a knock on the broad door
and the servant revealed the caller
to be a veteran of his Corps:
one who had fought at Antietam perhaps,
or Fredericksburg, and now
was seated before the General
threadbare and gamey,
and bragging that he had
“just killed me a Yankee.”

Even settled deeply as he was
in the good chair’s horsehair cushions,
Longstreet recoiled as he recognized
the false boast to be coded beggary.

Still, he would find for the man
a bag of food from the pantry
and walk with him to the hall.
But after setting him out
with farewell and exhortation
the General would turn
inward with dismay
at the frailty of the renewed Union,
and apprehension
at the reckoning of his name.


MARK LUEBBERS teaches English at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School, BENJAMIN GOLUBOFF at Lake Forest College. Sometimes they write poems together. Mark and Ben’s collaborative biographical poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Eastern Iowa Review, Unbroken, The Penn Review, and They Said: A Multigenre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing from Black Lawrence Press.

Mark Luebbers
Benjamin Goluboff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Featured image: John Swlentochowski, “High Silk Hat,” watercolor and graphite on paperboard, ca. 1935, National Gallery of Art.

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