Helen Dortch Longstreet (1863-1962)
Helen Dortch Longstreet, the second wife of General James Longstreet, is remembered for her unflagging work as a Confederate memorialist, Progressive reformer, and local librarian and postmistress.
Born in Carnesville on April 20, 1863, Longstreet was the daughter of Mary Pulliam and James Speed Dortch.
Helen Longstreet served as assistant state librarian from 1894 until her marriage in 1897. After her husband's death in 1904, she was appointed postmistress of Gainesville, a position she held until 1913. During the Progressive Era, Longstreet became quite active in local and national politics. She served as a delegate to the Progressive Party Convention in 1912 and backed Theodore Roosevelt's presidential campaign. From 1911 to 1913 she attempted to block the Georgia Power Company from building a power dam at Tallulah Falls, in Rabun County. She published widely in newspapers and magazines and lectured extensively throughout the country advocating Progressive reform. She took her political battle to the Virgin Islands, where she campaigned to improve economic and social conditions on the island as well as to clean up an allegedly corrupt political system.
In addition to her progressive political activism, Longstreet spent considerable energy trying to resuscitate her husband's wartime reputation. For decades many of General Longstreet's fellow Confederate officers had accused him of disobeying General Robert E. Lee's orders at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and thereby forsaking the Confederate cause.
Throughout the remainder of her life, she continued to defend her husband's military career both in print and on the lecture circuit. She also organized the Longstreet Memorial Association and the Longstreet Memorial Exhibit at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and at the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, California, in 1940.
In 2004 Longstreet was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement.
"Confederate General's Widow," Life, December 27, 1943, 37-40.
Thomas L. Connelly and Barbara L. Bellows, God and General Longstreet: The Lost Cause and the Southern Mind (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982).
Sarah E. Gardner, "'Blood and Irony': Southern Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1915" (Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1996).
John B. Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War, with a new introduction by Ralph Lowell Eckert (1903; reprint, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993).
James Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1896).
Phil Smith, "Longstreet's Widow Dies: 'Belle of the Post-Confederacy,'" Atlanta Journal, May 4, 1962.
Sarah E. Gardner, Mercer University
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