Lafayette McLaws (1821-1897)

Lafayette McLaws (January 15, 1821 - July 24, 1897) was a U.S. Army officer and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.

McLaws, who pronounced his first name "La-FAY-ette", was born in Augusta, Georgia. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1842 and served as an infantry officer in the Mexican War, in the west, and in the expedition to Utah Territory to suppress the Mormon uprising. While at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, he married Emily Allison Taylor, the niece of Zachary Taylor.

At the start of the Civil War, resigning as a U.S. Army captain, McLaws was commissioned a major in the Confederate States Army. He was quickly promoted to colonel of the 10th Georgia Infantry regiment; then quickly again to brigadier general in brigade and division command in the Seven Days Battles; then, on May 23, 1862, to major general. He joined James Longstreet's corps in the Army of Northern Virginia as 1st Division commander and stayed with Longstreet for most of the war.

During Robert E. Lee's invasion of Maryland in 1862, McLaws' division was split from the rest of the corps, operated in conjunction with Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and captured Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry. He marched his division to Sharpsburg, Maryland, and defended the West Woods in the Battle of Antietam. Lee was disappointed in McLaws' slow arrival on the battlefield. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, McLaws' was one of the divisions defending Marye's Heights and he satisfied Lee with his ferocious defensive performance.

At Chancellorsville, while the rest of Longstreet's corps was detached for duty near Norfolk, Virginia, McLaws fought directly under Lee's command. On May 3, 1863, Lee sent McLaws' division to stop the Union VI Corps under John Sedgwick marching toward Lee's rear. He did accomplish this, but Lee was disappointed that McLaws had not attacked more aggressively and caused more harm to Sedgwick, instead of letting him escape across the Rappahannock River. When Lee reorganized his army to compensate for Jackson's mortal wounding at Chancellorsville, Longstreet recommended his subordinate for one of the two new corps commands, but both men were disappointed when Lee chose Richard S. Ewell and A.P. Hill instead. McLaws requested a transfer, but it was denied.

During the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, McLaws commanded the second division to step off in Longstreet's massive assault on the Union left flank. He achieved great success (at great cost in lives) in the areas known as the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard, but the army as a whole was unable to dislodge the Union forces from their positions on Cemetery Ridge. His division did not participate in Pickett's Charge the next day, despite Longstreet's command of that assault.

McLaws accompanied Longstreet's corps to Tennessee to come to the aid of Braxton Bragg's army. His division arrived too late to help at Chickamauga and Chattanooga. In the Knoxville Campaign, Longstreet relieved McLaws for the failure of the attack on Fort Sanders, citing inadequate preparations. A court of inquiry cleared McLaws of most charges, but it took the intercession of Jefferson Davis to restore his command. Understandably, his relationship with Longstreet was ruined. He left the corps and, since Lee would not accept him for command in Virginia, he was sent to Georgia to defend (unsuccessfully) Savannah against William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. McLaws surrendered with Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina on April 26, 1865.

After the war, McLaws worked in the insurance business, served as Savannah's postmaster, and was active in Confederate veterans' organizations. Despite his wartime differences with Longstreet, McLaws initially defended Longstreet in the post-war attempts by Jubal Early and others to smear his reputation. Just before his death, however, his opinion changed about the lost cause movement, and he began speaking out about Longstreet's failures at Gettysburg.

Lafayette McLaws died in Savannah and is buried there in Laurel Grove Cemetery. He is the posthumous author of A Soldier's General: The Civil War Letters of Major General Lafayette McLaws (2002).