Educator, author, clergyman, jurist. Longstreet was born in Augusta, Georgia, on September 22, 1790, the son of William Longstreet and Hannah Randolph. In 1808 he attended Moses Waddel’s School in Willington, South Carolina, and boarded with the family of John C. Calhoun. In 1811 Longstreet followed in Calhoun’s footsteps, enrolling at Yale College in the junior class and graduating in 1813. He attended the law school in Litchfield, Connecticut, operated by Tapping Reeve and James Gould.
In 1815 Longstreet returned to Georgia, was admitted to the bar, and begin to ride the circuit as an attorney. On March 3, 1817, he married Eliza Frances Park. They had eight children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. In 1821 Longstreet was elected to the Georgia legislature, and the following year he was elected superior court judge of Omalgee District. In 1824 he was a candidate for Congress, but he withdrew after the death of his son.
In the wake of the family tragedy, Longstreet became deeply religious, joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1827, and in 1838 was accepted into the ministry. Meanwhile, he returned to the practice of law in Augusta and became a plantation owner. However, he was unsuccessful at planting and sold his land and slaves. He also edited the States Rights Sentinel and in 1830 began writing a series of literary sketches of rural life in Georgia, which he published in 1835 as Georgia Scenes: Characters, Incidents, Etc., in the First Half Century of the Republic. They were extremely popular and were regularly republished throughout the century. Longstreet’s work became known as one of the best examples of southern backwoods humor.
In 1839 Longstreet became president of Emory College in Oxford, Georgia. Becoming well known as a southern apologist, in 1847 he published A Voice from the South, a series of strongly worded proslavery letters. In 1849 he became president of Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana, but he left that post after one year to become president of the University of Mississippi. In 1856, after a bitter dispute with the Know-Nothing Party, he retired from public life.
On November 29, 1856, Longstreet was elected president of South Carolina College with the support of trustees James L. Petigru, Chancellor Francis H. Wardlaw, and Judge David L. Wardlaw, all fellow students of Waddel’s Academy. The new president was not a strong teacher, preferring telling tall tales in his parlor to delivering learned lectures. But he was a strict disciplinarian, and trustees hoped that he would solve disciplinary problems at the college. In 1858 when students protested to demand that Calhoun’s birthday become a holiday, Longstreet suspended half the student body. He was also a passionate defender of states’ rights and became extremely popular in South Carolina, though he had second thoughts about secession in Shall South Carolina Begin the War? He resigned in May 1860, effective a year later. But since civil war had broken out by that time, he agreed to remain until the fall of 1861.
Longstreet returned to Oxford, Mississippi, to be near his daughter, the wife of Lucius Q. C. Lamar, later U.S. senator and Supreme Court justice. He died on July 9, 1870, and was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery,Oxford.
Hollis, Daniel Walker. University of South Carolina. Vol. 1, South Carolina College. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951.
Stewart, E. Kate. “Augustus Baldwin Longstreet.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 248, Antebellum Writers in the South, Second Series, edited by Kent Ljungquist. Detroit: Gale, 2001.
Wade, John Donald. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South. 1924. Reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969