Lafayette McLaws was a career army officer from Augusta, Georgia who joined the Confederacy during the Civil War. He fought in the Army of Northern Virginia until his courtmartial following the Knoxville Campaign. He then commanded troops in Georgia to the end of the war.
Lafeyette McLaws (who pronounced his first name as La-FAY-ette) was born on January 15, 1821 near Augusta, Georgia. One of his childhood friends was James Longstreet. Lafayette was one of five children of James and Elizabeth Huguenin McLaws. He attended public schools, then spent a year at the University of Virginia. At the age of 17 he was appointed to the United States Military Academy.
McLaws began at the Academy on July 1, 1838. He graduated with the West Point Class of 1842, ranking 46 out of 52 cadets. His classmates included Richard H. Anderson, Napoleon Dana, Abner Doubleday, Daniel Harvey Hill, James Longstreet, John Newton, John Pope, William Rosecrans, Gustavus Smith, George Sykes, and Earl Van Dorn. All acheived the rank of Major General in the Civil War. During his time at the Academy McLaws was friends with James Longstreet and with underclassman Ulysses S. Grant.
On graduation McLaws was assigned to the 6th United States Infantry Regiment as a brevet second lieutenant. He was posted to Fort Gibson in what is now Oklahoma. In March of 1844 he was promoted to full Second Lieutenant and assigned to Pass Christian, Mississippi and then to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He moved in 1845 to Fort Pickens, Florida, then moved to Texas during the opening moves of the Mexican War.
From May 3‑9, 1846 McLaws took part in the defense of Fort Brown. Later that year, from September 21‑23, 1846, he fought in the Battle of Monterey, and from March 9‑29, 1847 in the Siege of Vera Cruz. McLaws was promoted to First Lieutenant in the 7th United States Infantry Regiment on February 16, 1847. His health being impaired by a sromach illness during the siege, he spent some time on recruiting duty back in the United States. He returned to Mexico in 1848, where he escorted supply and ammunition trains to Mexico City.
Between the Wars
After the Mexican War Mclaws’ regiment was posted to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where he married Emily Allison Taylor, the niece of General Zachary Taylor and a cousin of Jefferson Davis. The couple would go on the have seven children.
In 1849 McLaws moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. On October 23, 1849 McLaws became Acting Asstant Adjutant-General of the Department of New Mexico. He held that position until July 19, 1851, when he was promoted to Captain. He returned to Fort Gibson in 1852, and then in 1857 moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas. McLaws was briefly assigned to Jefferason Barracks in 1858 before heading west with the Utah Expedition.
In 1859 he escorted emigrants to California, then in 1860 marched to New Mexico. He was at Fort Craig and Fort Defiance that year, and went on the Navajo Expedition in 1860-61. As tensions grew between the states in 1861 he took a leave of absence. After Georgia seceded from the Union he resigned from the United States Army on April 25, 1861.
Early Civil War
McLaws offered his services to the Confederacy. In June of 1861 he was appointed Colonel of the 10th Georgia Infantry Regiment. The regiment was assigned to the Army of the Penninsula in Virginia under Major General Magruder. On September 25, 1861 McLaws was appointed brigadier general and given command of a brigade in Magruder’s Division. In April of 1862 McLaws was given command of a division and was promoted to major general on May 23.
Maryland Campaign and Fredericksburg
McLaws’s Division was held back to cover Richmond while the rest of Lee’s army headed north in August of 1862. They missed the Second Battle of Manassas. The division marched north and rejoined Lee’s Army. Ir took part in the siege of Harper’s Ferry by capturing Maryland Heights north of the Potomac. Two days later they fought in the West Woods at the Battle of Sharpsburg, or Antietam. But Lee was disappointed in his slow performance. McLaws redeemed himslf at the Battle of Fredericksburg, agressively defending Marye’s Heights.
Longstreet’s Corps was detached for the Suffolk Expedition in early 1863 but McLaws remained under Lee’s direct command at Fredericksburg. On May 3 he was sent against Sedgwick’s Union 6th Corps, which had seized Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg. It was marching to attack Lee’s rear at Chancellorsville, but McLaws was able to stop them. Lee was disappointed that Sedgwick had been able to withdraw north of the Rappahannock without suffering more damage.
Two corps command slots became available after the death of Jackson and the creation of the 3rd Corps. Longstreet recommended McLaws for one of them, but he was passed up. A disappointed McLaws requested a transfer out of the Army of Northern Virginia, but it was denied.
McLaws continued to command one of the three division in Longstreet’s First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. His division followed on Hood’s left flank during the great attack on July 2. It successfully charged through the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield, but failed to reach the high ground of Cemetery Ridge. Two of the division’s four brigadier generals were mortally wounded. The division did not participate in Pickett’s Charge on the next day.
McLaws was disappointed with the battle and with his commanding officer and former friend. He wrote his wife, “the battle of the Peach Orchard was unnecessary and the whole plan of battle is a very bad one.” “During the engagement (Longstreet) was very excited, giving contrary orders to everyone and was exceedingly overbearing. I consider him a humbug, a man of small capacity, very obstinate, not at all chivalrous, exceedingly conceited and totally selfish. If I can it is my intention to get away from his command.”
Fort Sanders and the Court Martial
Longstreet’s corps transferred to the western theater in the fall of 1863, although McLaws arrived too late to take part in the Battle of Chattanooga. Political infighting in Longstreet’s Corps during the Knoxville campaign was intense. It exploded after the failed attack on Union Fort Sanders.
Longstreet relieved McLaws for “neglect of duty” and “a want of confidence in the efforts and plans which the Cmdg Genl has thought proper to adopt.” He did not, however, ask for a court martial. But McLaws reuted the charges and asked for a court martial to clear his name.
It took place in February of 1864, but long delays resulted in the results not being known until May. He was cleared of two of the three charges of negligence but convicted of the third: “failing in the details of his attack to make arrangements essential to his success.”
McLaws was sentenced to 60 days of being stripped of rank or command.But Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General Samuel Cooper overturned the sentence due to flaws in the court’s procedures. McLaws was ordered to return to his division, but it was obvious he could no longer serve under Longstreet. Lee would not accept him for any other command in the Army of Northern Virginia. He was reassigned to the command of Savannah, which had become the target of Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Savannah and the Carolinas Campaign
McLaws had no hope of holding Savannah against Sherman with his limited forces. It fell on December 22, 1864. McLaws then withdrew north with Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. He fought at the Battle of Rivers’ Bridge on February 2, 1865, then led a division under William J. Hardee at the Battle of Averasborough, commanding the Confederate third line of defense. His men were only lightly engaged at the Battle of Bentonville.
After Bentonville Johnston reorganized his army, and McLaws was eliminated. He was given command of the District of Georgia. There is no evidence that he surrendered with Johnston’s army and no record of a parole, but he was pardoned by the Federal government on October 18, 1865.
After the Civil War
McLaws settled in Savannah. He became an Agent of Carolina Life Insurance Company. He was also a part owner of the Atlantic and Mexican Gulf Canal Company. His friendship with U.S. Grant got him a position as U. S. Collector of Internal Revenue at Savannah, Georgia from 1875‑76 and then Postmaster for the State of Georgia in 1876. His wife Emily died in 1890 at the age of 65.
Lafayette McLaws died at Savannah, Georgia on July 24, 1897. He was 76, and had suffered for years from dyspepsia and acute indigestion. McLaws is buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah.