Alexander Peter Stewart (Alexander Peter Stewart)

Alexander Peter Stewart

Civil War Confederate General. Called “Old Straight”, he was a redhead who lacked the fiery temperament popularly associated with that hue and was instead an effective, if quiet and unassuming, leader who served in all the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee, then went on to one of the more distinguished post-war careers. Raised in Rogersville and later in Winchester, Tennessee by a devoutly religious anti-slavery family, he was educated in a local academy and admitted to West Point in 1838 to fill a quota from his Congressional District. At the Academy he followed his life long pattern of causing no problems and attracting little notice and in 1842 graduated 12th in a class of 56 Cadets that contained numerous future generals including Longstreet, Rosecrans, and Pope. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he spent a boring year at Fort Macon, North Carolina, then was returned to West Point as a mathematics instructor. Stewart came to realize that academic life suited him and following his 1845 marriage to Harriet Chase he resigned from the Army to accept the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee. He later moved to a similar position at Nashville University and through the 1850s remained largely detached from the ever increasing sectional strife. A Whig opposed to secession, he was also an advocate of States’ Rights, thus when war came and Tennessee left the Union, he followed; initially appointed a major in charge of organizing and training recruits, he earned praise for commanding the artillery at Belmont, Missouri and was promoted to brigadier general on November 8, 1861. Assigned a brigade under Bishop-General Leonidas Polk, he fought at New Madrid and Shiloh, served with distinction during the Kentucky Campaign, particularly at the Battle of Perryville, and held his line well at Murfreesboro. Advanced to major general on June 2, 1863, he commanded a division under Longstreet at Chickamauga where he was wounded on September 19th, but found himself beaten back at Missionary Ridge. As time went on and the command situation in the Army of Tennessee steadily deteriorated, with General Braxton Bragg facing near-open revolt from several officers, especially Forrest, Hardee, Cleburne, Buckner, and the Bishop, Stewart somehow managed to stay above the fray and to maintain good relations with all parties; indeed, by the time Bragg was relieved Stewart was about the only friend he had left. He was promoted to lieutenant general on June 23, 1864, Bishop Polk having been killed on June 14th at Pine Mountain, Georgia, by an artillery round. Assigned command of the Third Corps, initially under General Joe Johnston, he participated in the Atlanta Campaign, was wounded on July 28th at Ezra Church, and continued in his position after General John Bell Hood assumed command of the Army. During Hood’s Tennessee Campaign of fall 1864 Stewart served well but was assigned, though not by Hood, who exonerated him in an 1865 letter and again in an 1877 missive to Isham Harris, at least a small portion of the blame for the missed opportunity to block John Schofield on November 29th at Spring Hill (General Schofield was to assert that he could have gotten his troops to Franklin even had the road been blocked, but that judgment is disputed, while Confederate scholars have uncovered evidence that Frank Cheatham was drunk and that he ignored at least two direct orders from Hood to attack); his men fought at the Battles of Franklin and Nashville, then provided notable service during the retreat of the survivors into Alabama. In the spring of 1865 Stewart was with what little remained of the Army of Tennessee when Joe Johnston made his final stand in North Carolina. The Army fought well and won victories, but the Cause was lost and Stewart surrendered with Johnston on April 26, 1865 at Bennett’s Farm, near Durham. Paroled at Greensboro on May 1st, he initially returned to Cumberland University and established a policy that he maintained for the remaining 43 years of his life, namely a refusal to sling mud, a practice engaged in by too many officers from each side. While he would gladly discuss battles and offer insights about those with whom he served, he avoided controversial topics such as the exchanging of Hood for Johnston and declined to criticize anyone, particularly his fellow Confederates. (Johnston and President Davis, by contrast, were to spew bile at each other in print for the rest of their long lives). After a brief stay at Cumberland, he worked as a surveyor and as a cotton broker, returned to Cumberland for a time, then from 1870 until 1874 was in the insurance business in St. Louis; appointed Chancellor of the University of Mississippi in 1874, he became one of several officers including Robert E. Lee to head a major educational institution. For the most part happy at Ole Miss, he became fed up with disciplinary problems and in 1886 retired; in the late 1880s a number of preservationists desired to establish what is now the National Battlefield Park system and saw the wisdom of having the project jointly headed by a General Officer from each side. Thus in 1890 General Stewart and his old friend and enemy General William Rosecrans joined forces in founding the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, with Stewart remaining a commissioner until his death. The General was to remain mentally alert and quite active for a man of advancing years, helping to found the United Confederate Veterans, appearing at numerous veterans’ functions and monument dedications, and answering correspondence. His later years were divided between Mississippi, Chattanooga, and St. Louis, with a final move to Biloxi, Mississippi coming in 1906. Harriet having died in 1897, he resided with his son Alex after 1902, and though slowed by a 1903 stroke kept going as well as he could. One aspect of Stewart’s final years continues to raise questions; a longtime devout Presbyterian, he converted to Jehovah’s Witness around 1905. Why a well grounded Calvinist would have chosen to embrace a system so at odds with mainline Christianity remains a mystery and while some have speculated that he was simply uncomfortable with the concept of hell, others have wondered if he might not have been emotionally unhinged either by Harriet’s death or by some other factor now unknown. Increasingly afflicted with heart disease in his last year, he died on August 30, 1908, and clear headed to the end he did not, as some others did, call out in delirium for some long dead officer to move troops but instead merely said to his dog “Well, Duke, are you here?”. The ranking Confederate at his demise, leaving only Simon Bolivar Buckner of the 17 lieutenant generals, he was not and has never become well known to the general public as have some such as Lee, Beauregard, and Longstreet. Thoroughly familiar to scholars of the Civil War, however, he has the respect of virtually all. Students of the conflict continue to play games of “What if…?” and the question has been asked “What if Stewart had been given command of the Army of Tennessee when Jeff Davis became determined to fire Joe Johnston in the summer of 1864?”. The suggestion certainly has points to recommend it, namely that he would probably have been better able to bring peace among the dissident factions better than would have been anyone else and that he had an unrivaled ability to stay calm under stress. The fact remains, however, that he had only been a lieutenant general for a month and lacked the requisite experience to run an Army. (Most students of the war agree that, of those available, Hood was the best choice, Hardee being too difficult to get along with, Longstreet convalescing from wounds suffered at the Wilderness, and both Robert E. Lee and Edmund Kirby Smith unable to be spared from the jobs they already had). Today, a Chapter of the United Daughters of The Confederacy in Chattanooga and a Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Winchester, Tennessee carry his name; his story is well told in Sam Davis Elliott’s 1999 “Soldier of Tennessee”. (bio by: Bob Hufford)


  • October, 02, 1821
  • USA


  • August, 08, 1908
  • USA


  • Bellefontaine Cemetery
  • Missouri
  • USA

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