This Day (Letters of Note Edition)

Published:January 8, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Today is David Bowie‘s birthday, and while the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust is not technically within the purview of Encyclopedia Virginia, I nevertheless enjoyed the response he typed up, back in 1967, to his very first American fan letter. As you might imagine, the king of glam-rock was a tiny bit vain: “I’ve got a copy of the American album and they’ve printed the picture a little yellow,” he tells his admirer. “I’m really not that blond.” He goes on to tell her “my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it.” Also: “My birthday is January 8th and I guess I’m 5’10”.”

Today also happens to be the birthday of James “No Middle Name, Thank You Very Much” Longstreet, born in 1821 near Edgefield, South Carolina. To keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, I found a letter, written in 1890, from the former Confederate general to a Mr. Lawrence M. Duncan of Nicholasville, Kentucky. In it, Longstreet—who spent much of his time during the post-war years fighting running battles against his many detractors—rails against “scurrilous” items about him appearing in newspapers, including the Lynchburg Virginian.

Meanwhile, if you look closely, you’ll notice something sinister about the letter, which is to say left-handed. Longstreet was born dexterous, but after being seriously wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, he was forced to learn to use the other hand. In fact, in a letter to Longstreet in 1866, Robert E. Lee compliments Old Pete on his ambidexterity: “I am delighted to hear that your arm is still improving, and hope it will soon be restored. You are, however, becoming so accomplished with your left hand as not to need it.”

IMAGES: Top: David Bowie, 1966 by David Wedgbury; letter from Bowie to Sandra (Adams) Dodd, September 25, 1967 (reprinted at Letters of Note); bottom: letter from James Longstreet to Lawrence, M. Duncan, November 30, 1890 (Louisiana Research Collection); James Longstreet (Library of Congress)