This Day (May-December Edition)

Published:September 8, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

So much stuff today. On this day in 1761, for instance, George III, then aged twenty-three, married seventeen-year-old Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, initiating what our entry calls “an affectionate and fruitful union.” By fruitful we mean fifteen kids, but Charlotte’s legacy was more than that: her name was attached both to Charlottesville and Mecklenburg County. (Always important to kiss up to royalty when naming things.)

Also on this day, in 1847, Winfield Scott won a victory at Molina del Rey during the Mexican War, a battle that young Thomas Jackson participated in. Forty-three years later (give or take), Emily Tapscott Clark was born; she would go on to become a founding editor of The Reviewer, a Richmond-based literary magazine that helped spark the Southern Literary Renaissance. Speaking o literary, on this day in 1947, Ann Beattie was born (happy birthday, Ann!). And on her seventeenth birthday, about 1,500 students, all but eight black, attended classes in the Prince Edward County public schools for the first time in five years.

Which is great, but what I really wanted to give a shout-out to today was the marriage, in 1897, between James Longstreet and Helen Dortch. “Old Pete,” as they called the former Confederate general, was seventy-six years old at the time while Helen was … ahem … younger. Which is to say, thirty-four. She outlived her husband by fifty-nine years, and spent much of that time defending his reputation. In particular, southerners were peeved that Longstreet became a Republican, and they took every opportunity to blame him for the loss at Gettysburg. Helen Longstreet was “as combative as Old Pete himself when responding to a slight against his good name,” one historian has written. Pickett’s Charge, according to her, “was Longstreet’s,” which upset Virginians to no end.

Mrs. Longstreet was more than just the old general’s defender, though. During World War II, while in her eighties, she worked as a riveter, and in 1950, she ran for governor of Georgia. Which, in the end, was just one more Lost Cause.

A version of this post was originally published on September 8, 2011.

IMAGES: Queen Charlotte and Helen Longstreet