January 15, 1821 – July 24, 1897
Native Georgian Lafayette McLaws graduated 48th in the West Point class of 1842 and served in the Mexican War, on the frontier, and in the “Mormon Expedition” before he resigned his commission as a major in the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Civil War. The 41 year old, stout, round-faced man soon found himself commanding a division in Virginia’s peninsula during the Seven Days’ campaign.
As a member of Gen. James Longstreet’s I Corps, McLaws succeeded in the critical assignment of capturing Maryland Heights at Harpers Ferry during the Maryland campaign. He then marched his men to Sharpsburg and played a critical role in the defense of the West Woods on that battlefield. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, McLaws commanded the men who delayed the Union crossing of the Rappahannock River and who, in defending Marye’s Heights, slaughtered the Union soldiers who bravely mounted waves of attacks on that impregnable position. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, McLaws and his command fought in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s wing of the army in the first two days of the battle. On the third day, Lee sent McLaws’s division to stop the Union corps marching toward the Rebel rear. The accomplishment of that mission was one of McLaws’s greatest performances.
After distinguished service on the second day at Gettysburg, McLaws accompanied Longstreet’s corps to Tennessee, where Longstreet blamed McLaws for the failure of the attack on Fort Sanders. Though cleared of all charges, McLaws left the I Corps and was sent to Georgia, charged with the defense of Savannah. He was surrendered with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s command near Durham Station, N.C. on April 26, 1865.
After the war, McLaws served as Savannah’s postmaster and was active in veteran organaizations. Despite his wartime differences with Longstreet, McLaws staunchly defended Longstreet in the post-war attempts to smear his reputation.
Fascinating Fact: McLaws was such a sturdy defensive fighter that one of his officers compared him to a Roman soldier who “stood his post in Herculaneum until the lava ran over him.”