Tell General Ewell the Federal troops are retreating in confusion. It is only necessary to push those people to get possession of those heights. Of course, I do not know his situation, and I do not want him to engage a superior force, but I do want him to take that hill, if he thinks practicable.

This passage is from July 1, Chapter 3. It is spoken by General Lee, and it is paraphrased from something the historical Lee said during the battle. Lee’s statement is well known to historians, as it represents a small error that may have cost him a potential victory. The phrase “if he thinks practicable” allows Ewell to choose whether or not to attack Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Many historians have argued that Lee’s orders were never truly that ambiguous—Lee wanted the hills taken, unless the entire Union army was sitting on them. But Ewell, overly cautious, does not take the hills, and the Union army quickly digs into them. “Stonewall” Jackson had been killed several weeks before Gettysburg, and Ewell had been chosen to replace him. Many historians believe that Jackson, who knew how to move his troops, and who knew Lee very closely, would have taken the hills without hesitation.