Summary—Chapter 5: Longstreet

Thing is, if anything bad happens now, they all blame it on you. I seen it comin’. They can’t blame General Lee.

See Important Quotations Explained

Evening, Confederate camp. Longstreet moves through the makeshift Confederate hospital, which is overflowing with wounded from the day’s battle. He sees General Hood, whose hand was injured during the battle. The drugged Hood asks if the attack succeeded, and Longstreet lies and says it did. One of Longstreet’s aides tells him that Hood’s officers are blaming Longstreet for the failure of the attack. They would never blame Lee for a failed attack, so they immediately turn to Longstreet. Longstreet’s head aide, Sorrel, reports that the casualties are heavy. Nearly half of the men in Hood’s division, 8,000 men, have been killed, wounded, or captured in two hours of fighting.

Longstreet thinks that there are no longer enough men for another frontal assault and that Lee will therefore not order one the next day. Longstreet orders Sorrel to get hard counts of the casualties and the amount of ammunition and weapons remaining. As Sorrel rides away, another aide appears to tell Longstreet that Pickett has finally arrived. Longstreet tells the aide he will meet Pickett shortly.

Longstreet rides toward Lee’s headquarters and finds Stuart waiting outside, surrounded by reporters and admirers and enjoying the attention. Longstreet pays little attention. Longstreet meets Lee, who draws him into the headquarters and away from the press. Lee, thinking that the Union forces had nearly retreated, tells Longstreet that he thought it was very close that day. Longstreet thinks Lee is deluding himself. He tells Lee that there are three Union corps dug into the high ground in front of him. Longstreet pushes, one last time, for Lee to move the Confederate army around to the right, to the southeast, and to put itself between the Union army and Washington, D.C.

Another general appears and demands that Longstreet persuade Lee to court-martial Stuart, who has left the Confederate army blind to the Union’s movements. Longstreet says he will talk to Lee, but that he does not think it will do any good. Fremantle appears and tries to congratulate Longstreet on his “victory.” As they ride along aimlessly, Longstreet realizes that Lee will attack the next day, an idea he thinks is suicidal. Fremantle claims that Lee is the most “devious” man he has ever met, and Longstreet replies that the Confederacy does not win with tactics, it wins with sheer determination. He is actually annoyed with the lack of tactics in the campaign, and thinks Lee does not use enough strategy. He says it will be a “bloody miracle” if the Confederates win the war. He resolves to speak to Lee in the morning, to make one last attempt to get him to move to the right.

Longstreet moves on and runs into Pickett and the other officers. Longstreet speaks with Armistead, who is disgusted by the fact that Fremantle thinks the Confederacy is fighting for slavery. Longstreet shrugs—he believes that the war is indeed about slavery, though that is not why he personally is fighting.

Armistead is old friends with Winfield Hancock, a Union general whom Longstreet fought earlier in the day. Armistead says that he had once vowed to Hancock that if he ever raised his hand against Hancock, then God may strike Armistead dead.

Eventually, the two men return to the party with the other officers, and forget their troubles for a few hours.

Summary—Chapter 6: Lee

Late evening, Confederate camp. Lee considers his options for the following day. He recalls how he had once vowed to defend the very land he was attacking, when he was part of the whole United States army. Lee reflects on his past, and he tries to decide what to do. He considers a retreat, but realizes he has never seen men fight well after a retreat. He also knows his own army will never be stronger.

Stuart appears, having been sent for by Lee. Lee gently but firmly chastises the cavalry leader for joyriding and leaving him blind. Stuart tries to resign from his commission, but Lee will not accept his resignation and tells him to get back to work.

An aide reports to Lee that Ewell’s camp is in much disorder because Ewell defers too much to Early. The aide tells Lee that Early and Ewell got the men moving very late, almost when Longstreet had finished his attack, thus ruining the plan to divide the Union’s forces. It occurs to Lee that he has attacked the Union on both sides. The smartest next move, he thinks, would be to attack in the center. He decides to send his forces in to the center of Cemetery Ridge and break the Union army in two, then send Stuart and his cavalry around to the rear to finish the job.

Analysis—July 2, 1863: Chapter 5–6

Chapter 5 again focuses on Longstreet, who has at this point become the protagonist of the novel. It is tragic that Longstreet is completely aware of how effective a defensive position would be, since it would likely have allowed his side to win the war. Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is at times enigmatic. While we see much of the Confederate perspective through him, he is a grim and quiet man, prone to responding to his fellow officers with single syllables, shrugs, and grunts. He has strong feelings about what the army should do, but he has been weakened by the death of his children and the knowledge that Lee has no intention of attempting his defensive strategies. Longstreet can see the defeat approaching, but he makes no move to stand up to Lee. He often agrees that Lee’s plans could potentially work, though with heavy losses. His respect and admiration for Lee and for the chain of command is too strong for him to try and override Lee, and he knows Lee would ultimately censure him if necessary.

Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is probably overly sympathetic. In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Americans—soldiers and historians alike—began to blame Longstreet for the failure at Gettysburg, especially after Longstreet wrote a book blaming Lee. The book gave Longstreet a negative reputation all through the early twentieth century, until some historians began to see Longstreet in a more positive light—particularly in what they believed was his anticipation of modern warfare. Shaara perhaps portrays Longstreet as knowing more about how to correctly conduct the war than he actually did. Longstreet proposes the swing to the southeast over and over to Lee, who stubbornly refuses. In the true history, Longstreet was probably not so persistent in pushing for defensive tactics, and Lee was probably not so obtuse in his decision not to follow them.