Summary—Chapter 3: Chamberlain

Chamberlain and his regiment march into the center of Cemetery Ridge. An aide tells Chamberlain that General Meade had wanted to retreat that morning, but the other generals had gathered together and forced him to remain, confident that the Confederates would attack again and that they could be repelled. General Hancock even predicts that the Confederates will attack the center of the line.

Chamberlain places his regiment, then heads over to the area where Meade and the other generals are having breakfast. He meets with his general, Sykes, who praises Chamberlain’s actions the previous day on Little Round Top. Sykes hints that Chamberlain may become a brigade commander. Chamberlain returns to the area where the generals are and manages to get some chicken.

Chamberlain goes to rest and is joined by his brother Tom. Tom tells him that Kilrain has died. Suddenly, the Confederate artillery opens fire, and the world explodes around Chamberlain. He crawls around, trying to get out of the fire, and finally hides behind a stone wall, where he drifts in and out of sleep as the cannon shells land all around him. As the fire dies down an hour later, Chamberlain realizes an attack is coming and that he must form his regiment. But tired and weary from the blood loss of his foot wound, Chamberlain falls asleep again.

Summary—Chapter 4: Armistead

General Lew Armistead watches the Confederate guns fire upon the center of Cemetery Ridge. He sees General Pickett writing a letter to his young girlfriend. Armistead wanders around the lines, remembering his late wife and feeling gloomy. He knows that he will die soon. Armistead gives Pickett his wedding ring, and asks Pickett to send it to Armistead’s girlfriend. After about an hour, the artillery fire subsides. The attack will soon begin. Armistead sees Dick Garnett, who has chosen to ride a horse into battle, though it is against orders. His foot is injured and, since he will be the only man riding a horse, he will be an easy target. Garnett realizes this risk, but he is riding to save his honor, and expects to die.

Armistead and Pickett ride into the woods to meet with Longstreet, who is gloomily sitting on his horse. Longstreet is crying. Then Longstreet gives the order for the charge, and Pickett rides away gleefully.

Armistead forms his brigade, and it begins to move toward the Union line. It is a steady, strong march, full of determination. Soon the Union artillery begins to open up, blowing huge holes in the Confederate lines. The Confederates repeatedly close up the holes, but soon the shells are falling all around them. Once they come close enough to the Union lines, the Union soldiers open up with musketry, riddling the front lines with bullets. Armistead sees Garnett’s horse, without a rider. Screaming begins, and the lines begin to falter in their march. Soon the Confederates are fleeing, though some, like Armistead, continue to march and make it all the way to the clump of trees they were assigned to reach before they are shot. Armistead is shot, and he dies telling a soldier to send his regrets to his friend on the Union lines, General Hancock.

Analysis—July 3, 1863: Chapter 3–4

Chapter 4 focuses on a character who has not previously had his own chapter, General Armistead. Armistead is one of the well-known figures in the battle, primarily due to his tragic friendship with Winfield Hancock of the Union army. Armistead and Hancock have metaphorically squared off in this battle, but Armistead simply misses his old friend. He never makes the trip over to speak to him, though he considers it several times throughout the novel. Their friendship highlights one of the more tragic aspects of the Civil War, since friends and even families were often pitted against each other in battle.

Historically, the Confederate losses during Pickett’s Charge were staggering. The Confederates, well known to be fairly bad at artillery, overshot their targets, and few of the Union batteries were damaged. When the Confederates charged, the Union artillery simply mowed them down, and as the remaining Confederates approached the Union line they were killed by rifle fire. Pickett lost sixty percent of his men, and all thirteen of his colonels were either killed or wounded. Pickett emerged unscathed, but he was emotionally devastated and remained bitter toward Lee for the rest of his life.

The Battle of Gettysburg was as close as the South ever came to winning the war. If the army of the South had broken through the Union army and captured Washington, D.C., the war would have been over. With some better strategies on the Lee’s part, it is -possible that the South could have won the Battle of Gettysburg, which might have allowed it to win the war—but such speculation can be made about many Civil War battles. Nonetheless, Pickett’s Charge was prefaced by the one of the largest artillery exchanges ever in the western hemisphere, and the battle itself was one of the largest ever between two armies. The Confederate army was at the height of its power and strength, but it could not break the Union’s -fortified position. The Confederate forces soon broke into a swift retreat.