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Longstreet sits on a rail fence on Seminary Ridge, watching
the horrific spectacle of Pickett’s Charge unfold. Everything he
has feared has come to pass. Men come screaming to him, asking for
reinforcements, but he has already sent in every man he has. He
orders Pickett to fall back. Fremantle, realizing the terrible loss
the Confederacy has suffered, offers Longstreet a drink.
Longstreet knows the battle
is over. He picks up a rifle and plans to walk down and join the
last battery of guns still firing at the Union troops. Then he sees
Lee riding among the troops, telling them the loss is “all his [Lee’s]
fault.” The soldiers try to argue otherwise, but Lee knows he has
failed. Pickett reappears, and Lee tells him to reform his division.
In tears, Pickett replies that he has no division.
Longstreet mounts and rides toward the last battery,
still firing uphill. His aides try to stop him, but he insists.
He is soon joined by some of his staff. He rides forward until a
shell knocks one of his aides off his horse. His aides pull him
back and away from the rifle fire. The Union forces pull back and
do not attack, though part of Longstreet wants them to come to his
forces and end the war. Longstreet knows the Confederate army will
never recover from this day.
Lee comes to Longstreet and tells him that
they will withdraw that night to the river. Longstreet tells Lee
that he does not think the war can be won now, and Lee does not
disagree, though he does not agree either. He says, “If the war
goes on—and it will, it will—what else can we do but go on? It is
the same question forever, what else can we do? If they fight, we
will fight with them. And does it matter after all who wins? Was
that ever really the question? Will God ask that question, in the
end?” The two generals ride off to oversee the retreat.
Chamberlain rides out into the edges of the battlefield,
still trying to clear the image of the approaching Confederates
from his mind. He has seen Pickett’s Charge, and he realizes that
he has been a part of history. Tom comes to him, and admires the
fight the Confederates put up. He expresses his amazement that the
Confederates fight so hard for slavery. Chamberlain looks at all
the dead men and says that they are all equal now, “in the sight
Chamberlain remembers how he used his own brother to
plug a hole in the regiment line, and he decides that he may have
to send him away, as much as he would like to keep his brother nearby
to watch him. However, he knows it will weaken his decisions to
have a brother nearby.
A great storm breaks out, washing away much of the blood
and bodies, and cleansing the land. Chamberlain and Tom return to their
regiment prepared to continue fighting.
The Confederate leaders, especially Longstreet, are quick
to grasp the significance of the defeat. Lee, his confidence weakened
by the loss, requests to be relieved of duty in August. Longstreet
attempts to resign the following winter, claiming that he does not
believe the South can win the war. Neither man is granted their
request—the Confederate leaders will not let Lee resign, and Lee
will not relieve Longstreet of duty. This knowledge may be part
of what inspires the exchange between the two men in Chapter 5,
in which both suspect that the war has just been lost, but they
also know that they must continue to fight. Both men serve until
the end of the war.
After Gettysburg, the battles on the eastern front of
the war—between Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Union’s
Army of the Potomac—plodded slowly to a drawn-out, bloody Union
victory almost two years later. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and Chamberlain
received the Confederate surrender. Chamberlain ordered his men
to salute the surrendering soldiers as they marched by, a gesture
of great respect.
Lee died in 1870 from heart disease.
Longstreet spent the rest of his life an unpopular man after writing
a memoir blaming Lee for the loss at Gettysburg, and for many years
he was the target of biased historians, particularly those sympathetic
to the Confederacy. Chamberlain went on to lead an impressive career:
he served as governor of Maine for four years, and then as the president
of Bowdoin College for twelve years. He was given a Congressional
Medal of Honor in 1893 for gallantry at Gettysburg
and wrote several books about the war. He died in 1914 at
the age of eighty-three.
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