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Daytime, Gettysburg. General John Buford, commander of
the Union cavalry, enters Gettysburg with his two brigades: 2,500 men, all
mounted on horses. Buford is scouting the land ahead of the Union
army. He spots a brigade of Confederate infantry in the town, and
he is surprised to see them apparently without cavalry. He decides
to remain in Gettysburg and sends a message back to the infantry
commander, General John Reynolds, telling him that he has occupied
Gettysburg and expects an even larger Confederate force to arrive
the next morning.
Buford surveys the area around the town and notices its
“high ground.” Buford rides through the middle of the town with
his men. The townspeople are relieved to see Union troops.
Buford decides to occupy the hills
with his men. They dismount and get ready to fight on foot. He hopes
to prevent the Confederates from taking the high ground the next
day until Reynolds arrives with his troops.
Nighttime, Confederate camp west of Gettysburg. The Confederate officers
try to teach Lieutenant Arthur Fremantle, a British military observer,
how to play poker. Longstreet muses on the upcoming battle. One
of his aides, Sorrel, informs Longstreet that a soldier spotted
Union cavalry in Gettysburg. The reporting officer’s commander,
General Hill, thinks he must have seen a state militia, but Longstreet
is not sure.
Longstreet continues to brood, chatting briefly
with Fremantle. General George Pickett, a good soldier and a perfumed
dandy, arrives, much to everyone’s pleasure. Other officers under
Pickett’s command also arrive: Lew “Lo” Armistead, Jim Kemper, and
Pickett’s division has not had much action. Now, the
division has been placed at the rear of the army. Pickett approaches
Longstreet and asks that his division be moved up, but Longstreet
refuses, adding that if the army has to turn and run, Pickett’s
division will then be leading the fight to escape. Pickett leaves
and Longstreet then talks to Armistead. Armistead’s old friend,
General Winfield Hancock, is in the Union army, and Longstreet speculates
that he may soon meet his friend—in battle. Longstreet tells Armistead
that he would prefer to use defensive warfare tactics, such as trenches. Armistead
replies that his ideas are sound, but that the Confederate army
is not the army to try them out on. Besides, Armistead says, General
Lee would never agree to defensive warfare, because he thinks it
is somewhat dishonorable.
Back at the poker game, several of the players,
including a Southern politician, become upset at Fremantle for saying
that the war is over slavery.
The next morning, skirmishes begin between Buford’s men
and the Confederate infantry in Gettysburg.
The most important event in Chapter 3 is
Buford’s decision to try and hold the “high ground.” The high ground
consists of four hills: Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, Little Round
Top, and Round Top. The hills are all connected by a long, crescent-shaped
ridge called Cemetery Ridge. This high ground will be
important throughout the entire novel. Control of the high ground
gives an army several things: a good view of the entire battlefield;
an excellent place from which to fire off artillery, meaning cannons;
and a good defensive position. It is much more difficult to run
uphill toward an enemy than it is to fire downhill at one. Little
Round Top, in particular, has a lot of rocks that give good coverage
against bullets and is so bare that it affords a view of several
miles around. Civil War historians generally agree that the high
ground was critical in the Battle of Gettysburg, and, therefore,
Buford made an excellent move in realizing that fact and protecting
The chapter also reveals the difficult decisions a soldier
must make, especially in the absence of his superior officers. Buford
is unsure whether the Confederates are really coming, and he is
particularly worried that if he decides to try and stop the Confederates from
taking the hill, General Reynolds will not arrive in time to save Buford’s
brigades from heavy casualties and help keep the Confederates off
By switching the narrative point of view between the
story’s characters, Shaara is able to show how differently the various
participants perceived the battle. Shaara establishes a pattern
of choosing a single person on which to focus in each chapter, giving
us only that person’s perspective on the situation. This kind of
narration is known as third-person subjective. This is
different from an omniscient narrator, who can dive into the thoughts
of any character and can make comments and judgments external to
the story. For instance, in Chapter 3,
an omniscient narrator might tell us what Buford’s aide is thinking
or comment in his own voice on how clever it was for Buford to secure
the high ground. On the other hand, a subjective narrator never
leaves the point of view of the character on which he is focused:
we never read the thoughts of Buford’s aide, we only read Buford’s
own thoughts. A subjective narrator does not interrupt
the narration to make aside comments: the narrator might tell us
what Buford’s personality or mood was like, but he would not remark
on the importance of Buford’s decision to grab the high ground.
Also, this use of third-person subjective
narration creates a sense of suspense in a story whose outcome we
already know. Shaara’s use of this form of third-person subjective
narration means we are not always getting all the information about
what is happening. Buford only knows his own thoughts: he does not know
what General Reynolds is doing at any given moment, and he does
not know what his aide is thinking unless he asks him. This style
gives a very realistic portrayal of what events might have looked
like to a participant, and in a novel that uses real-life historical
characters, it is important for Shaara to make the characters seem
as realistic as possible. People have been reading about Robert
E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Joshua Chamberlain for more than a
century. If Shaara wrote in the third-person omniscient point of
view, the novel might have read like a very detailed history textbook.
By using the subjective narration, Shaara draws us much deeper into
the intricacies of characterization and mood, as opposed to merely
the plot summary of the Gettysburg story.
Chapter 4 is an excellent
example of this technique of limited perspective. It is a long chapter
that serves primarily to introduce the moody, intelligent Longstreet,
who has recently lost three children and no longer socializes with
his troops. The chapter also introduces nearly a dozen other characters,
such as the pompous English lieutenant, Arthur Fremantle, and the
dandy General Pickett. Fremantle serves primarily to reinforce
the long-held romantic notion that the predominantly Anglo-Saxon
Confederate officers were true gentlemen who passed their wealth
on from generation to generation, in the tradition of British high
society. In contrast, the Northern officers came from many different
ethnic backgrounds and from a society in which anyone who earned enough
money could become rich and a member of the social elite.
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