Summary—Chapter 7: Buford

Late evening, Union camp. Buford returns to Cemetery Hill to survey the fortifications the Union army is building. Buford enters a farmhouse. Officers are arguing over who is really in command, General Howard or General Winfield Hancock. John Gibbon, one of Hancock’s men, tells Buford that Howard is blaming Buford for the loss that day, claiming that Buford’s men, who had fought all morning, should have supported Howard’s men on the right flank. Hancock comes to talk to Buford, and Buford tells him about the death of Reynolds. Hancock orders Buford to get his cavalry refitted. General Meade arrives, and Buford leaves to brood.

Analysis—July 1, 1863: Chapter 7

This small chapter essentially serves to cap Buford’s role in the novel. For the rest of the book, the only Union officers on whom Shaara focuses are Chamberlain and his men. Buford returns, weary from the battle in the morning, only to discover he is the chosen scapegoat for the loss that day. This accusation is unfair, because Buford’s brigades had seen so much action in the morning that they would not have been much help even if they had been able to attack from the right. Buford can theoretically shoulder some of the blame for the battle itself, because it is he who chose to occupy the hills in Gettysburg, which drew out General Heth’s forces and led them to attack the Union. Robert E. Lee had no intention of invading the town of Gettysburg. The two armies just stumbled into one another, and Buford made sure to choose the right ground—but in the process, he made a battle inevitable.

Lee is somewhat guilty of simply going with this idea. He wants to destroy the Union army in a single battle, and his attitude is that fate has picked Gettysburg as the place to do it. Longstreet thinks more broadly. He realizes that the time of the “one-battle war” is over, and his constant suggestion that the Confederate army should get between the Union army and Washington, D.C. comes from a very wide and long-term perspective on the war.

Buford has succeeded in securing the best high ground—Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Little Round Top—for the Union. The ground will once again be the focus of the battle the following day, when the Confederates concentrate their forces on the extreme right end of the Union army, Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill, and the extreme left, Little Round Top. It is there, at Little Round Top, that the Union colonel, Joshua L. Chamberlain, takes his place in history in one of the most famous defenses of the Civil War.