Summary—Chapter 1: Fremantle

Early morning, Confederate camp. English military observer Arthur Fremantle awakens, excited at the prospect of watching another battle—and, he hopes, another Confederate victory. He chats with other foreign observers, most notably a fat Austrian named Ross, and he marvels at how wonderful it is to be in the camp of what he thinks is the winning side. He rides to Gettysburg and climbs a tree to get a good view of the scene. He sees the officers meeting to discuss the plans for the day, and he wonders if there is any chance of the Confederacy rejoining England after the war. Lee arrives to meet with Longstreet, and Fremantle—conscious that the soldiers are laughing at him as he hangs in a tree—comes down. He speaks briefly with Ross, who is dressed in his bright blue, amusing war costume, complete with a metal helmet. Fremantle is quite unaware of the grave nature of the battle, and he always believes that the gentlemanly South will naturally win the war: “Fremantle knew with the certainty of youth and faith that [Longstreet] could not possibly lose this day, not with these troops, not with Englishmen, the gentlemen against the rabble.” He is delighted, if a bit nervous, at the sound of the first cannon.

Fremantle asks Longstreet why the Confederates have not entrenched, wondering why they are not worried about a Union attack. Longstreet replies that Meade would never attack, and also that the Union forces are so fortified in their position that they would not want to move. Longstreet says, as he always does, that the best action for the Confederates is to swing around the Union army and come between them and Washington, D.C. to force the Union to attack. Of course, Lee will not agree to this plan.

Fremantle leaves to join his fellow Europeans. He muses again on how the “experiment” of America has failed, and the “equality of rabble” has changed back to a class system in just two generations—but only in the South. The South is “the Old Country.” He believes he has stumbled on something profound.

Summary—Chapter 2: Chamberlain

I was really thinking of killing him . . . and it was then I realized . . . I would kill them, and something at the same time said: you cannot be utterly right.

See Important Quotations Explained

Morning, Union camp just outside Gettysburg. Chamberlain sits with his regiment and awaits new orders. He cannot help thinking about his home in Maine, and his wife.

Private Kilrain comes over and informs Chamberlain that they have discovered an escaped slave. He is a large man who speaks little English, but he manages to thank the Union soldiers. Chamberlain has the surgeon bind the man’s wounds and gives him food, but he cannot take the slave with the troops. He tries to point the slave in the right direction the best he can. Chamberlain is intrigued by the encounter—he has seen few black men in his life, and he finds himself somewhat bothered by his feelings when he sees the man. He feels slight revulsion, which occurs despite what he believes he should feel, and it irks him.

He begins to move the regiment forward. Another colonel appears and informs Chamberlain that his group is headed toward the small hill—Little Round Top.

Chamberlain again muses on the black man. He tells Kilrain that in his mind, there was never any real difference between black men and white men—black men have the same “divine spark” as other human beings. Kilrain says that while he has some reservations about blacks as a race, he thinks there are good ones and bad ones, just like white men. Chamberlain recalls an argument he had with a Southern preacher, who said that a Negro was not a man. Chamberlain left the room angrily. Another Southerner, a professor, came to him and apologized for the preacher’s behavior, but he said he could not apologize for his views. He tried to persuade Chamberlain intelligently, as Chamberlain had tried to do with the preacher, and he had asked Chamberlain, “What if it is you who are wrong?” At that point Chamberlain found that he wanted to kill the Southern professor, despite his mild nature, and it was then that Chamberlain realized that this disagreement might come to war. Yet he also had his doubts. Kilrain calls Chamberlain an idealist.

Analysis—July 2, 1863: Chapters 1–2

Chapter 1 reasserts Fremantle’s belief in the gentlemanly, Englishlike nature of the Confederacy. Fremantle, as a European, gives a perspective on Confederate culture from the outside. The Confederate forces are primarily white Anglo-Saxons, and the regular soldiers are mostly poor farmers and workers while the officers are all wealthy landowners. This class-based system also exists in England, and, consequently, Fremantle approves of it. He even hopes for a second that the Confederacy might rejoin the British Empire, which reveals just how misguided Fremantle’s opinions are. Shaara makes Fremantle into a foppish, silly figure, but since Fremantle’s part is based primarily on the book of memoirs the Englishman wrote just a few months after the battle, the characterization is probably one of the most accurate in the book.

Chapter 2 is the only chapter in the novel that deals with the issue of slavery. Shaara does not generally address the South’s attitudes toward slavery, instead portraying the Confederate officers as fighting for “the Cause”—to protect their homeland and their way of life. There is little examination of the view that their way of life embodies racism and depends on slavery. The officers become indignant whenever slavery is brought up, and we never see nor hear the Confederates saying anything derogatory about blacks or slaves. Nor does Shaara try to paint the Northerners as noble comrades of African-Americans: Chamberlain, a Northerner, finds himself fighting feelings of revulsion when he meets an escaped slave who arrived recently from Africa. The slave is immensely muscled and he cannot speak English, and his traits give Chamberlain an unwelcome, animalistic impression of the black man.

The discussion between Chamberlain and Kilrain, and the treatment of the black man by the Union soldiers, is perhaps a bit unrealistic. While there are jokes about selling the slave back to the Confederacy, the Union soldiers are mostly kind to him. In fact, however, prejudice existed just as much in the North as in the South. But thoughtful, intelligent Chamberlain shows some of the attitudes Union soldiers had toward the men they were fighting to free. By 1863, many soldiers, especially those on the Union side, had forgotten the reasons for the war and knew only that they had to fight, day in and day out. They were becoming disillusioned by numerous losses at the hands of the Confederates. The scene with the slave helps remind us, as well as Chamberlain, of one of the reasons why the Union is fighting the Confederacy. But Chamberlain is also sufficiently contemplative about whether or not that freedom is worth the cost of so many lives.