Summary—Chapter 3: Longstreet

Morning, Confederate camp. Lee and Longstreet meet to discuss the plan of attack for that day. Longstreet still wants to fight defensively, but he realizes that Lee has made up his mind to attack that day. Ewell and Early think that the Union forces on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill are now too concentrated to attack. But they suggest that if Longstreet’s men attack the left of the Union line, on Little Round Top and along Cemetery Ridge, they might draw off enough Union forces to allow Ewell and Early to take Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. Once Longstreet is heavily engaged with the enemy, Ewell’s forces will strike.

Lee likes this plan, but he wants Longstreet’s approval. The stubborn Longstreet refuses to give his approval, but he also refrains from arguing, so Lee simply orders him to attack the Union’s left. Longstreet says that he must delay at least an hour until one more brigade arrives. Lee outlines his plan to General McLaws, who asks if he can send men to examine the roads leading to the Union’s left before they march. Longstreet refuses, saying he does not want McLaws to leave his division. Another general, Hood, asks for permission to send a brigade around the end of the Union line to try to disrupt the supply lines in their rear. But Lee refuses the offer, saying he needs to concentrate his forces.

The officers leave to start the battle. Longstreet meets with Lee’s engineer, Captain Johnston, who is to guide Longstreet’s corps into position for the battle. Longstreet tells him to make sure the troops are not observed by Union soldiers. Johnston says he has scouted the Union position, but he has not scouted the roads leading up to it, and he fears that not knowing the roads will cause a problem. Longstreet grumbles to himself at the absence of Stuart, who would have reconnoitered all the roads around Gettysburg, had he been present.

The march begins at noon. Lee and Longstreet ride together, and for a moment they both feel somewhat giddy, almost looking forward to the assault. Then Longstreet reminds them that they once fought to defend the very people they are now attacking, making both men a bit depressed. Lee says that the “higher duty” was to Virginia, to their own people. Lee also talks about the difficulty of command, and of loving the army life but also knowing that he is constantly ordering his men to their deaths. Longstreet realizes that Lee thinks Longstreet is too close to the men and that Longstreet’s love of defensive tactics comes from his unwillingness to order them to their deaths.

Lee rides off and Captain Johnson approaches. Johnson reports that if the troops march any farther on the road, the Union will be able to see them. Annoyed, Longstreet orders a countermarch that takes the troops almost to the point where they started and brings them around again, which costs a lot of valuable time. They discover that the Union troops have left Cemetery Ridge and dug in to the peach orchard just in front of Little Round Top. Longstreet is dismayed—Lee’s orders will be difficult to carry out with the new Union position, but Longstreet cannot afford the time it would take to protest, and he doubts Lee would change his mind even if he could be reached. Hood objects to continuing the attack, since all their movements are observed, and the Union forces are already entrenched in the orchard. Since the Union troops have left the ridge, they have left their left flank unsupported and vulnerable. But Lee has ordered a frontal assault, and Longstreet believes he has no choice. Though the losses will be heavy, Longstreet orders Hood to attack the peach orchard. He tells Hood that he must take Little Round Top. The battle begins, and heavy losses occur quickly.

Analysis—July 2, 1863: Chapter 3

Chapters 3 and 4 are the turning point of The Killer Angels. Both are long chapters that describe critical military actions on the Confederate side and the Union side. There are several instances here in which the Confederate army is not able to capitalize on the opportunities presented to them.

General Lee’s insistence on a frontal assault creates significant problems for the Confederates, and it highlights the tension between his and Longstreet’s views of the best strategies for conducting the war. Longstreet has been advising for days that the Confederacy should move southeast and come between the Union army and Washington, D.C. The Confederates would then find some good ground and dig in. The politicians in Washington would be terrified at the thought of having nothing between them and the Confederate army, and, therefore, they would force the Union general, Meade, to attack. This is the plan Longstreet has been pushing to Lee, but Lee does not want to fight defensively—he wants to win by show of force. Flush from two previous victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee thinks he can finish the job at Gettysburg. Therefore Lee wants a frontal assault, and Longstreet, loyal to Lee, will not disobey orders, stubborn as he is. The situation becomes even more painful for Longstreet when he realizes that the Union army has actually come down off of Cemetery Ridge and occupied the peach orchard. With no troops on Little Round Top or Round Top, the Confederates could easily move southeast and attack from behind the Union position. But Longstreet is already late in his attack, and he orders Hood to attack the peach orchard from the front. This decision results in terrible losses on both sides, and it is one of the main factors leading to a Confederate defeat.