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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.
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Killer Angels!