The Killer Angels By Michael Shaara Summary and Analysis Friday, July 3, 1863 - 2. Longstreet

Summary

Goree returns from scouting the area. The road to Washington is still open, but the Union cavalry is closing in on Longstreet's right side. Longstreet extends Hood's division to cover that area. At least the rainy morning will help screen the movements to get Pickett's men in line for a charge.

Lee arrives and rides with Longstreet to look over the front. Longstreet relays the reconnaissance information from Goree and tries again to convince Lee to move to the south. Lee points to the center of the Union line and says, "General, the enemy is there — and there's where I'm going to strike him."

Ewell will attack at the same time further north at Cemetery Hill, keeping those forces pinned down so that they cannot reinforce the center. All the artillery will focus on pounding the center before the men charge.

In spite of his own feelings, Longstreet speaks carefully, still not wanting to hurt Lee. He tells Lee that he lost half the strength of two divisions yesterday, Union cavalry is flanking him right now, and the whole rear of the Confederate Army will be left open if Hood's and McLaws' divisions are move forward. The Confederate line could be crushed.

In addition, three Union corps are entrenched on the ridge with plenty of good artillery and with the ability to reinforce any part of their line quickly. A frontal attack on them will be uphill over open ground, the Confederate line will be spread out over five miles and hard to coordinate, and the enemy will see their every move.

Lee integrates the information and concedes Goree is accurate, but his eyes flame at Longstreet's reticence. He tells Longstreet simply that the Union will break in the center. When Longstreet disagrees, Lee turns with a look of weariness. Longstreet is concerned and wants to touch the man, but there is no place for emotion here. Many men are going to die, and heads must be clear.

When cannons go off in the north, Lee snarls about Ewell not following orders again. But the Union is charging Ewell, a surprise Lee did not expect. Lee and Longstreet walk down into the Peach Orchard to review the front. Alexander is getting the artillery ready. Lee talks to Wofford, who was in the group yesterday that almost broke the Union line. Lee says that surely they can do it again. Wofford explains that yesterday the enemy was broken, but today they are heavily reinforced. And besides, Confederate losses were heavy yesterday. Lee is not happy with this answer. Meanwhile, at the north end of the ridge, Ewell's men are being pushed back from the trenches they won the night before.

In the background, "Bonny Blue Flag" is playing in honor of Lee. The men see Lee and rise to cheer him. They gaze at him in fatherly fashion, joke with him, show their unbroken spirit. Lee sees how high his men's morale is and is fired with the belief that they are ready for this charge and that they can break the Union line. He cannot ask these men to retreat now.

Lee decides Hood and McLaws should remain where they are to defend Longstreet's right flank. He will give Longstreet Heth's and Pender's divisions to use in an attack, along with Pickett's. That will give Longstreet three full-strength divisions. They won't attack until there has been a heavy artillery barrage on the center point. Lee adds that Stuart's men have already gone around to attack that same spot from behind. The rest of Hill's corps will follow Longstreet's three divisions. Longstreet reminds Lee it is Hancock and II Corps up ahead, and they won't run.

Longstreet speaks, deliberately looking at Lee, and tells Lee that from all his years of service he feels the attack will fail. Lee is angry. Longstreet tries once more, and Lee tells him "that's enough" and then turns away.

Since both Heth and Pender have been wounded in previous battles, Pettigrew and Trimble will lead those two divisions. Lee repeats the plan and is fired up now, radiating faith and confidence.

Riding back to his command, Longstreet's hands shake, and he struggles to control himself before facing his men. A commander must be in control in front of his men. But this is the worst situation he's ever been in. Longstreet speaks with Alexander about the artillery barrage, emphasizing that the artillery must drive the Union men off the hill. He subtly implies that Alexander must judge whether the artillery has succeeded so that the attack can begin. Longstreet then meets with Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble to lay out the plan. Pickett is excited; Pettigrew is pale, calm, and still; Trimble is emotional and moved, grateful for the honor to do this. They go off to ready their commands. Armistead remains alone, looking out toward the Union line, and Hancock.

Longstreet, in his thoughts, sees what is going to happen as a mathematical equation. He sees what weapons will wipe out what men along the way. There won't be many left to storm the wall when they get there, and it is simple math as to how it goes from there.

Analysis

Shaara's descriptions convey moods effectively. He describes Lee arriving in the rainy mists: " . . . there was a ghostly quality in the look of him, of all his staff, ghost riders out of the past, sabers clanking . . ." In another interchange, there is no mistaking Lee's mood and emotional power: "He looked back at Longstreet for one long moment, straight into his eyes, fixing Longstreet with the black stare, the eyes of the General . . . Longstreet drew his head in, like a turtle." Without actually stating it, Shaara shows us there is no arguing with Lee.

On the other hand, Shaara uses some very jarring shifts in point of view. At the end of this chapter, Longstreet is in agony. The last paragraph starts with Longstreet closing his eyes and then suddenly shifts to Fremantle and what he is thinking. While these shifts are infrequent in the book, they are disorienting when they appear.

Shaara also portrays Lee and Longstreet's father-son relationship: When Lee stares him down, Longstreet reacts like a child admonished by a stern father. Longstreet both needs to receive Lee's paternal nurturing and needs to take care of Lee. He is afraid of displeasing the man, and at the same time, has a deep concern for Lee's health and well-being. Longstreet will not abandon Lee even though he wants to quit.

In this chapter, Longstreet is in an emotional bind. He can barely contain his anger and despair at having to order men to their deaths, deaths he feels are preventable and useless, and deaths that happen in an attack he totally disagrees with. Longstreet wants to resign, but he won't leave Lee alone or with the attack in the hands of Hill. He is stuck in a no-win situation. Longstreet tries to shift the command responsibility to Alexander, hoping that Alexander will say "yes" or "no" to the attack based on the success of the artillery barrage. That way, Longstreet doesn't have to make the decision.

Longstreet also feels he knows how it will go. To him, there are not enough men to do this battle, and the enemy is too strongly entrenched. He can see when and how the different enemy weapons will take out large numbers of men, until few are left to storm wall. It is simple mathematics. And with Hancock up there . . . "We will lose it here."

Lee, on the other hand, is determined to attack in spite of Longstreet's input or Wofford's comments about a reinforced enemy. Instead, Lee hears his men — their jokes, their comments — and he sees their high spirits. Their morale convinces Lee to attack. Lee will attack that hill because his men believe they can do it, and that is his most powerful weapon.

Once Lee has done all he can, he states that it's all in God's hands, and he is content with that. Longstreet isn't. He does not think a God is listening, and even if one is, he does not feel it is God sending those men up that hill to their deaths. Longstreet concludes that maybe God wants it to work this way, but the men will die, and the South will lose it here.

There is no question Fremantle is a happy and pleasant man to have along on this campaign, and his heart is in the right place. But he is so lost in dreams of saber charges that he will never be capable of objectively assessing situations and reading them correctly. When he sees the completely agonized Longstreet, Fremantle wrongly concludes Longstreet is the master of calmness, resting before battle.

Glossary

pont au feu bridge of fire/ feu d'enfer: fire(s) of hell: Lee's way of describing the intense artillery pounding he will order on the center of the Union line to pave the way for Longstreet's attack there.

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