It is night in Longstreet's camp, and all the officers are relaxing around the campfire playing poker. Longstreet is renowned at poker, but no longer plays since the death of his children. He prefers to sit off to the side, close enough to listen, far enough away to be left alone.
Through the antics, jokes, and discussions of the officers, Shaara introduces the annoying Sorrel, the sentimental and honorable Armistead, the sad Garnett, the irritable Kemper, and the flamboyant George Pickett. They tease Pickett about finishing last in his class at West Point, his cologne, and his girlfriend, Sallie, who is half his age. They argue with the British observer, Fremantle, about when the British are going to come in on the Confederate side and break the Yankee blockade.
As they bicker, Longstreet ponders a number of things. He is concerned about the lack of information on the enemy so he has sent Harrison, the spy, to gather information at Gettysburg, which is still 30 miles away. When Sorrel reveals that Hill's men encountered Union cavalry that day but brushed it off as local militia, Longstreet is further worried. He suspects the cavalry are not militia, and where the Union cavalry is, the infantry is not far behind. Longstreet is frustrated with Stuart's absence and with Lee for not sending out other cavalry to scout ahead.
He has several conversations with various men in his command through the course of the evening, and these reveal each man's personality, beliefs, and personal history. These meetings also reveal a lot about what Longstreet thinks and feels, and we get a clear picture of the man and his demons. He struggles with the pain he feels for his wife and their dead children, he struggles to control his drinking, and he considers the men in his command more a family than an army.
Back at the campfire, the discussions have become heated. The Southern officers are trying to get the European observers to understand the Cause. The Europeans think the war is about slavery. The Southerners try in frustration to explain it's about state's rights to govern themselves.
The chapter ends with Longstreet telling Pickett to look after the men, then chiding himself for being too motherly. Harrison returns with news of Union cavalry, not militia, being nearby. Longstreet tries to get word to Lee; however, Lee's aide doesn't think it's important enough to wake Lee.
The point of view shifts to the weather changing from falling stars to rain and Buford's pickets readying for dawn. There is the approach of figures moving toward a Union picket in the early morning mist and then a shot.
Characterizations, personal relationships, the Cause, emotional attitudes, and beliefs make up the bulk of this chapter.
Longstreet is a deeply emotional man who is trying not to be. He tries not to care too much for his men, but is motherly. He tries not to think of his children and wife, but is overwhelmed with pain. He avoids taking a drink and playing cards with his men, but wants to do both. And he tries to be easy and open with Armistead but is jealous of Armistead's close friendship with Hancock.
He is a romantic. Seeing a falling star, he remembers counting stars at midnight in a pasture with a girl, wondering if she loved him. At the end of the chapter, the falling stars turn to rain, a reflection on Longstreet's life. The past held happiness, joy, life, and connection. The present is loneliness, alienation, death, responsibility, and pain. And all of this is coupled with Longstreet's opposition to fighting an offensive battle, and a gut sense that this whole invasion and approach is a deadly mistake. His sense of foreboding is strong.
The discussions with Armistead show a number of things, including Armistead's close friendship with Union General Hancock. So many of the opposing commanders served together for the Union before they became "us and them." Also, you get a clear picture of southern aristocracy and of being a Virginian. There is the depth that honor and chivalry affect actions and decisions and the Cause as being about state's rights to self-govern comes up, along with the Englishman's misconception that the war is really about slavery.
The issue of honor is further intensified in Garnett's plight. His honor has been stained by Stonewall Jackson when Jackson in an earlier battle, accused Garnett of cowardice. As Jackson died before Garnett could clear his name, that leaves Garnett in dishonor. Garnett's personal struggles to deal with the dead Jackson's accusations are foreboding. It is interesting to note how Jackson, even though already dead before this novel opens, plays such a strong role in this story. Whether it is things left over from his command or Lee and others reflecting on "if only Jackson were here," the ghost of Jackson hangs heavily over the people and the battle itself.
Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards regiment that Fremantle serves in. They are the personal guards to the sovereign of the British realm.
s'il vous plait French expression meaning: if you please, if it pleases you.
Chapultepec fortress on a rocky hill near Mexico City: captured (Sept., 1847) in an American assault led by General Winfield Scott in the Mexican War.
Old Soldier's Disease intestinal distress and diarrhea caused by eating too much fresh fruit along the march; in this case it's fresh cherries. There's a reference to having to shoot from a squatting position.
Lothario nickname given to Lewis Armistead and meant as a joke. A "lothario" is someone whose chief interest is in seducing women. Armistead is a quiet widower, a gentleman, and about as far from a lothario as one can get.
Black Watch 42nd or Royal Highland Regiment of the British Army, made up of Scottish infantry that wore its traditional dark-colored garb including kilts, which is where it got its name. It distinguished itself in the French and Indian War and the Napoleonic War, and apparently fought the United States during the War of 1812.
Lee's Miserables/Les Miserables Lee's Miserables is the joking name Armistead gives to their Confederate group. It is a pun on the name of the fiction classic, Les Miserables (The Miserable Ones), written by French writer Victor Hugo and published in 1862. The book chronicled the life of Jean Valjean, a victim of society who managed to perform heroic deeds in spite of the many unfair things done to him.
Scheiber a Prussian observer; the spelling of the name may be incorrect though, as most records indicate a Major Justus Scheibert as the Prussian observer.
old Richard and the rest a reference to Richard I of England, also called Richard the Lionhearted, and his soldiers in their unsuccessful Third Crusade.