The Killer Angels By Michael Shaara Summary and Analysis Thursday, July 2, 1863 - 5. Longstreet

Summary

Longstreet visits Hood in the hospital and lies to him about winning the battle and the number of casualties. Hood is drugged and about to have his arm operated on, so he is incoherent as he mumbles that Longstreet should have let him go to the right. Longstreet rides away, the rage building inside.

He sends his trusted Texas aide, T.J. Goree, to scout beyond the Confederate right. Longstreet does not want another countermarch in the morning like today. Longstreet learns Goree has been in a fight to defend Longstreet's good name, as Hood's men are blaming Longstreet for their loss. No one will blame Lee, and Longstreet knows it. He feels Lee needs to hear the truth, but even Longstreet is hesitant to blame Lee. Yet when he hears that Hood's losses that day were 50 percent, Longstreet feels Lee must know a major assault is out of the question.

General Pickett sends word that his group arrived earlier in the day and was told by Lee to rest. Pickett is concerned his Virginians will miss the fight.

Longstreet heads off to talk to Lee. Headquarters is a mass of activity: bands playing, men laughing, smells of whiskey and roasting meat, civilians in good clothes and sleek carriages coming to see how the army is doing. Foreign observer, Ross, is intoxicated. And there, by the fence, cavalier, lounging with a circle of admirers and reporters, is Jeb Stuart.

Longstreet avoids him. Stuart is Lee's problem. Longstreet tries to get through the crowd to Lee. The crowd hushes as Lee comes out. He is like a god to them all. Gentle Lee speaks first to Longstreet's horse, then raising a hand with no strength left, greets Longstreet. He shows fatherly concern and dissolves all of Longstreet's defenses. There is a commotion as Stuart joins them. Longstreet just wants to be out of there.

Lee's song, "Bonny Blue Flag," plays in the background. Finally Lee and Longstreet move inside, but it's crazy there, too. Lee clears them out, and the two men discuss the battle. Lee eyes are filled with visions of victory as he speaks: "It was very close . . . They almost broke. I could feel them breaking."

Longstreet, dumbfounded, is unable to argue with Lee. He tells Lee he lost half his strength that day and tries to get Lee to consider a move to the right. But Lee, focused on victory, puts him off. Longstreet, who's in a rage, leaves.

Lee's aide, Marshall, confronts Longstreet. The man is furious and has papers for Stuart's court-martial, but Lee won't sign. He confirms Stuart was joyriding and wants Longstreet speak to Lee. Longstreet agrees to talk to Lee and understands Marshall's anger. But he feels there is not much he can do about it.

Longstreet rides back to his camp with Fremantle. Fremantle praises Longstreet and Lee for the day's work and talks about what a clever and devious man Lee is and how you wouldn't expect it. Longstreet's smoldering rage explodes. He shoots that theory to shreds and lays out for Fremantle that Lee uses no clever tactics, it's just that the men love General Lee and will do anything for him. Lee moves quickly and boldly and often gets the good ground. He speaks of Chancellorsville, where Lee broke military rules by splitting his army twice. Realizing what he's just said, Longstreet excuses himself and rides off, alone with his thoughts.

Armistead comes by, encouraging Longstreet to join the rest by the campfire. Longstreet wants a drink, but declines. The two men talk about Garnett and why the English and Europeans aren't helping the South. Armistead fumes, but Longstreet says nothing. Slavery is not what Longstreet is fighting for, but in his mind he believes it is what the others are fighting for.

Their conversation is interrupted by singing in camp. The song is "Kathleen Mavourneen." Armistead is emotional and tells Longstreet that the night before he and Hancock went their separate ways to fight this war, they and their wives got together one last time. They sang that song. Armistead tells Longstreet he made an oath that night that if he should ever raise a hand against Hancock, may God strike him dead. Longstreet, already aware of broken oaths, shudders inside. Armistead tells Longstreet he sent Hancock's wife a package to be opened if he should die. Longstreet wants to reach out to Armistead, but cannot.

Weary of command, responsibilities, and emotional intensity, Longstreet agrees to join Armistead and the rest of the men for one drink by the campfire.

Analysis

Longstreet is becoming the scapegoat. Lee will never be blamed for any losses. "The Old Man is becoming untouchable." Armistead sums up the feelings for Lee when he tells Longstreet they don't need any help as long as Lee is there to lead them.

Even Longstreet cannot fight Lee. He melts when Lee nurtures him, and he feels protective when he sees Lee feeling weak. Longstreet knows Lee needs to hear the truth and is angry with himself when he does not speak it.

Longstreet is rough around the edges, and although he is an emotional man, he does not always express it well. For example, Longstreet notices that his aide, Moxley Sorrel, is wounded. Sorrel frequently irritates Longstreet, but Longstreet attempts concern: "Take care of yourself, Major. You aint the most likable man I ever met, but you sure are useful."

Longstreet struggles with emotion in general. He feels deeply for Armistead's suffering and wants to touch the man, comfort him. But Longstreet can't do it until they joke about hitting Early with a plate back in the old days. Then, with the emotional spell broken by a joke, Longstreet can lightly touch Armistead, once. Longstreet is in emotional pain, but can't let it show. The depression is deep — so many men dead, Hood's accusing eyes, his dead children — and Longstreet tries not to think about any of it. He stays away from his feelings.

Longstreet has been careful throughout the book to avoid any alcohol. He knows he is vulnerable already. However, after today, Longstreet wants to have a long sleep and a long bottle. He can't take the pain anymore. At end of the chapter, Longstreet doesn't want to be responsible anymore. He just wants to be with the men and let go. So he agrees to join Armistead and the others for one drink.

Shaara describes the condition of Lee's health through subtle references in the chapter: the hand with no strength; sitting inside — sagging, lines of pain around the eyes; saying he's tired, which he never did before; his hand going to his chest; his face gray and still. Lee is slipping away.

The theme of honor comes up several times in this chapter. Fremantle, so emotional over Longstreet's courage at being in the front line of battle, is actually willing to shake Longstreet's hand even though Fremantle hates that custom. Longstreet recalls Jackson ordering pikes — a weapon out of the dark ages of knights and castles — to use against the enemy if necessary. Longstreet can't believe the mindset and concludes they all come from another age, "The Age of Virginia." And Garnett, the unsmiling, dishonored, gallant man, will die in battle just to erase the stain on his name put there by Jackson.

Shaara chillingly foreshadows Armistead's fate when Armistead relates to Longstreet the vow he made to Hancock: "Win, so help me, if I ever lift a hand against you, may God strike me dead." Longstreet feels a cold shudder. Longstreet already feels the weight of other broken vows, being an invader on soil he had sworn to defend. This battle is the first time Armistead is up against Hancock, and while Armistead won't sit the fight out, he senses the vow may come to pass. So does Longstreet.

Music plays a large role in this chapter. Celebrations occur in camp after the battle, with happy music and partying. The Irish tenor singing "Kathleen Mavourneen" leaves the whole camp silent and many in tears. One lyric from that song — "It may be for years, and it may be forever" — continues to recur throughout the chapters in connection with Armistead, his memories of his dead wife, and his parting from his friend, Hancock. It symbolizes the ambiguousness of Armistead's situation — in his wife's case, she is gone forever; in Hancock's, it may be years before the two men see each other again, or it may be forever, if one or both die.

Glossary

sutler's store a sutler was a camp follower or merchant who was allowed by the army to sell provisions to the soldiers from his wagon, which was his store.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

General Lee's flexibility in battle is demonstrated by what characteristic?




Quiz