Summary and Analysis
Friday, July 3, 1863
In the evening after the battle, Chamberlain sits alone looking out at the battlefield. He remembers the morning with green grass and beautiful wheat fields, all of those gone now.
His brother joins him and chats, trying to make sense of the whole thing. Tom keeps asking why those men were willing to fight so hard for slavery. Both brothers admire the enemy for their courage in battle, and Chamberlain reflects on the tragedy of it.
Remembering the march of the Confederate lines toward the Union position, Chamberlain feels both the beauty of the sight and the fear it inspired. He feels one with all of them, privileged to be here, and proud of them all, regardless of side. He sees no enemies here, hates no gentlemen, and considers them all equal now in God's sight. He feels a thrill at the coming battles and knows he must send his brother away. Chamberlain moves away as the thunder brings the heavy rain that will wash all the blood away.
Aristotle spoke of real tragedy as being a state where you feel no pain, no joy, and no hatred, just enormous space and time suspended. There is a sense of this when Chamberlain thinks of what the actual battle was like. He had completely forgotten about causes or morality once the guns started firing. The reflections and feelings come later.
As Chamberlain reflects on the charge that day he decides it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen: officers yelling, the music, the drums, shell bursts, a mile of men coming slowly, dying as they came, knowing they were coming to kill you, flags waving. He observes that even with his own fear there is the sensation of unspeakable beauty. These seem like odd comments, especially when speaking of warfare. But it catches the beliefs of the time. War and courageous men were romantic, and lines of men coming at you created strong emotions.
Chamberlain thinks about the appalling thrill he feels at knowing there are more battles to come. He realizes he will fight until he dies or the war ends, and he feels an incredible eagerness for the next battle. Again, these might seem like strange emotions. But it is in the war, in the army, that Chamberlain feels most alive. Perhaps it is that ability of pain and fear to create such an intense focus that draws Chamberlain to the field of battle and makes him feel so alive. There is also the sense of history he feels a part of. Chamberlain decides he must come back to this place after the war is over to try to understand it all. The only thing he is sure of now is that he has had a privilege most men will never have. These memories will stay with him to the end of his days.
Chamberlain also reflects back to his discussion with Kilrain about men and divine spark. He concludes Kilrain's bitterness is wrong. Instead, he feels pride for the men who attacked, as if they were his own men and he was with them. He feels pity for their loss and believes that all are equal now in sight of God.
At the end of the novel, Tom sums up the confusion that others felt then and now. What were they fighting for? Was it really necessary to fight? So many died, and a good portion of them probably never even knew why.
The men in this story have a hard time expressing their emotions. Longstreet feels deep emotions for Armistead, Lee, his men, and his wife, but cannot show them. Chamberlain feels deep love for Tom, but cannot show it. Armistead had the same problem with his feelings for Longstreet. It is hard to know whether this is the way men were at that time, or whether the pressures of command or the pain of the war itself caused them to be this way. Perhaps if men had been able to speak to each other more, battle would have been unnecessary.
The motif of rain is used as a symbol for cleansing and rebirth. The rains come, wash away the blood and evidence of death, clearing the way for new life.