Summary and Analysis
Thursday, July 2, 1863 - 2. Chamberlain
In the morning, Chamberlain wanders through camp, judging his men's readiness and generally lost in thought. He remembers dreaming of his wife, of her coming to him in her scarlet robe. "Away from her you loved her more. The only need was her." He recalls her misspelling of the word "dreamyly" in her letters.
While encamped, Chamberlain's men encounter some Southern prisoners as well as an escaped black slave. Tom Chamberlain talks with Southern prisoners and is confused to find out they aren't fighting for slavery.
The slave is wounded, shot by one of the local women in Gettysburg when he asked her for directions. Chamberlain and his men react to the black man with a mix of curiosity, strangeness, and revulsion, which is ironic given that they're fighting to free men like him. They fix him up and are surprised that he looks the same inside as a white man.
The slave cannot speak much English, but they determine he is thanking them and asking to go home, now that he is free. Since they don't know how to send him home, they bind him up, give him food, and leave him behind as they have been ordered to move out. They will see no action this morning, but are being held in reserve.
They march close to Gettysburg with thousands of other soldiers and then find a spot to sit and rest since they're not needed. Everything is quiet except for a message from Meade to be ready to fight as the enemy is there and that they will be punished by death if they don't fight. Chamberlain reflects on the foolishness of threatening a man at a time like this.
Kilrain notes that the black man is still following them and wants to offer him a rifle. He realizes there is little hope the man will ever see "home" again.
Kilrain and Chamberlain discuss black men, the nature of man, why they are fighting, the aristocracy, and "divine spark." Chamberlain relates the story of the Southern preacher and professor who visited Chamberlain's Maine home and spoke of the black man as if he was an animal. Chamberlain tried to make them see how wrong they were, but the professor asked him, "What if it is you who are wrong?" Chamberlain ponders this, decides he is not, then notices the smell of death drifting down to them. He waits.
Chamberlain's reflections as he walks through camp show the changes in him as a person. He is no longer a detached man living on a lonely New England mountain, but a member of the human race. He is not the preacher his mother wanted. He is a father to his men, and he loves it. When he reads the letter from Meade threatening death to any man who doesn't fight, Chamberlain is angry. He realizes you don't threaten men at a time like this, you lead them by example. Leading them — it's his calling.
Chamberlain's reaction to the sight of thousands of soldiers as they approach Gettysburg is one of excitement. The lines of blue, with flags waving, is breathtaking to him. His own family relationships seem a bit strange. He doesn't think of his children much, although he does think of his wife in her scarlet robe turning to love him. She is the only thing missing here. Otherwise, this life in this army is everything he wants.
However, with regard to his wife, he comments, "Away from her you loved her more." It is a curious comment that implies some level of friction. She loves the South, their courtly manners, the heat and Spanish moss, and men's willingness to duel. She liked being the professor's wife and was outraged when he went to war. So there is the implication of some discord, and in fact they did almost divorce several years later. However, they loved each other very much and managed to work things out, remaining married until her death.
Considering that the Northern men are there to fight slavery, their reactions to the wounded black slave are interesting. There is Bucklin, with his sarcasm and uncaring approach, who wonders how much reward money they'd get to return him. The men watch the black man with fascination, as if he were an animal they've never seen before. No one is sure how to treat him, speak to him, or even relate to him as a human being, and they are all surprised to find he looks the same inside as a white man.
His blackness puts them off, even Chamberlain, who is surprised by the revulsion he feels. Chamberlain feels ashamed of himself, but he didn't know the reaction was there. It is an eye-opener for him. It's one thing to live in world of ideas and ideals and have opinions, but another to live the reality of your beliefs.
Kilrain and Chamberlain discuss the nature of man. Chamberlain talks of every man being the same and having a divine spark. He talks of the visiting Southern minister, sitting there genteel with his tea but viewing his black slaves like his horses. "How can they look in the eyes of a man and make a slave of him and then quote the Bible?" Chamberlain wonders, and he struggles with the Southerner's question back to him, "What if it is you who are wrong?"
Kilrain is interesting. He views most men as not worth dirt, but yet he has the most human compassion for the black slave of any of them. Kilrain wants very much to be able to send the man home, and later, realizing he can't help the man, curses the gentlemen who brought the man here. When Kilrain sees that the black man has followed them near to the battle, he wants to give the man a rifle. In his eyes, it's the only decent thing to do for any human being — black or white — when they are near a battle. It is Kilrain, the despised castaway himself, who has the most innate sense of right and fairness for any man.
Kilrain also doesn't judge anyone as a group, just one man at a time. He doesn't believe in divine sparks, isn't fighting for grand ideals, and has little faith that most men, white or black, will amount to much. His fight is with the aristocracy. He's fighting for the right to prove himself based on what he does, not who his father was. His fight is with those gentlemen who look at you as if you were a cockroach.
On the opposite side, there is the issue of the Southern Cause that comes up in this chapter. Tom Chamberlain speaks to three prisoners expecting to hear they are fighting to keep slavery. Instead they kept saying they were fighting for their "rats." He finally realizes they are fighting for their "rights" but even they don't know what rights. Tom doesn't understand. This illustrates a basic misunderstanding people have regarding why the war is being fought in the first place.
Enfields and Springfields the two most common muzzle-loading muskets used in the Civil War.
Dred Scott a black slave who sued for freedom because his owner had taken him to a territory where slavery was expressly forbidden. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who in 1857, ruled against him.
Provost Guards a group of soldiers similar in function to Military Police.