Summary and Analysis
Thursday, July 2, 1863
Lee considers his next moves using the information his aides, Johnston and Clarke, have gained from scouting the Union positions during the night. The Union is dug in on Culp's and Cemetery Hills, there are men on Cemetery Ridge, but there are no men on the rocky hills to the south (Little and Big Round Tops).
Lee confers with Longstreet, who notices the "bright heat" in Lee's eyes and feels alarm. There is no doubt in Longstreet's mind that Lee will have them attack. Although Lee wants consensus among his commanders, he finally just orders Longstreet to attack.
Looking at the map, Lee, Longstreet, Hill, Hood, and McLaws plan the exact moves. They will use Early and Ewell's plan: Longstreet is to start with McLaws and Hood at the far right, move behind the enemy line and up Cemetery Ridge, one unit after the other in step fashion. At the same time, Ewell and Early will attack Cemetery Hill. Longstreet tries to stall for Pickett, but Lee won't let him. Longstreet asks for time for Law to arrive and to position men and artillery. Lee acquiesces, but is stressed. Hill looks sick again, and Hood suggests swinging to the right of the Round Tops to get the enemy from the rear, but Lee refuses. He does not want the force of the attack diluted.
The men move off to get ready. Longstreet is to be led into position by Johnston, and he tells Johnston to take as long as he needs but to be sure his men aren't seen. Johnston, however, only scouted the enemy's position. He doesn't know the roads. Longstreet snarls at the missing Stuart who should have been there with this information.
Lee and Longstreet ride together for a bit on the way to the front. Lee talks of the nature of command and tries to gently work Longstreet to his side. They talk about the old days and fighting in Mexico, about the men they will fight today — men who used to serve under them. Longstreet reflects that the men in blue are never really the enemy, and that he and Lee have broken an oath, a sacred vow to uphold the Union. Lee brushes it off, staying focused on today's plans.
An aide informs them of a Union signal team moving onto one of the Round Tops. Lee leaves Longstreet to do his work. Shortly afterward, Longstreet and Johnston discover that if they stay on this road, the enemy will see them. Johnston is devastated. Longstreet is furious with Stuart for leaving them blind. They have to double back to Willoughby Run and go another way. Longstreet worries that the men are already exhausted, and between this delay and the time it will take to arrange an echelon attack, it will be late in the day. He sends word to Lee, who is growing more anxious.
Finally reaching the front, Longstreet starts to place his men for the attack when McLaws informs him there are Union soldiers in the Peach Orchard, something they were not expecting. He sends word to Lee and posts scouts. Hood argues that given this new development, they must shift to the right and go behind the Round Tops. To do otherwise will mean a slaughter of his men. Hood begs Longstreet to change orders. Longstreet can't . . . he won't. He knows that by following Lee's plan, he is ordering Hood and his men to their deaths, but he does not change the plan.
The attack begins with Hood. Longstreet holds back the anxious McLaws until the right moment. Then he releases him and Barksdale, who runs off screaming, hair streaming like a white torch.
Longstreet knows Lee has made up his mind. There is no hope, and at this point, Longstreet just wants to get it over. He gives up on whatever he believes, abdicating his responsibility to Lee's orders.
Both Lee and Longstreet have valid points of view, but the interesting thing is that if Longstreet had attacked earlier in the day, the Union Army wouldn't have been in the Peach Orchard or on the Round Tops. Because the Confederate attacks started so late, Union General Sickles had already moved his men forward, and General Warren had obtained Colonel Vincent's brigade to cover Little Round Top. On the flip side, there is no guarantee that the Confederates would have succeeded in an earlier attack if the enemy had seen them moving into position. It might have been a slaughter as the Union could have reinforced its lines in time. The element of chance comes into play here with timing, with no one knowing the roads, and with the missing Stuart, whose presence could have avoided some of the problems.
In this chapter, a lot is happening and being felt, but little is being said. There are shifting looks and a lot of "yes sirs." The personal interactions as this attack is planned and carried out reveal the characters and how they feel about one another. For example, Lee constantly checks up on Ewell, but not on Longstreet — a measure of his trust in Longstreet. When Lee mentions Early to Longstreet, Longstreet spits on the ground — a not so subtle expression of Longstreet's feelings for the man. Lee keeps trying for Longstreet's approval — really wants it — but he can't get it. And Longstreet wants to give it because he cares about Lee, but he just can't. A.P. Hill is sick again on the day of battle, a trend. And McLaws is caught between his commander's (Longstreet's) feelings about the battle plan, and those of Lee.
Later, Hood wants to go around the Round Tops, and Longstreet agrees that Hood is right, but he won't change Lee's orders. It's the impossible situation. Longstreet is sending his men to their deaths, to do the very things he disagrees with, and it's killing him. But he will no longer fight Lee. Longstreet just wants to get on with it. He reflects on the preciousness of his men and that they should be used carefully. He struggles with this and cannot even look Hood in the eye as he orders him to attack.
Lee also continues to manipulate Longstreet. He speaks again to Longstreet of his health, of getting older, of needing Longstreet, and of wanting total honesty from him. Lee says the things he knows will tug at Longstreet's emotions in the hope that Longstreet will agree with him. Lee needs Longstreet's friendship as much as Longstreet needs the father figure in Lee.
One of the problems with this battle is that Lee is executing very complex strategies, something that requires flawless, close, and constant communications and precise timing. Instead, because the communications here are verbal ones delivered by messengers, they are fragmented, ineffective, and confusing. Lengthy and costly delays result.
There is again the mention of the oath to defend the Union being broken. Longstreet feels it. Lee pushes it away. The higher duty to Virginia is Lee's guiding force, the indication that in that time, one's state came before anything else, even before an oath to God.
Longstreet recognizes that the men they are battling are old friends, not an "enemy." And he knows they will not be easy to take. He cannot shake the futility of this whole affair.
en echelon an arrangement of units in a step-like manner to the right or left of the rear unit. When attacking, the first unit starts with the others coming in one by one in sequence, like a wave moving forward from one side to the other.
Ewell's people will demonstrate Ewell's forces will create a diversion on the left to keep the Union from reinforcing the line where Longstreet will be attacking.
enfilade fire fire directed at the entire length of an enemy line, such as when an attacker fires from the side of that line right into them.
the high Rocky Hill the name the Confederates were using for Little Round Top, as they did not know its name at the time.
vedettes mounted guards placed ahead of pickets, well ahead of an advancing force, to watch the enemy movements and notify commanders.