Summary and Analysis
Wednesday, July 1, 1863 - 3. Lee
This chapter could be named "confusion, chaos, and frustration." Lee struggles to get a handle on what is happening at the head of his army, as well as get the army through a narrow pass before being attacked by the enemy. Lee senses his commanders may not be in control of things with their own groups. He is worried about bringing on a general engagement with the enemy before his whole army is in place. Shaking off his fear so as to think clearly, Lee prays for a moment and then goes on.
The confusion increases when Lee catches up with A.P. Hill, who appears to be sick, a usual state for him before a battle. Hill has little information on what's happening. Seeing Lee's frustration, Hill heads to the front to find out more. Lee waits for a bit, agitated about the current confusion and Stuart's continued absence. While bands play happy tunes, Lee fumes. Finally, he heads out to get his own answers.
The battle is bigger than he thought, and all his men are not in place. Longstreet and several other units are of no help as they're blocked behind the pass. Lee sends a message asking Ewell to hurry. Meanwhile, Harry Heth shows up and doesn't understand what is happening. Heth only grasps that he's created a problem against orders. Lee, realizing that Heth is beyond his limits, shifts his anger from Heth to the lack of information.
Things continue to change by the moment. Lee learns that some of Ewell's men are on the scene and preparing to attack the Union right. While this seems like a good opportunity to let Heth attack again on the Union left, Lee is not sure whether to proceed. Not knowing the strength of his enemy, Lee holds Heth back. However, when he hears of Reynolds' death and of the progress of Ewell's forces on the Union right, he changes his mind.
What follows is a rapid mix of chaos, confusion, and success. There is no clear news from Ewell as to how his men are doing, Hill is surprised at the resistance he is meeting, Heth is wounded, and Lee tells Hill to tend to himself and Heth. Things look bad, and then Pender's courier comes with news that the enemy is falling back.
But Lee also sees Union forces forming on Cemetery Hill, and he does not want them to keep the high ground. Lee orders artillery fire, orders Ewell to take Cemetery Hill if practicable, but warns Ewell not to take on a superior force.
Longstreet arrives, and the two discuss the events so far. Both agree things are almost perfect now, but this is where the conflict comes up. Lee feels this is the perfect place to battle the Union Army. Longstreet thinks it's the perfect chance to swing around the enemy and cut them off from Washington. In the midst of this discussion, Lee realizes that Ewell's men have not attacked Cemetery Hill yet, and his frustration mounts.
Longstreet leaves to check on his men, but not before Lee acknowledges that Longstreet's spy was right. Longstreet says nothing. Lee looks toward the battle, remembers how everyone called him the King of Spades at Richmond, and is determined to fight an offensive battle here.
In this chapter, Shaara shows several things about Lee — how he manages fear and uncertainty, his faith in God, his belief in a divine plan that overrides his own plans, and his emotional self-control even when his commanders frustrate and anger him.
Lee is deeply religious and believes that while he is responsible for carrying out God's will, the actual outcome of the battle is up to God. Lee prays, makes his best decision, yet knows it was never really in his control anyway.
As a commander, Lee uses a nurturing approach with his men. While anger and fury flash through him regarding mistakes and broken orders, Lee tries to see things from his commanders' perspectives. He seeks out their positive points and works to strengthen those qualities instead of criticizing the shortcomings.
Yet as much as Lee loves his men, he also knows he will risk them all for the ultimate victory. His own son has been wounded and is in a hospital not far away. Lee will nurture and pray for his men, but he will spend them as he needs to.
Lee is a man of action. Instead of sitting around waiting for information to come to him, he gets on his horse and gets it himself. He is here to fight and win big for his side, and he is not going to do it meekly. He will confront and attack his enemy boldly, to the death.
He is also flexible in his planning, is an opportunist, and is daring and bold. Lee takes the problems and mistakes that come and alters his approach to meet the new set of conditions. If something goes against his strategy but appears to hold the opportunity of a bigger win, he changes his plans. This seems to contradict the image Shaara generally gives of Lee as being obsessed with only his point of view — to attack. It is Lee's constant revision of his plans to work around his commanders' errors that demonstrates Lee's flexibility in battle.
His command style is loose, and Lee likes to give his commanders room to carry out their orders without him micromanaging. However, his style may be too loose for a campaign this large and complex. The communications between Lee and his commanders are fragmented, incomplete, and verbal, the latter most likely due to his defeat at Sharpsburg. Verbal orders seem to be a problem here. Lee is not certain what his commanders are doing, they are not certain what they should be doing, and they don't know what their own men are doing. In addition, several of the commanders have broken orders about not engaging the enemy. Furthermore, when Lee's orders to Ewell to take Cemetery Hill "if practicable" but not take on a superior force, confusion reigns. It is almost not a surprise that Ewell doesn't attack.
Shaara also shows other themes here as well. The emotional connection between opposing commanders is seen in Lee's reaction to the death of the Union general, John Reynolds. Lee prays for Reynolds, mourns his loss, and reflects that Reynolds was a friend and a gentleman. It is not a war of strangers.
Good ground is another theme raised again. While most in the Confederate camp feel they have won a victory because the Union is falling back through Gettysburg, Lee notes that they are falling back to the high ground and digging in. He knows there is no victory yet, and he knows he needs that ground.
Lee and Longstreet agree the battle is going well, but differ on the next strategy. Longstreet favors a defensive move. Lee wants the offensive. Lee can't believe Longstreet would consider disengaging . . . retreating from the battlefield. Longstreet can't believe Lee doesn't see the opportunity in going around the Union Army. Their stalemate continues for the moment.
The element of chance and its role in this battle show up strongly: Heth's men go into Gettysburg seeking shoes and find Union cavalry. They attack again thinking there is only a tired brigade and find themselves up against a fresh division of Union infantry that arrived only moments before. Hill gets sick. Stuart is not around to give information on the enemy. Ewell needs help, but since no one is available or close enough yet, he cannot take Cemetery Hill. Circumstance is running the day.
Shaara's power of descriptions makes you part of the chaos and confusion of men running everywhere and commanders asking "What's happening?" You see the horror of war in the image of a horse's severed foot. You feel Lee's mounting anger and frustration.
In the midst of the chaos of thousands of men marching to fight, a band plays happy tunes. To the modern reader, it's seems strange. However, the bands boost morale, energize weary soldiers on a march, and inspire men before and sometimes during a battle.
another Sharpsburg (also known as Antietam) in September 1862, Lee attempted his first invasion of the North, crossing the Potomac into Maryland. However, the Union Army intercepted his plans and passed them on to General McClellan. McClellan's troops fought their way through mountain passes and attacked Lee's forces near Sharpsburg. Though the attack was uncoordinated and piecemeal, the Union won because it had overwhelming superior in numbers. This reference in the chapter comes up when Lee is wondering whether Ewell's men, who are beginning an attack on the Union right, will end up victorious, or encounter large numbers of the enemy, as at Sharpsburg, and be defeated. Also, after this, Lee keeps his orders verbal to avoid interception. However, verbal orders only increased confusion in this complex battle.
Second Manassas all over again (also known as Second Bull Run) refers to the second Confederate victory in the Manassas area. On Aug. 29, 1862, Union General Pope attacked Lee's forces led by Stonewall Jackson. Pope was not aware Lee had split his forces and was surprised when he was attacked on his flank by Longstreet, who was leading the other half of Lee's forces. Pope was defeated. Lee had gone against standard military strategy when he split his forces in the presence of an enemy, but the bold move paid off.