The Killer Angels: Novel Summary: Thursday, July 2, 1863
Thursday, July 2, 1863
The Second Day
Chapter 1: Fremantle
At three o’clock in the morning, Fremantle awakes. Before dawn, he joins the other officers at breakfast. He feels joyful as he awaits the coming battle, which he is certain the Confederates will win. He feels at home, as if he is with Englishmen. He rides toward the lines with Sorrel, and they are joined by other officers. They go to Lee’s headquarters. Fremantle looks through field glasses at the Union lines. He can see cannon and men on horseback and feels a rush of excitement; Sorrel tells him the attack will not begin for at least two hours. Fremantle rides with Longstreet, who is discussing the situation with Hood. They still do not know exactly how big a Union force they will be facing. Then Fremantle goes off to talk with some of the European officers who are also observers; he thinks again about how the South resembles England and that he supports the settled traditions of the South rather than the democracy favored by the North. He prefers the customs and way of life in the South, with its one religion, to the packed cities, many religions, and materialism of the North.
July 2, 1863: Chapter 2: Chamberlain
In the early morning, Chamberlain moves around in the midst of his men. A large number of prisoners are coming down the road, and Kilrain informs Chamberlain that just before dawn they found a wounded black man. Kilrain takes Chamberlain to see the man, who was shot below the ribs. They give him coffee, and Chamberlain says they will get him something to eat and then he will see a surgeon. Chamberlain is fascinated by the man because he has seen few black men before. He thinks the man must have been a slave who tried to run away from the rebels and was shot. They feed him and treat his wound, and a crowd of curious soldiers gathers around. They conclude he has only been brought recently to America, and Chamberlain wonders with sympathy about how terrible his experience must have been. The surgeon tells him the black man will recover, and then Kilrain informs him that the man was shot by a woman in Gettysburg after he asked her for directions. He has only been in the country for three weeks. Chamberlain regrets having to tell Kilrain they must leave the man behind.
Bugles blow and the Twentieth Maine forms itself. Colonel Vincent informs Chamberlain that they will be moving up soon but will likely be held in reserve that morning.
The order comes to advance and the men begin to march. They reach the rear of the Union army and are ordered to stop; they rest in a field. Chamberlain reads to the men a message he has received from Meade and talks with Kilrain about black people. Kilrain says it is wrong to judge people as a group, and Chamberlain says he sees no differences between the races; they are all human. He is strongly opposed to slavery. Kilrain thinks Chamberlain’s talk about the divine spark in men is too idealistic. He says he fights because he believes in justice and dislikes the aristocracy that looks down on the common man.
Kilrain goes away to rest, and Chamberlain sits against a tree, waiting for the battle to begin.
Analysis, July 2, 1863: Chapters 1-2
Fremantle, the English observer, is a minor character in the novel but he is given an entire chapter from his own perspective. It is interesting because he is an outsider and sees the South through the lens of the English class system with which he is familiar. He sees in the Southern landowners the same type of ruling class as there is in England. However, although outsiders often see things that people more involved in the situation may miss, they are also likely to make mistakes through ignorance. Fremantle makes at least two. He is so misled by his admiration of the South that he even thinks that if the Confederacy wins the war, which he expects it to do, it might rejoin England as one nation. He also thinks, in support of his notion that the Southern gentlemen who command the Confederate army are “transplanted Englishman,” that most of their surnames are English: Lee, Hill, Longstreet, etc. At the end of the chapter, however, he is informed that General Longstreet is of Dutch ancestry, which perhaps suggests that Fremantle’s views are not to be taken too seriously. (In fact, the Confederacy did court British support during the Civil War and hoped for British military intervention. However, Britain was officially neutral.)
Chapter 2 focuses on the issue of slavery. Chamberlain is fiercely and idealistically against it, and Kilrain, who does not share Chamberlain’s idealism, also agrees that slavery is wrong. But Chamberlain, who behaves decently toward the escaped slave, nonetheless does not quite live up to his professed ideals. These are all very well at a distance—he had a strong disagreement with two visiting Southerners over the issue before the war—but when he encounters a real black man he is surprised to find that he feels “a flutter of unmistakable revulsion” (p. 179). Initially, he does not want to touch the man, and he feels some shame at the feelings he did not know he had.
The other men in Chamberlain’s regiment show not hostility to the black man but curiosity and some sympathy. They joke about slavery but without malice. Kilrain says as he looks at the man that “this is what it’s all about” (p. 179), meaning slavery. This is interesting because in the chapters narrated by the Southerners, no one at all believes that slavery is the real issue of the war. To them, as is revealed in chapter 2 here by the captured rebels, it is all about the preservation of their rights.
July 2, 1863: Chapter 3: Longstreet
Lee and his officers study a map of the region, and then Lee seeks Longstreet’s agreement on his plan of action. He points out that neither Ewell nor Early favor withdrawing from Gettysburg and establishing a defensive position, which goes against what Longstreet advised. Lee says they must attack, and that Ewell and Early think they can take Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill—if Longstreet attacks the Union left flank, which will draw Union forces away from the hills.
Longstreet does not agree but keeps his reservations to himself. They go over to the map, joining McLaws, Hood, and Hill. Lee gives orders. McLaws is to attack up the Emmitsburg Road and get in the rear of the Union army. McLaws wants to send out men in advance to inspect the situation on the road, but Longstreet says that is a waste of time. Hood wants to send a brigade to disrupt Union supply lines but Lee says he must concentrate his forces.
Captain Johnston, who has scouted the area, is given responsibility for moving Longstreet and his corps into position, and Longstreet insists that his men should not be seen by the enemy because that would destroy the element of surprise. Johnston admits he knows little about the roads in the vicinity (he has only been scouting the Union position), which causes Longstreet to lament the absence of Stuart, who would have been able to supply that information. Longstreet thinks Stuart should be court-martialed.
At noon, the march begins, and Longstreet rides with Lee. They recall the Mexican War, when they were all on the same side; now some of their former comrades are the enemy who is waiting for them. Lee speaks obliquely of the war’s heavy causalities, and Longstreet thinks Lee is criticizing his preference for defensive war, because Longstreet is too concerned with preserving the lives of his men.
A courier brings the news that the Union forces are moving troops to the hill known as Little Round Top. Lee is unconcerned, saying that his forces will capture the hill by nightfall.
After Lee rides off, Captain Johnston informs Longstreet that if they continue on the road they are on, they will be seen by the enemy. Longstreet is angry and orders a change of direction, which takes them almost back to where they started. Longstreet knows the extra march will tire his men and take up valuable time. When they near Little Round Top, they are surprised find Union soldiers in the peach orchard, in front of Little Round Top. Hood wants to alter the plan and go right, behind the Big Round Top, which is a little way to the south, and attack the federal forces from the rear. Longstreet knows this is a good plan but refuses to deviate from Lee’s orders, which are for a frontal assault. He overrules Hood, over Hood’s objections, and the attack begins.
July 2, 1863: Chapter 4: Chamberlain
Just before four o’clock in the afternoon, Chamberlain hears artillery fire and knows the battle has begun. Colonel Vincent informs them that the rebels are attacking the Union left flank and places Chamberlain’s regiment on Little Round Top, the extreme left of the Union line. He tells Chamberlain that he must not withdraw under any circumstances; if he abandons the hill the enemy will be able to attack the Union army from the rear.
Chamberlain places his men; they dig in and build a stone wall. He can see the battle raging below. Three of the six Maine mutineers agree to join the fight; Chamberlain promises there will be no charges against them. Chamberlain moves among his men and then hears the “Rebel yell.” The rebels are coming in full force, but the Union line holds. The rebels come again, and the battle is fierce, with many dead and wounded. Kilrain is wounded under the shoulder, and Chamberlain is wounded in the foot. Chamberlain climbs a boulder and is shot at again. This time the bullet hits the scabbard of his sword, and he is knocked off the rock.
He continues to direct his forces effectively, telling them they must hold their positions. He moves his own men to the left and forms a new line, then returns to check on Kilrain, who is weak but still able to fire a rifle. They are low on ammunition, and Chamberlain sends back for more. He also sends a message to Vincent that they are hard pressed and need some help.
The rebels continue to come. News arrives that Colonel Vincent is dead (actually, he is only wounded at this point), and no more ammunition is available. Chamberlain orders ammunition to be taken from the wounded. Gaps appear in the Union lines, and Chamberlain tells he brother Tom to fill one of the gaps. Chamberlain doubts whether they can hold on; he is told that over a hundred of his regiment are down, leaving only two hundred. One man reports that they are almost out of ammunition; another says they cannot hold the line and should pull out. Chamberlain refuses. He orders his men to fix bayonets to their rifles, and he leads the charge of the Twentieth Maine down the hill. The rebels are routed.
Kilrain is wounded for the second time and may lose an arm. Tom Chamberlain says they fought off four rebel regiments, perhaps two thousand men and took five hundred prisoners. Chamberlain is congratulated by Colonel Rice, who observed the bayonet charge. Rice tells Chamberlain to move his men to Big Round Top. He promises to get them more ammunition. Tom informs his brother that they have taken 130 casualties, which is nearly half the regiment. Chamberlain says goodbye to Kilrain, who will be taken to the hospital, and feels elated at the great victory.
Analysis, July 2, 1863: Chapters 3-4
These two chapters record the decisive moments of the battle. Historically, Longstreet was delayed for two hours by the need to find another route to avoid being seen by the enemy. When his forces do get in place they are disconcerted to find a Union force in the peach orchard, since they had been told not to expect much, if any, opposition in the front. The Federals in the peach orchard were under the command of Daniel Sickles, who had moved there from his assigned position a half mile to the east because it offered higher ground. Shaara emphasizes how General Hood, seeing the Federal forces there, protests and wants to go around and attack from the rear. He knows he will face devastating fire if he moves forward. Historically, Hood actually asked Longstreet three times to adopt his plan, and on each occasion Longstreet refused, because he had to follow Lee’s orders.
The bayonet charge which brings chapter 4 to its climax is the stirring stuff of which legends are made: out of ammunition, the brave colonel leads his men downhill on a last desperate bayonet charge—and emerges victorious as the enemy flees. Employing short sentences and sentence fragments to create stream-of-consciousness effect, Shaara conveys the breathless excitement, confusion, and speed of the events he recreates as they unfold around Joshua Chamberlain, who is tested in battle like he has never been tested before. Relying both on instinct and training, as well as personal courage and leadership abilities, Chamberlain emerges as a hero. His characterization by Shaara is consistent throughout: modest and immensely adaptive and resourceful, Chamberlain is shown as being loved by his men, especially Kilrain and Tom Chamberlain. Historically, Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the battle.
July 2, 1863: Chapter 5: Longstreet
In the evening, Longstreet visits General Hood in the hospital. Hood, who has an arm wound, says Longstreet should have allowed him to go right, as he had wanted to do. Longstreet, in answer to Hood’s question, lies that they took Little Round Top. He also lies that casualties were not bad.
Longstreet learns from Captain Goree that Hood’s officers blame Longstreet for the day’s defeat, saying it was his decision to attack. Longstreet knows that no one will blame Lee, even though the order to attack came from Lee. Longstreet learns from General Sorrell that Hood’s division suffered losses of 50 percent, which amounts to 8,000 men. Longstreet knows that given this level of casualties, another major assault is out of the question. But he is encouraged when an aide informs him that General Pickett has arrived with 5,000 fresh troops.
Longstreet goes to Lee’s headquarters and finds that Stuart has finally returned, but he does not speak to him. Lee tells Longstreet the battle was close, but Longstreet knows it was not. While Lee laments the loss of General Pender, who was wounded in the battle, Longstreet tells him there are three Union corps dug in on the high ground and that he lost nearly half his strength in the battle. He adds that there is enough artillery for one more fight.
When Longstreet moves off into the crowd he sees Marshall, who wants to court-martial Stuart but says Lee refuses to sign the papers. Marshall says Stuart was just joyriding and captured a hundred enemy wagons. Longstreet agrees that Stuart should be court-martialed and says he will speak to Lee about it. Knowing that Lee will order another attack in the morning, Longstreet rides with Fremantle, who is full of praise for Lee, but Longstreet says Lee’s army wins not because of tactics but because they move quickly and usually have good ground. He adds that if they win tomorrow even though they are outnumbered it will not be due to Lee’s superior tactics. It will be a miracle. Longstreet stops abruptly, realizing that his words might be interpreted as disloyal to Lee.
Longstreet returns to camp, where Pickett is telling stories and other officers are singing and drinking. Touched by the words of a sentimental song, Armistead recalls a time back in 1861 when he sang the same song with his old friend Win Hancock, who is now on the opposing side, dug in at the top of the hill that they will try to take tomorrow. Longstreet and Armistead then return and join the officers’ party.
July 2, 1863: Chapter 6: Lee
Lee works all night. He reflects on the moment when the war became inevitable (when Virginia declared its secession from the Union), and reminds himself that he had no option but to break the vow he took to defend the Union. He could not fight against his own people (President Lincoln had invited him in early 1861 to command the entire Union army), and nor could he just stand on the sidelines and watch. Now he has to decide what his tactics will be the following day. He must either move to higher ground somewhere else or stay and fight.
Stuart visits him. Lee rebukes him for letting the army down, leaving it without information. He says that Stuart must never let this happen again. Stuart offers to resign, but Lee says he needs him in the coming fight.
An aide named Venable reports confusion in Ewell’s camp because Ewell is indecisive and defers too much to Early. Venable tells Lee that Early and Ewell moved too late, not long before Longstreet had finished his attack.
Lee makes his decision. He will attack. He plans to use Longstreet and Pickett’s forces to attack the center of the Union line and split the enemy in two, and send Stuart’s cavalry at the rear to complete what he hopes will be a rout.
Analysis, July 2, 1863: Chapters 5-6
Chapter 5 reveals the difficult position Longstreet is in. He insisted to Hood, as he had to do, that Lee’s orders be followed, and as a result, Hood took catastrophic casualties. Now Longstreet learns that officers in the Hood camp blame him for the order to attack. No one even thinks of blaming Lee; his stature is too great. Longstreet realizes that “the Old Man is becoming untouchable” (p. 255). Longstreet’s relationship with Lee is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel. Longstreet has profound disagreements with him over tactics, but his feelings for Lee are nonetheless warm, even reverential in some ways. It is as if he is in awe of Lee. He feels constrained in Lee’s presence and does not speak his mind easily, “the right words would not come” (p. 261). But when he is out of Lee’s physical presence, and is riding with Fremantle, his frustration with Lee comes out in a rush. It becomes clear that he does not think much of Lee’s much-vaunted tactical brilliance.
For his part, Lee comes across as a dignified, almost mystical figure, never complaining, gentle with his men and revered by them, but at least when seen through Longstreet’s eyes at this moment he is a man who is unwilling to face the scale of the setback his forces suffered on the second day of the battle. Lee always listens respectfully to Longstreet but does not take his advice. He is emerging as a tragic figure, dealing with declining health, occasionally haunted by thoughts of death, and yet still with something indomitable about him.