July 2, 1863
The morning of the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg dawns on Colonel Arthur Fremantle, who was in his words, “an English spectator” (Fremantle, 1864, p. 123). A member of the Queen’s famous Coldstream Guards, he is here in the States on tour of the conflict waged in the former colonies.
In The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s outline of the battle on Day 2 begins with Fremantle pondering the incredible uncivilized nature of his Southern company by arising at the ghastly hour of three in the morning. On his way to the battle, which he is anxious to observe, he runs into General Longstreet’s aide, Major Moxley Sorrel (in reality, Lieutenant Colonel Sorrel since June 18, 1863). The latter is quite confident in the recent victory carried out the previous day against Buford’s cavalry and Reynold’s infantry, which pushed the Federals off Seminary Ridge. But Longstreet is unavailable at the moment, meeting with Lee, and Fremantle comforts himself with conversation with his fellow foreigners and friends: the Austrian Ross, the Prussian Scheibert, London Times correspondent Lawley, and medical men and military staff. The day breaks, and at 5 A.M., Fremantle, Ross, and Lawley ride into Gettysburg, then Seminary Ridge, to observe the officers present: Lee, Longstreet, Hill, Hood, and others. Fremantle ponders the English nature of his company in their names and tenacity. He observes the field of battle: from left to right, Cemetery Hill, a wooded ridge, and the Round Tops.
Fremantle suggests to Ross that the Rebel yell must have had its origins in Indian war cries. They agree that the Americans are oddly vulgar in their dress, despite their similarity to civilized Englishman in other factors.
At 7 A.M., Fremantle joins Longstreet in the latter’s placing of McLaws’ troops (Fremantle, 1864, p. 130). Longstreet discusses with Hood how Lee hopes to close the battle that day with his planned offensive. Longstreet is gloomy at the prospect: Maybe there are more than his counted five Federal corps on the hills. Yet Fremantle is confident in Longstreet and in the victory of “gentlemen against the rabble,” i.e. the Federals (Shaara, 2004, p. 153). Pickets begin to fire, and Longstreet ponders on the notorious delay of offensive action he is sure defines General Meade of the Union.
Fremantle breaks apart from Longstreet and lies in the grass of the heightening day, listening to his friends discuss Napoleon, Jomini, and women. He imagines the odd combination of familiarity and foreignness that is the South: the raw openness, yet cultivated farms, of the land. He thinks of the French Revolution and the experiment of democracy, both of which he regrets. He lists the elements of class which he finds so English in the Southern mind: a love of tradition, propriety, families; the uniformity of religion and customs. The North is an aristocracy of wealth, he ponders, with no respect for tradition and culture. Yes, he concludes, the Southerner is a transplanted Englishman. As Fremantle recorded after meeting in June General Polk and his aids-de-camp:
Highly educated, wealthy and prosperous before the war, they have abandoned all for their country. They, and all other Southern gentlemen of the same rank, are proud of their descent from Englishmen. They glory in speaking English as we do, and that their manners and feelings resemble those of the upper classes in the old country. (Fremantle, 1864, p, 88)
Chamberlain presents a different view on the concept of this war. His chapter begins slowly, pensively, and with reflection. Chamberlain is walking among his men, thinking fondly of his wife, when a group of captured Southerners remind him of the South. His perception is a distasteful mirror of Fremantle’s observation: The South is indeed a contradiction of class and vulgarity, but more a curious hypocrisy, a land of “courtly manner and sudden violence” (Shaara, 2004, p. 159).
Buster Kilrain suddenly interrupts Chamberlain’s reverie with the news that an injured black man has been found. The man is dark and muscular and like nothing Chamberlain has seen before. Yet in his eyes was the plain exhaustion that beset any human being. And the odd language he spoke was finally broken down into a simple expression of thanks. And yet, an unconscious revulsion sprung in Chamberlain, and he is surprised and disturbed: An educated man like himself, harboring this feeling? He wonders how much of this war the black man knows about.
Then his brother Tom bubbles up carrying conversation from the prisoners, saying they say they were fighting for their rights. Chamberlain ponders the black man and realizes he, this poor, alone, and frightened human being, this was what the war was all about. They treat his wounds and discover he was shot by a woman in Gettysburg, and Chamberlain shakes his head at the senseless fright of such people. The regiment is ordered to move forward and Chamberlain leaves the black man regretfully.
They pass through a varied assortment of terrain and finally rest on a flat field flanked by an orchard and hill. A few cannon blast afar and an order from Meade confirms the nearness of the enemy. Yet the part about killing insubordinates bothers Chamberlain, who has much respect for human life. Soon he encounters Kilrain again with news that the black man is still with the regiment. They begin to talk about the Negro race. Kilrain is unsure, but resigns to take them one at a time, not as a group. Chamberlain expresses his belief that all men have a “divine spark.” Then he relates the incident of the Southern guests he entertained once, how the preacher tried to make him see that a Negro was not a man. Chamberlain revolted at the hypocritical idea of a Christian slaveholder. Then the Southern professor tries reason on him, and poses the great question, “What if it is you who are wrong?” (Shaara, 2004, p. 169). Chamberlain feels like killing the man and realizes that indeed he would, if the need arose for such a drastic measure to eliminate the inhumanity of slavery. And then he realizes that “you cannot be utterly right” (ibid.), there may always be something wrong in your view. To kill to free – what if you are wrong?
Then Kilrain has his say. No one is equal, he contends, not from birth or culture, at least. He is in the war to prove he deserves better than most, better than the slaveholders. The only aristocracy lies in justice, not birth or country: “I’ll be treated as I deserve, nor as my father deserved” (ibid, p. 170).
Chamberlain was definitely a man who abhorred the institution of slavery and saw the war as hinging on that topic. After President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, Chamberlain recorded the following:
But when slavery was put above the Union, – when the engineries of war were turned against the defences of the country; when the flag was shot down and trampled on, which stood not only for what had been done under it for man, but what should be done, – then in a miracle of might rose that spirit which slow to wrath, does not stop till its work is done, – does not rest till the cause, which is the evil, is purged from the heart.
What a century of concession could not do, secession did, – with marvellous demonstration, its own weapons turned to its destruction. It pleased its maddened mood to invoke war; and the very laws of war gave the President power to knell its doom; it proclaimed a Confederacy built on the corner-stone of slavery, – and lo, the corner-stone itself was overturned; it set slavery across the nation’s way, and God, – in his wrath, in his justice, in his mercy, in his love, in his far purpose for man and earth, – swept slavery from the path, as the mighty pageant of the free people passed on to its glory. (qtd. in Trulock, 1992, p. 83)
In the third chapter of Shaara’s depiction of Day 2 of Gettysburg, we find ourselves in Longstreet’s mind, at a morning meeting with Lee and other officers – the same officers’ meeting Fremantle had observed. Longstreet pictures in his mind the layout of the enemy: The curving shaft from Culp’s Hill to Cemetery Hill and finally down Cemetery Ridge and the Rounds Tops. Longstreet sees a fever in Lee’s eyes. Indeed, his commander was “deeply angered” after the first day of battle (Sears, 2003, p. 238): Recalcitrant officers had brought on this whole engagement outside of his will, J.E.B. Stuart’s absence left him unable to capitalize on his foundational idea of keeping the initiative, Longstreet’s continued stubbornness and Ewell’s reluctance to move west ate away at his authority. Lee tells Longstreet that he wants consensus among his officers for the offensive he desires. Lee has met with Ewell and acknowledges the Union presence on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, and tells Longstreet how Ewell and Early opposed a move to their right. In actuality, Lee had the night before ordered them rightward, but Ewell interceded personally for blockage of the plan in order to try for the hills again (Sears, 2003, p. 232). Morale would suffer from such a move, Ewell contended the night before, while he banked on the arrival of Johnson’s troops to take the contested heights (ibid.).
Longstreet sees the determination in Lee’s eyes and knows his defensive plan will not be carried out. Lee lists several reasons justifying his move: Any more delay would enable further entrenchment by the enemy and the Confederate victory of the previous day would carry them through this one. Shaara has Lee speak two puzzling sentences: “We cannot support ourselves in this country. We cannot let him work around behind us and cut us off from home” (2004, p. 175). In fact, the whole offensive to the north was partly enacted to relieve the battered Virginia from the constant foraging of the armies.1 Support in the enemy’s country was not an issue.
Lee then issues his orders: Longstreet is to attack en echelon – from right to left – from the southern heights up to Cemetery Hill, at which region Ewell will also demonstrate to keep the Federals from reinforcing. McLaws is given the task of advancing up the Emmitsburg Road to get behind the Federal line. When McLaws considers taking skirmishers to scout the position, Longstreet denies the move, saying it would be a waste of time (perhaps this is Shaara’s hint that Longstreet did in fact try to move efficiently in concordance with Lee’s plan, and had not sputtered about in delay, as his Southern detractors later contended). Heth, injured and a little uncomprehending, wonders where to place his division, but Lee, with an attractive warmth, says he should rest.
In reality, Shaara leaves out an important element in the generals’ meeting: Captain Samuel Johnston’s reconnaissance report. Shaara mentions this scouting mission briefly when Longstreet meets Johnston about the latter’s guiding the corps south. But there is so much more. Johnston, in fact, had been ordered early in the morning to reconnoiter the enemy’s left side. Although he claimed to have scouted the Round Tops, somehow Johnston missed sight of the numerous regiments and corps that were milling about that point. Buford’s troops were even present below the hills almost all morning. Nevertheless, Johnston reported nothing and when his report arrived – in the midst of the morning meeting of the generals – this solidified Lee’s decision to pursue the eastward offensive. Lee, bolstered with the (mistaken) confidence of attacking an exposed Federal flank (so akin his Chancellorsville victory), drove home his increasingly-questioned authority by taking full direction of the offensive by giving an uncharacteristic direct order to Longstreet’s subordinate McLaws. Ordinarily, Lee would have simply told his lieutenants and let them carry out his plans to underlings. But Lee here was making a point to Longstreet. (Sears, 2004, pp. 252-255)
Back to Shaara… Hood notes with concern that his people have marched all night and that McLaw’s travels were worse, and without rest. Hood agrees that Longstreet’s idea of moving right was a good one, but both are sobered by Lee’s firm decision to move forward. Longstreet knows his two best commanders, Hood and Pickett, are precious and he regrets risking their lives in Lee’s offensive. Lee orders Johnston to lead the corps. The latter is nervous, having not scouted roads in his morning mission. Longstreet tells him to do the best he can, while under his breath, he wishes he could court martial the frustratingly absent J.E.B. Stuart.
On the march, Longstreet wonders if generalship really matters, after all. He then meets Lee, who rides alongside him. They begin to reminisce about the Mexican War and enter the painful subject of having to fight old classmates and comrades. Lee resigns that his duty to Virginia was higher than to the Union, and Longstreet reluctantly agrees, regretting his breaking of the vows at West Point. Then Lee enters the sober monologue of the soldier’s “great trap”: “To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love” (Shaara, 2004, p. 182). Lee, thinks Longstreet, is worried about him in the upcoming battle, and that he cares so much for the lives of his men that he would prefer a defensive campaign.
Lee and Longstreet part, and then the latter receives the fateful news from Johnston that there are in fact observers on the Round Tops – quite able to view the Confederates’ route if taken as planned from that position south of Herr Ridge. Longstreet takes Joe Kershaw of the South Carolina Brigade and scouts the options, the former sharply worried about the delay. Picket skirmishes sound along the center, and Longstreet comforts the regretful Johnston that it is all Stuart’s fault that they have no idea where they are headed. Finally Longstreet finds some ground where some surprise can be maintained: just west of Seminary Ridge. He puts Hood to the right and McLaws before him and moves south. The latter suddenly comes up to Longstreet with the surprised revelation that he has found Union troops right in front of him – not farther east up on Cemetery Ridge as had been expected. This was true: the Union General Sickles had unwisely chosen (and without orders to do so) to leave his post on the ridge and venture westward onto more elevated ground, and was to bump into Longstreet’s divisions just as he got himself settled (Catton, 1982, p. 38).
Longstreet and McLaws guess at the change of events and conclude to move as planned: McLaws will hit these closer Federals after Hood begins his more southern assault. Longstreet’s mind clears suddenly with the impending battle, and he curses the proud foolishness, not the fear, that loses battles.
Hood’s messenger comes up, saying that the left Federal flank is clear for a rear attack, but Longstreet is despondent and says nothing will change Lee’s plan now. The messenger leaves and returns with Hood’s confirmation of the opportunity present in the Federal absence at the Round Tops. Longstreet finally perceives the change: that the Federals had moved to the peach orchard. But, resigning to Lee, Longstreet commands the frontal attack. Hood’s adjutant general Sellars despairs over their battleground, the rocky ground at Devil’s Den, south of Sickle’s misplaced troops. Longstreet’s pained worry over time and the faltering opportunity of Lee’s en echelon plan makes him realize things are not going smoothly. Longstreet thinks, “None of us lose battles on purpose” (Shaara, 2004, p. 192), no doubt a hint by Shaara to Longstreet’s detractors in future years. Indeed, the plans were unraveling before Longstreet’s worried eyes.
Hood himself finally intercedes, demanding a move to the right behind the Federals, avoiding a battle at the impossibly rocky Devil’s Den. But Longstreet cannot go against Lee anymore, and time is short: It would take all night to mount a battery on the Round Tops. Hood moves, under protest, according to Lee’s plan.
Next, McLaws division must enter the fray. Longstreet holds them back, alive with the damming of the watery power of McLaws’ tense forces. Finally, Longstreet gives the signal. McLaw’s division is off, with a yell and a plume of gunfire. Day 2 has commenced.
1. Ewell was “making Pennsylvania support the war, instead of poor, used up, and worn-out Virginia” (Fremantle, 1864, p. 122). “Lee was going to requisition the burdened barns and smokehouses of Pennsylvania to feed his army” (Sears, 2003, p. 13). “Lee’s army could draw its supplies of meat and grain from the lush farmlands of Pennsylvania. Let the North support the war for a while” (Catton, 1982, p. 6).
Catton, B. (1982). Gettysburg: The final fury. New York, NY: Berkley. (Original work published 1974)
Fremantle, A.L. (1864). Three months in the southern states. Mobile: S. H. Goetzel. Retrieved from http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/fremantle/fremantle.html
Shaara, M. (2004). The killer angels. New York, NY: Modern Library. (Original work published 1974)
Sears, S.W. (2003). Gettysburg. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Trulock, A.R. (1992). In the hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina.
The previous entry is a part of a series of Gettysburg posts recounting Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and the actual battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The complete list of entries can be found at the page The Killer Angels.