July 2, 1863, evening
Longstreet finds Hood in a field hospital, hopelessly incapacitated. Hood wants to know if his boys took the Little Round Top. Longstreet, full of pity, lies and tells him, yes, the rocks were taken. Outside, Longstreet broods on the bloodshed, so unnecessary, then is interrupted by Sorrel, his aide, who announces Captain Goree’s presence. Longstreet asks Goree to scout the position to the right of the Confederate line, by the right flank manned by Hood’s division. Goree reports with a fury that the officers are blaming Longstreet for the failure that day. Goree had hit a man in retaliation; Longstreet tells him to let it go, but he is grateful that someone sees his sense in the matter and fears that Lee is increasingly becoming untouchable from blame.
He catches up with Sorrel again, who reports his own slight injury and the injury of Osmun Latrobe. Casualty figures are high, he states – over a third. In Hood’s division, half. Eight thousand men out in two hours, Longstreet muses. Lee would not be able to make another assault.
A messenger comes and announces Pickett’s presence on the battlefield, and the latter’s humorous impatience for action. The 5000 new men coming with Pickett gives Longstreet a certain strength. It is interesting to note that Pickett’s men were unable to join in the July 2 fighting because, in fact, his division was performing guarding functions for the army, duties that would have been taken up by J.E.B. Stuart were his men present. Pickett arrived at the battlefield in the late afternoon of July 2, and was placed in bivouac for the remainder of the day.
In the next scene of Shaara’s narrative, we find Longstreet moving up to meet Lee at his headquarters up on Seminary Ridge. It must be noted that Longstreet did not personally confer with Lee on the night of July 2. Like Lee’s uncharacteristic action of commanding one of Longstreet’s men earlier in the day, Longstreet acted out of character when he chose to send a courier to report to Lee that night. (Sears, 2003, p. 346) More on this most telling incident follows at the end of this post.
Back to Shaara… At Lee’s headquarters, there are celebrations going on, reporters and salesmen, noises and congratulations. For what? Longstreet wonders. Lee meets him amidst the crowds, an air of quietness around him. Longstreet dismounts and follows him into a relatively quieter room. But Lee is terribly tired, and Longstreet notices with tender concern. Lee muses how close they had been that afternoon to victory; Longstreet thinks Lee is too optimistic. Lee wonders why the attacks were not coordinated, alluding to how Ewell was late in reacting to Longstreet’s attack. They ponder the loss of Generals Barksdale, Semmes, Hood, and Pender.
In this scene, Lee mentions to Longstreet that the Confederates were very close to winning that afternoon, that he “saw our flags go up the hill” (Shaara, 2004, p. 235). Longstreet contends it wasn’t that close, but in reality, Lee may well have been right: The Confederates attacked valiantly at four locations of the Federal line and almost broke in at several of them, repulsed only by a general lack of reinforcements. In the north, in fact, Ewell’s Johnson actually nearly pushed off General Slocum of the Union Twelfth Corps stationed at Culp’s Hill (contrary to Shaara’s map at the end of July 2). In the center, Anderson’s men actually broke through Hancock’s ridge and at one point looked down upon the Federal rear. (Catton, 1982, pp. 44-45)
Continuing Shaara’s narrative, we find Longstreet finally mustering enough courage to tell Lee that there are three Union corps before him, he has lost half of his strength, that the way right is still open, and that there is enough artillery for one more fight. Lee says he will think about it and Longstreet leaves, feeling snuffed.
Outside, Marshall demands that Longstreet look into the court martial of J.E.B. Stuart. He says Stuart was happily joyriding as he captured 100 enemy wagons – leaving Lee blind on foreign soil. Longstreet holds to Marshall’s opinion, but despairs of Lee ever wanting to sign the court martial papers.
Longstreet rides off, knowing solemnly that Lee would attack. With three corps looking down on them Lee would still not retreat. The British tourist Fremantle rides up then, glowing with praise of the “victory” and Lee’s being the greatest soldier of the age. Longstreet is confused, but doesn’t say anything. Fremantle finally comes to the crux of his conversation: to enlist Longstreet’s aid in composing a few notes on the strategy and tactics of Robert E. Lee for after the war (which he believes will be over within this campaign). Longstreet thinks to himself what a ridiculous endeavor it is, being that the only tactics were to find the enemy and fight him. But when Fremantle calls Lee a devious, tricky soldier, Longstreet breaks out in laughter. Finally vocalizing his convictions, he goes on a monologue of the absence of strategy in their victories through the war, that they only won because of faith in their men and in Lee, in Lee’s forceful offensives, and in a general nostalgia of old chivalry. There is nothing remotely intelligent about any of it, he contends, and after this admission, finally realizes what he had said.
He rides away from Fremantle, filled with all the more conviction that Virginia is from a past age. He contends with himself about such insubordination in his heart. He rides into his camp and watches Pickett tell stories in the firelight, when Armistead interrupts his brooding, asking him if he wanted to join the festivities. He doesn’t, so Armistead keeps him company for a time. “Dick Garnett is sick,” Armistead reports, but he insists on going to battle to save his honor from the unjust accusations leveled against him by Stonewall Jackson. In other news, Fremantle says England would not support the Confederacy due to the issue of slavery. Armistead says the war is not about slavery, but Longstreet privately thinks otherwise, although he himself doesn’t fight for that cause.
Then the sound of a voice fills the air, singing the sad lines of the Irish “Kathleen Mavourneen”: Oh hast thou forgotten how soon we must part? It may be for years, it may be forever… Tears fill the eyes of the once-festive officers around the campfire. Armistead is touched and, when Pickett picks up the mood again, he asked Longstreet if he heard from Union General Winfield Hancock, his old friend. They had indeed battled Longstreet’s forces that day; Armistead hopes to go see him. There is a pause, then Armistead recounts the last meeting between him and his old friend, how he vowed to never raise his hand against him in battle. He had considered sitting out this battle against his friend, but feels it would not be right. Longstreet, ever incapable of expressing affection, manages to touch him in comfort. Armistead asks again if Longstreet would like to join Pickett’s merriment, and this time, Longstreet concedes. He wants that innocent freedom again, that joy of irresponsibility and lack of care. He lets go of his troubles, of the whole business of war, just for a while.
Civil War historian Stephen Sears in his award-winning book Gettysburg describes some most noteworthy events that took place on the night of July 2. Somehow, Lee’s information about his battlefield was painfully lacking. Reports were incomplete and secondhand. His command to Longstreet to roll up the Federals with no change from his previous day’s strategy was a “military decision utterly divorced from reality” (Sears, 2003, p. 349). Longstreet, on the other hand, had firsthand information, yet oddly chose not to converse with Lee personally on this matter. He instead sent a courier over with a brief report, choosing to remain at his headquarters, still sour over the conflict with Lee. The close personal contact that so defined their friendship was missing on this day, evidence of the tension. But neither did Lee attempt to contact Longstreet. Theirs was a battle of wills, and with insubordination and fouled execution of orders already having done their harmful drama on the battlefield, Lee did not want to let down his authority again. He ordered the ill-fated assault.
“That neither Lee nor Longstreet, before or after these orders were issued, made any effort that night to meet and to discuss the course of the battle thus far and the course to follow for tomorrow, reveals two strong-minded men engaged in a contest of wills. Neither would blink. Lee, without a serious examination of the case, intent on enforcing his will, was refusing to deviate from his original battle plan. His unhappy lieutenant, stretching a corps commander’s discretion to its limit and beyond, was attempting to change a plan he was certain was misguided and doomed to fail.” (Sears, 2003, p. 349)
Catton, B. (1982). Gettysburg: The final fury. New York, NY: Berkley. (Original work published 1974)
Shaara, M. (2004). The killer angels. New York, NY: Modern Library. (Original work published 1974)
Sears, S.W. (2003). Gettysburg. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
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.