Fateful Night

June 29, 1863

It is dark and hot, terribly sticky and uncomfortable, on the night of June 29, 1863, in Pennsylvania. Two people ride up to a tent in which the great General Robert E. Lee is sleeping. They awake him, because their message cannot wait until morning. Spy Henry Harrison and Lieutenant General James Longstreet know it cannot wait.

The news is new and surprising. With Lee still working on old intelligence that the nearest Union troops were still in Virginia, Longstreet’s insistent statement that the Union is but four hours away was difficult for the old general to believe. Longstreet and Harrison, though, continue to elaborate on the positions of Federal corps and column cavalries and towns in which they are situated. There are perhaps 100,000 blue troops awaiting them.

Lee gives the spy no indication that he believes the new information, and sends Harrison away. Longstreet, who commissioned the paid informer, maintains that they must act on this intelligence. But what of J.E.B. Stuart? The question still hangs in Lee’s mind, for he has tried to hold faith that this general would have fulfilled his ongoing mission of keeping them informed of Union movements. Longstreet insists, however, that this just isn’t going to be.

Longstreet mentions that Union command has passed from Joseph Hooker to George Gordon Meade. Lee notes sadly they should have gone with the better soldier, John Reynolds. He then decides that their armies should move quickly, for Meade is a cautious man. They consult the map and discover that a town called Gettysburg is the collision point of several roads, a perfect location for concentration.

Cool air sweeps into camp. The night ends, with the future of a Confederate army partially planned, partially realized. But as Lee noted solemnly, now it is all in God’s hands.


Shaara, M. (2004). The killer angels. New York, NY: Modern Library. (Original work published 1974)

“Prelude to Battle at Gettysburg.” The American Civil War: the Battle of Gettysburg. http://www.brotherswar.com/Gettysburg-Prelude.htm

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.


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