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The book describes one of the most famous battles in American Civil War history, the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The book illustrates how the crucial battle was fought, detailing the main character’s emotions. Here the author tries to depict factual events as recorded in history and a more personal view of the persons who fought, lived, and died in the decisive battle.
The story revolves around several main characters participating in the famous Battle of Gettysburg. These are actual historical figures, and the events depicted in the book are based on careful research of actual records.
General Robert Lee was a man who came from Virginia. He was the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederate Army. He is sometimes called the Old Gray Fox due to his military proficiency and victories won, thus has garnered the reverence of the people of Virginia. He was said to be a God-fearing man who was well disciplined and calm in times of turmoil (Shaara, 1987).
General James Longstreet is General Lee’s next ranking officer. He was a valued commander and can sometimes be seen in arguments with General Lee regarding decisions and points of view regarding the war. He deferred to his superior because of great respect and trust in Generals Lee’s ability; He was one of the most valuable officers in the Confederate Army (Shaara, 1987).
General Joshua L. Chamberlain is the Union Army’s Twentieth Maine Infantry Commander. He left his home and job at Bowdoin College in Maine to become a soldier. He was described to be a very intelligent man (Shaara, 1987)
Other characters were also crucial to the story, but the main plot revolves around the three officers whose actions and decisions determined the war’s outcome.
General John Buford was the Cavalry commander of the Union Army. He was described as having the talent to select good defensive positions and was highly valued in the Army (Shaara, 1987).
General George Pickett was a general who rose in the ranks. He still had not seen any action in the war and was eager to prove himself. He led his division in charge of the fateful battle on July 3, 1863 (Shaara, 1987).
General J. Stuart was the Cavalry commander of the Confederate Army. His mission was to check on the movements of the opposing Army and provide information to General Lee (Shaara, 1987).
Summary of the Plot
The book narrated the events that transpired 3 days before the crucial battle. Here a spy working for Longstreet reported witnessing the Union Army in the nearby vicinity. This was surprising news to the general since the enemy movement was closely monitored by one of his generals, Stuart, whose absence was long overdue. Only the gravity of the information presented by Harrison, the spy in the Union army, convinced Longstreet of the importance of breaking his cover.
Decisions were made, and plans were put into action. The Confederate Army needed to move north to intercept the Union army currently in motion. The decision was made to go southeast through a mountain path, which eventually led to the town of Gettysburg.
The landscape of the Gettysburg region was discussed in detail.
On the other side, Colonel Chamberlain was dealing with mutineers from the other regiments, namely the Second Maine. Knowing his predicament and identifying the value of a hundred and twenty men, he also tried to persuade them to continue fighting for their cause. His inspiring speech was so effective since he only got to convince everyone except for six men from the regiment to join his twentieth. They were camped a few miles south of Gettysburg.
While in Gettysburg, General Bufford’s commander of the Union Cavalry presence discovered the Confederate Army’s presence and started making plans for the inevitable clash between the two. Intuitively knowing that the famous General Lee might lead an army of this size, he started making plans. With approximately two thousand men, the Union army was set to motion. Movements were detailed to gain strategic positions. Higher ground was the call for the day. The Army made its headquarters in a nearby seminary.
While in the morning of July 1, Lee can be seen in a meeting with his officers, including General George Pickett and the other generals. With the absence of General Stuart and the cavalry regiment, the Confederate Army knew of the disadvantage since the Union Army had already established a defensive position, and it would be hard to smash their way in. But Lee wished to reach Washington D.C through Gettysburg. With the capture of the capital, their side would eventually win the war.
The battle’s first day was described as a victory for the Confederates. Here the Union army was forced to retreat to the hills. They set up cannons and defensive positions. General Longstreet expected this but with some reservations. Knowing that those hills provided good defense against his attacks, he knew that General Lee would choose a triumphant victory rather than swing his way to Washington, D.C, for an easier victory.
General Lee, however, was disappointed since one of his orders was not met by General Ewell. He was supposedly ordered to stop the Union army from taking positions in Culp’s Hill and Cemetery’s Hill.
July 2, Chamberlain’s regiment was seen moving north towards Gettysburg. While on Gettysburg, Longstreet had already made an attack plan and was striking at the Union’s left flank. The ensuing battle resulted in a bloodbath on both sides.
Colonel Chamberlain’s regiment finally reached its destination and was positioned on Little Round Top Hill. His orders were to hold the extreme left of their side. Twentieth Maine withstood numerous Confederate attacks with little room for a safe retreat. Survival was costly, and eventually, the regiment ran out of bullets and ammunition.
In a desperate effort to struggle, Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge down the hill. The Confederate Army ran out of freight from the screaming regiment of bayonets charging down Little Round Top Hill. They secured their position in the meantime but suffered great losses in the battle.
On the other hand, Lee was already planning his next attack. Stuart finally reported in and was scolded for his long absence. Lee was planning on breaking the center since his previous attacks were concentrated on the left and right flanks of the Union Army. He intends to divide the opposing Army in half and destroy each side of the remaining Army individually.
On July 3, Chamberlain’s men were transferred to the center line, expecting this to be a relatively safer position. Here the colonel was depicted in a reminiscing mood. He missed his comrades who were either dead or pulled out from combat due to injuries. He was informed to move his troops to the center, where attacks would like to be lesser.
Meanwhile, on the Confederate camp, Longstreet was trying to convince General Lee to take the much easier but needed victory, heading to Washington D.C. But Lee had already made up his plans. He will continue with his plan of attack. General Pickett and his newly arrived infantry were chosen to lead the attack.
Longstreet, on the other hand, was not convinced of General Lee’s plan. But the general was adamant. He wanted to destroy the enemy and end the war his way. Having his reservations kept to his own, he knows well that the attack would be costly and foolish.
Their plan was also forced by the surprise attack by Union soldiers harassing the newly arrived Stuart’s cavalry. With the final polishing of their plan, the Confederate Army began the bloodiest battle of the civil war.
General Longstreet advised Confederate artillery to fire up its cannons to the location that they think where the Union artillery was located. The intended purpose was to weaken the Union artillery before signaling the Infantry charge. Cannon fire rang out as both sides tried to damage each other. But with the Confederate artillery, their aim was not that accurate, and Union cannons were still intact.
Colonel Chamberlain was trapped during the bombardment, hiding behind a stone wall with some of his men. As cannon fire barraged the battlefield, he was able to survive but was wounded in the feet. Knowing that an attack was imminent after the cannons were silenced hours later, the Union Army regrouped and delivered a counter-offensive strike.
As the regiment led by General Pickett marched determinedly to reach the Union positions, they were decimated by Union fire. The barrage was very costly to the Confederate arm.y Once the marchers reached the range of the Union’s guns, they were slaughtered. The survivors ran for their lives, and the Confederate Army was forced to make a retreat.
The author, Michael Shaara, brought out a very personal view of the famous Battle of Gettysburg. He could draw out the elements that defined the moment during that time. The author imparted the significance of each event and was also able to describe the events as they transpired.
Though the author was known as a science fiction writer, his historical-based novel was well thought out and with good research backing his literary work.
In the characterization, the author was able to bring out the defining qualities of each character. He was able to bring to life each character’s mood and feelings. As they were beset with situations and events, the author could define the character according to their specific qualities.
General Lee was depicted as a brilliant tactician, although a traditional one. He was shown as hard-headed and filled with pride in what he did. He was an inspiring leader who greatly believed in the ability of his men. His downfall was his pride in thinking he could deliver the most crucial victory to end the war.
On the other hand, General Longstreet was bright and intelligent but with a more unconventional way of thinking. He recognizes his ability of Lee and greatly respects his ideas and strategies. Although he had some reservations with some, he nonetheless obeyed and followed to the letter. He was loyal and courageous. Knowing the probable outcome of the Pickett charge fully, he followed the order and supported Lee in his plans.
Though Longstreet was depicted by Shaara as troubled due to the recent tragedy his family had befallen, he was still presented as logical and very modern. He was seen to be at odds with Lee but still followed through. However, this might be the writer’s interpretation since there should be documentation or a formal letter contesting the plans and strategies employed by the Confederate Army.
Colonel Chamberlain was depicted as a leader who took care of his men. He is charismatic and well-loved. His personality in the story is quite dynamic since he is not strictly tied up with the identity of a soldier. Though he is lower in rank than the other two main characters still, he was shown to be easy to comprehend.
He was presented as a man who hates war yet willingly entered for the love of the service that the mantle of a soldier provides. He was intelligent and had risen in the ranks. He was well-loved by his troops and could easily identify with the Army’s lower ranks. He was constantly struggling with the dilemma that his brother’s presence, being his aide, presented.
He is the only one depicted as realistic in his thoughts and moods. Since when one goes to war, one would also think of the effects that the war has on himself, his family, friends, and his county.
The book itself is not presented like any other Civil War novel. Since the characters were based on historical facts and the author conducted research on their personality, the book was presented more realistically. Each character’s decisions, moods, and thoughts are easy to identify since it is generally what any person in the same scenario would do.
The characters were made easier to comprehend, and their actions were satisfied. Thus giving the effect of understanding the Gettysburg Battle more personally compared to History books.