The book describes one of the most famous battles in American Civil War history namely the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The book illustrates how the crucial battle was fought detailing on the emotions of the main characters. Here the author tries to depict, not only factual events as recorded in history but also a more personal view of the persons who fought, lived and died in the decisive battle.
The story revolves around several main characters who participated in the famous Battle of Gettysburg. These are actual historical figures and the events as depicted in the book are based on careful research on actual records.
General Robert Lee was a man who came from Virginia. He was the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia or known as 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 be seen at times in argument with General Lee in terms of decisions and points of view regarding the war. Out of great respect and trust in Generals Lee’s ability he always defers to his superior. 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)
There were other characters also that were crucial to the story but the main plot revolves around the three officers whose actions and decisions determined the outcome of the war.
General John Buford was the Cavalry commander for the Union Army. He was described as having the talent to select good defensive positions and was highly valued in the army for such (Shaara, 1987).
General George Pickett was a general who has risen in ranks. He still have not seen any action in the war and was very eager to prove himself. He led his division in the charge on the fateful battle on July 3, 1863 (Shaara, 1987).
General J. Stuart was the Cavalry commander for 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 the witnessing of the Union Army on 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 for breaking his cover.
Decisions were made and plans were put into action. The Confederate army needed to move north to intercept the reportedly Union army who was currently in motion. The decision was made to go southeast through mountain path which eventually lead to the town of Gettysburg.
The landscape of the Gettysburg region was discussed in details.
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 in addition he 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, the commander of the Union Cavalry, General Bufford, discovers the presence of the Confederate Army and started making plans for the inevitable clash between the two. Intuitively knowing that the Army of this size might possible be lead by the famous General Lee, he then 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 the 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 the had since the Union Army had already established defensive position and it would be hard fought to smash their way in. But Lee wished to reach Washington D.C through Gettysburg. With the capture of the capital the war would eventually be won by their side.
The first day of the battle was described to be a victory for the Confederates. Here the Union army was forced to retreat towards the hills. They set up cannons and defensive positions. This was expected by General Longstreet but with some reservations. Knowing full well that those hills provided good defense against his attacks he still 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.
The second of July, 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 to a bloodbath on both sides.
Colonel Chamberlain’s regiment finally reached their destination was positioned on Little Round Top Hill. His orders were to hold the extreme left of their side. With little room for a safe retreat, the Twentieth Maine withstood numerous Confederate attacks. Survival was costly and eventually the regiment ran out of bullets and ammunitions.
In a desperate effort to struggle, Chamberlain then 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 have secured their position for the mean time but suffered great losses for the battle.
Lee, on the other hand, was already making plans on his next attack. Stuart finally reported in and was scolded for his long absence. Lee was planning on breaking he 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 the third of July, 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 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. With this General Pickett and his newly arrived infantry was 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 own way. Having his reservations kept to his own, he knows well that the attack would be costly and foolish.
Their plan was forced also by the surprise attack by Union soldiers harassing the newly arrived Stuart’s cavalry. With the final polishing of their plan, the Confederate army begun the bloodiest battle of the civil war.
General Longstreet advice Confederate artillery to fired 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 side tried to damage each other. But with the Confederate artillery, their aim was not that accurate and Union cannons were still intact..
During the bombardment Colonel Chamberlain was trapped, hiding behind a stone wall together with some of his men. As cannon fire barraged in the battlefield, luckily he was able to survive but was wounded in the feet. Knowing fully that an attack was eminent after the cannons have 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 army. 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, was able to bring out a very personal view on the famous Battle of Gettysburg. He was able to 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 of and with good research backing behind his literary work.
On the characterization, the author was able to bring out the defining qualities for 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 was able to 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 with what he do. He was an inspiring leader who greatly believes in the ability of his men. His downfall was his pride in thinking that he could deliver the most crucial victory to end the war.
General Longstreet on the other hand was bright and intelligent but with a more unconventional way of thinking. He recognizes the ability of Lee and greatly respects his ideas and strategies. Although he had some reservation with some, he nonetheless obeyed and followed to the letter. He was loyal and courageous. Knowing fully the probable outcome of the Pickett charge still 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 upon he was still presented as logical and very modern. He was seen to be at odds with Lee but still followed through. Though 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 takes care of his men. He is charismatic and well loved. His personality in the story is quite dynamic since he was not strictly tied up to 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 risen in ranks. He was well loved by his troops and can easily identify with the lower ranks f the army. He was constantly struggling with the dilemma that his brother’s presence, being his aide, presented.
He is he only one depicted as being realistic in his thoughts and moods. Since when one goes to war, they would also think of the effects that the war is having, on himself, his family friends and his county.
The book itself is presented not like any other Civil War novels. Since the characters were based on historical facts and with research regarding their personality conducted by the author, the book was presented in a more realistic manner. The decisions, moods and thought of each character is easy to identify with since it is what is generally any person with the same scenario would do.
The characters were made to be easier to comprehend and their actions justified. Thus giving the effect of understanding the Gettysburg Battle more personally compared to History books.