The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

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Described as “formal and pious” in contrast to his dear friend Longstreet, Lee is the beloved Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia. He is a fatherly, even godlike figure to his men, a “symbol of war.” On first appearing in the story, Lee is described by Longstreet as “a beautiful white-haired, white-bearded old man,” though haggard and noticeably aging. He has been suffering from heart trouble and believes he does not have much time left, though he keeps his worries to himself until confiding in Longstreet midway through the battle. His men hold him in awe; he creates a hush when he passes. He is a figure of the “old school” of warfare, to whom honor is paramount. As such, Longstreet’s theories of defensive warfare hold little appeal for Lee. When Lee made an attempt at defensive trench warfare in a previous battle, the Richmond newspapers mocked him as “The King of Spades”—a humiliation Lee considers to be a stain on his honor. Now, his biggest fear about Gettysburg is having to pull out his troops in a devastating retreat. Believing that courage, faith, and morale are ultimately more important in war than tactics, he seems to interpret Longstreet’s favoring of the defensive as excessive caution. He carries an ongoing sense of guilt about invading the United States he once swore to defend. Devoutly Christian, he sees God’s intention and providence at work in the circumstances at Gettysburg and in the war more broadly, relying on this instinct in making decisions. After the disaster of Pickett’s Charge, however, a broken Lee humbly admits that Longstreet was right and asks his friend to “help [him] to see” in the days ahead.

Robert E. Lee Quotes in The Killer Angels

The The Killer Angels quotes below are all either spoken by Robert E. Lee or refer to Robert E. Lee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ballantine edition of The Killer Angels published in 1974.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 4 Quotes

“But the morale is simply amazing. Really is. Never saw anything like it in the old army. They’re off on a holy war. The Crusades must have been a little like this. Wish I’d a been there. Seen old Richard and the rest.”

Longstreet said, “They never took Jerusalem.”

Armistead squinted.

“It takes a bit more than morale,” Longstreet said.

“Oh sure.” But Longstreet was always gloomy. “Well, anyhow, I’ve never seen anything like this. The Old Man’s accomplishment. Incredible. His presence is everywhere. They hush when he passes, like an angel of the Lord. You ever see anything like it?”

Related Characters: James Longstreet (speaker), Lewis Armistead (speaker), Robert E. Lee
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 5 Quotes

It was Longstreet’s curse to see the thing clearly. He was a brilliant man who was slow in speech and slow to move and silent-faced as stone. He had not the power to convince.

Related Characters: James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

He had tears in his eyes. Turn away from that. He mastered it. What he had left was the army. The boys were here. He even had the father, in place of God: old Robert Lee. Rest with that, abide with that.

Related Characters: James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 3 Quotes

“They’re never quite the enemy, those boys in blue … Swore an oath too,” Longstreet said. He shook his head violently. Strange thought to have, at the moment. “I must say, there are times when I’m troubled. But … couldn’t fight against home. Not against your own family. And yet … we broke the vow.”

Lee said, “Let’s not think on this today.”

“Yes,” Longstreet said. There was a moment of dusty silence. He grumbled to himself: why did you start that? Why talk about that now? Damn fool.

Then Lee said, “There was a higher duty to Virginia. That was the first duty. There was never any doubt about that.”

“Guess not,” Longstreet said. But we broke the vow.

Lee said, “The issue is in God’s hands. We will live with His decision, whichever way it goes.”

Related Characters: James Longstreet (speaker), Robert E. Lee (speaker)
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 5 Quotes

Longstreet said, “It wasn’t that close.” But Lee’s eyes were gazing by him at a vision of victory. Longstreet said nothing. He rubbed his mouth. Lee’s eyes strange: so dark and soft. Longstreet could say nothing. In the presence of the Commander the right words would not come.

Related Characters: James Longstreet (speaker), Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

He remembered that day in church when he prayed from the soul and listened and knew in that moment that there was no one there, no one to listen.

Don’t think on these things. Keep an orderly mind. This stuff is like heresy.

Related Characters: James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 6 Quotes

When Virginia left the Union she bore his home away as surely as if she were a ship setting out to sea, and what was left behind on the shore was not his any more. So it was no cause and no country he fought for, no ideal and no justice. He fought for his people, for the children and the kin, and not even the land, because not even the land was worth the war, but the people were, wrong as they were, insane even as many of them were, they were his own, he belonged with his own. And so he took up arms willfully, knowingly, in perhaps the wrong cause against his own sacred oath and stood now upon alien ground he had once sworn to defend, sworn in honor…

Related Characters: Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:

He could not retreat now. It might be the clever thing to do, but cleverness did not win victories; the bright combinations rarely worked. You won because the men thought they would win, attacked with courage, attacked with faith, and it was the faith more than anything else you had to protect; that was one thing that was in your hands, and so you could not ask them to leave the field to the enemy.

Related Characters: Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 5 Quotes

After a while Lee came. Longstreet did not want to see him. But the old man came in a cluster of men, outlined under that dark and ominous sky, the lightning blazing beyond his head. Men were again holding the bridle of the horse, talking to him, pleading; there was something oddly biblical about it, and yet even here in the dusk of defeat there was something else in the air around him; the man brought strength with his presence: doomed and defeated, he brought nonetheless a certain majesty. And Longstreet, knowing that he would never quite forgive him, stood to meet him.

Related Characters: James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

“You were right. And I was wrong. And now you must help me see what must be done. Help us to see. I become … very tired.”

Related Characters: Robert E. Lee (speaker), James Longstreet
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:
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Robert E. Lee Character Timeline in The Killer Angels

The timeline below shows where the character Robert E. Lee appears in The Killer Angels. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 1: The Spy
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...Union and Confederate armies, and this fills him with pride. But now he must locate Lee’s headquarters in the middle of a lightning storm. He asks a farmer about the nearby... (full context)
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...the “strange” friendship between “grim and gambling” James Longstreet and “formal and pious” Robert E. Lee. He proceeds cautiously through the dark until he reaches a Southern picket line, where he... (full context)
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In light of this intelligence, Longstreet decides to wake General Lee. If Harrison is right that the Union is nearby and moving fast, he realizes, the... (full context)
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As they go to meet Lee, Harrison tells Longstreet that Joseph Hooker has been replaced by George Meade as commander of... (full context)
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Lee emerges from his tent, bareheaded and haggard-looking in the rain. He and Longstreet ignore Harrison’s... (full context)
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Longstreet tells Lee that the army must turn and concentrate its position, so as not to be chopped... (full context)
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The two have an awkwardly affectionate parting, as “Lee was ever formal and Longstreet was inarticulate, so they stood for a long time side... (full context)
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 3: Buford
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...retreating Rebels, since “you never knew what old friend was out there.” He knows that Lee’s army will converge at Gettysburg by morning, and that Major General Reynolds will not arrive... (full context)
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...scout and can’t give orders. In frustration he tells one of his brigade commanders that Lee, being no fool, will surely occupy those hills. The junior officer is startled by the... (full context)
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Scouts return, confirming that Lee’s army is concentrating in the direction of Gettysburg. Buford sits down to send a message... (full context)
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 4: Longstreet
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...that day, but that General A. P. Hill believes this report must have been mistaken. Lee defers to Hill’s judgment, to the chagrin of Longstreet. (full context)
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Longstreet and Pickett introduce Pickett’s officers to Fremantle. Armistead jokes that the army is called “Lee’s Miserables,” after the currently popular novel Les Miserables. Armistead is jokingly introduced as an elderly... (full context)
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...this.” Longstreet is skeptical, pointing out that the Crusaders never captured Jerusalem. Armistead is dismissive. Lee’s presence, he says, “is everywhere … like an angel of the Lord. You ever see... (full context)
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...views, but that the Confederates are simply not the army for defensive war; neither is Lee the general for it, as he is too proud. He reminds Longstreet how hurt Lee... (full context)
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Longstreet knows that Armistead is probably right about Lee, and it worries him. He thinks that “there was danger in [Lee’s attitude]; there was... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 1: Lee
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Lee gets up the next morning in the rain, feeling dizzy, “a breathless pain” in his... (full context)
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The messenger reports troubles involving civilians, such as the requisitioning of food and horses, and Lee sternly reminds him that the men will behave themselves, regardless of past Yankee behavior in... (full context)
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As the aide leaves, Lee feels “a deeper spasm, like a black stain. I swore to defend. Now I invade.”... (full context)
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Lee is heartened to see Longstreet and his staff appear, trailed by the foreign observers. After... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 2: Buford
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...his fault. The outcome will all depend on how quickly Reynolds arrives and how quickly Lee moves. Soon, a bigger attack begins. (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 3: Lee
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Lee frets and prays as he rides toward Gettysburg, worrying that they will be forced to... (full context)
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Heth finally rides up to Lee’s headquarters looking bewildered and ashamed. He reports that what he’d thought was only a few... (full context)
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As he rides forward, Lee learns that Generals Early and Rodes have arrived in Gettysburg and begun attacking the northern... (full context)
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Lee waits in a grove of trees, listening to the chaos of battle in the distance.... (full context)
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Lee continues to ride forward, giving silent thanks and trying to control his emotions as cheering... (full context)
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Lee is pleased to see Longstreet riding up to join him, and together they savor this... (full context)
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Longstreet looks as if he is suppressing his thoughts. Lee urges him to speak. Longstreet says that they should not have attacked here, as Heth... (full context)
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Lee persists in his view that, for now, today’s victory is the most important thing. He... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 5: Longstreet
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Longstreet rides toward headquarters in a depressed mood. He knows that Lee will attack in the morning, “fixed and unturnable, a runaway horse.” Longstreet looks toward the... (full context)
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...and shattered his belief in God. With tears in his eyes, he reminds himself that Lee is a father to him, in place of God. (full context)
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...English manner” he finds in America. Fremantle talks with Longstreet about the remarkable figure of Lee, who, he has been surprised to discover, is an English gentleman. (full context)
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Longstreet talks about Lee’s avoidance of vice and the reverent regard in which he is held by his men.... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 6: Lee
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Lee rides out of Gettysburg amid joyful, whooping men. He is touched by the “lights in... (full context)
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...an attack on the Union’s strong point at Cemetery Hill would be costly and inadvisable. Lee mentions Longstreet’s proposal to retreat and occupy a defensive position between Meade and Washington; the... (full context)
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Missing Stonewall Jackson and giving up on word from Stuart, Lee says that they will have to attack. He leaves his officers and rides off in... (full context)
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Ewell comes to Lee more confident about the necessity of attack and remorseful about his slowness and excessive caution... (full context)
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 3: Longstreet
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...considering the Union position on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill when he is summoned by Lee, whom he finds pacing back and forth by the seminary. Lee tells Longstreet that he... (full context)
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Lee looks questioningly at Longstreet, who says nothing, having resigned himself to an offensive attack. Lee... (full context)
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Lee orders Longstreet to attack en echelon, taking Cemetery Hill in reverse with the support of... (full context)
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The men begin to prepare for battle. Longstreet talks with Lee’s engineer, Johnston, explaining that the attack on the Union flank must be a surprise, or... (full context)
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Lee rides up to join Longstreet on the march. Longstreet gets “the mulish foolish hungry feeling”... (full context)
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...fight against home. Not against your own family. And yet … we broke the vow.” Lee cautions, “Let’s not think on this today.” But a short time later, he says, “There... (full context)
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After riding in silence for a while, Lee speaks up in a strange, soft tone of voice. He tells Longstreet that “soldiering has... (full context)
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Longstreet feels a chill down his spine. He realizes that Lee thinks Longstreet’s talk of defense comes from loving his men too much. He realizes there... (full context)
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Lee then says that he hopes this will be the last battle, since he is not... (full context)
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After Lee rides off, Longstreet feels depressed. Soon the army draws to a halt, and Longstreet rides... (full context)
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...from the rear. “Sonny boy,” Longstreet tells the messenger in disgust, “I been telling General Lee that same damn thing for two days … and there ain’t no point in bringing... (full context)
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...ridge and are undefended in the rear. However, there is not enough time to reach Lee with the report or to change orders. Longstreet thus tells Hood to attack as ordered.... (full context)
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...the right. Longstreet knows Hood is right, but he thinks that he cannot go against Lee. He reminds Hood that he has been arguing the same thing to Lee all along.... (full context)
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 5: Longstreet
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...are blaming Longstreet for the day’s loss. Goree says that no one will blame General Lee, so they are taking their anger out on Longstreet. Longstreet tells him to let it... (full context)
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As Longstreet rides toward Lee’s headquarters, he tells himself that he must restrain his anger, but that a truthful conversation... (full context)
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...Longstreet is encouraged by the prospect of five thousand fresh men. As he rides toward Lee’s headquarters, he notices crowds, singing, and celebration. Then he sees Jeb Stuart. The handsome, well-dressed... (full context)
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Lee approaches Longstreet and takes his hand. The loving concern in Lee’s eyes “flicked all [Longstreet’s]... (full context)
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Lee continues, “I could see … an open road to Washington.” Longstreet feels “an extraordinary confusion.”... (full context)
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Outside, Longstreet is stopped by another officer who asks him to intercede for him with Lee, who has refused to sign court-martial papers for Stuart. Stuart had been joyriding in enemy... (full context)
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Longstreet is approached by Fremantle, who congratulates him on his “victory.” Fremantle praises Lee effusively, sure that all of Europe will soon be turning to him for lessons on... (full context)
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...he has said, “something long sunken … in the dark of his mind.” He pictures Lee’s “beautiful face and suddenly it was not the same face.” Disturbed, he takes his leave... (full context)
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...heresy.” He walks through the camp and thinks about Stonewall Jackson. Men like Jackson and Lee come from another age, he realizes. But he feels ashamed of his thoughts. (full context)
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...laugh is Dick Garnett, who stares into the fire. Garnett’s gaze reminds him again of Lee, “a simple man, out of date,” and the accusing eyes of Hood. (full context)
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 6: Lee
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Though he is tired and in pain, Lee works late into the night. He muses on the irony that they might gain independence... (full context)
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Lee flashes back to the night after Virginia’s secession, when he decided that he had no... (full context)
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Lee tells himself that he has arrived here on alien soil through the hands of God,... (full context)
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Jeb Stuart walks up, interrupting Lee’s thoughts. Lee has asked to see him. At first, he speaks sharply to Stuart about... (full context)
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Lee feels affection for Stuart as the chastened man walks away. He knows Longstreet will not... (full context)
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Lee reviews the facts and makes his decision. He does not think about the men who... (full context)
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Lee believes the Union is softest at the slope, so he will hit that point as... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 2: Longstreet
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Longstreet sits alone in the dawn, smelling rain. Lee appears, looking majestic in the mist, a ghostly presence. As they ride together, Longstreet tells... (full context)
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Lee explains his plan to split the Union line, with Longstreet leading the charge. Longstreet asks... (full context)
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Longstreet fears hurting Lee, but presses on, asking if he has ever seen a worse position. The line is... (full context)
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Meade moves earlier than expected, engaging Ewell. Lee and Longstreet move toward the front, met by the soldiers’ cheerful morale. At last Lee... (full context)
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Longstreet struggles to meet Lee’s eyes, thinking of him as “more than father of the army, symbol of war.” He... (full context)
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Lee returns and calmly asks Longstreet if he has any questions, reminding him that everyone has... (full context)
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...He figures they will suffer 50 percent casualties. As a quietness settles over the field, Lee remarks that all is in the hands of God now. Longstreet thinks, “It isn’t God... (full context)
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...sits with his head in his hands. He wants to resign but he can’t abandon Lee or his men, no matter how much he disagrees with Lee’s orders. “God help me,”... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 5: Longstreet
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...expectation of being killed. But as he stoops to pick up a rifle, he sees Lee. (full context)
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Lee is riding slowly along the first line of dead men. He sits motionless and talks... (full context)
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Some men are crying, even asking Lee to let them attack again. Lee emerges from the crowd and smoke with a “stiff,... (full context)
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Lee comes along after a while, distant lightning blazing beyond his head. Men are still walking... (full context)
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Longstreet looks into Lee’s stony face and drops his eyes. Lee requests a few moments alone with Longstreet. They... (full context)
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Lee sits with his hand over his eyes. He tells Longstreet that he is very tired.... (full context)
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...much death, and that it is time for reality; he must speak plainly. He tells Lee that he does not think they can win it now. Lee nods, as if it... (full context)
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Lee continues, “Each man has his own reason to die.” If the men will go on,... (full context)
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A cold, heavy wind, smelling of rain, is beginning to blow over the trees. Lee refers to his lecture on the previous day. He explains that he had been trying... (full context)