Longstreet visits Hood in the hospital. Hood has been drugged while the medics work on his badly wounded arm. He tells Longstreet that Longstreet should have let him move to the right. Longstreet can only nod. Hood asks Longstreet if they were successful in capturing Devil’s Den; Longstreet lies, telling him they did, and that the casualties weren’t bad.
After having ordered Hood into battle despite his better judgment, Longstreet can’t bear to tell the injured man how badly the Confederates have lost that day.
Longstreet rejoins his silent staff, thinking of how many have died that day. There is a swelling rage in his chest as he pictures the Union soldiers holding Little Round Top. He talks with one of his captains, Goree, who tells him angrily that Hood’s officers 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 go.
Lee’s godlike status among the men is such that no one is willing to directly blame him. Ironically, Longstreet’s own attitude toward Lee also keeps him from openly contradicting the general, leading to other generals blaming Longstreet now.
As Longstreet rides toward Lee’s headquarters, he tells himself that he must restrain his anger, but that a truthful conversation is needed, since “the Old Man is becoming untouchable.” He meets Sorrel, who reports that the Division lost a third of its men, and Hood’s losses will approach fifty percent. Longstreet realizes that this adds up to a loss of eight thousand men in two hours. He thinks that Lee must see the facts: there are not enough men left to make another major assault.
The Confederate losses have been truly devastating. Longstreet thinks even Lee will see the truth now and change his tactics. He resolves once more to persuade Lee.
General Pickett makes a dramatic show of his arrival on the field, having not been needed in that day’s action. 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 man is lounging among a crowd of admirers. Longstreet is bewildered when some of the crowd pushes toward him with calls of congratulations.
The sudden appearance of Stuart, after days of uncertainty and near disaster due to his failure to report to Lee, is a dismaying anticlimax. Even more jarring is the celebratory atmosphere, in stark contrast to what Longstreet has just witnessed on the field.
Lee approaches Longstreet and takes his hand. The loving concern in Lee’s eyes “flicked all [Longstreet’s] defenses aside and penetrated to the lonely man within.” When they reach the house, Longstreet sees that Lee is clearly exhausted. Lee tells Longstreet that he had felt the Union line come close to breaking that day. Longstreet tells him, “It wasn’t that close.” But he sees “a vision of victory” in Lee’s eyes and finds he cannot summon the right words in the General’s presence.
Lee’s fatherly affection and evident fatigue completely disarm Longstreet, who was so angry just moments earlier. At heart, Longstreet longs for Lee’s approval as much as any soldier does. Lee clearly has the wrong interpretation of what has occurred in the day’s battle, yet Longstreet is silenced by his emotions and idealization of the old man.
Lee continues, “I could see … an open road to Washington.” Longstreet feels “an extraordinary confusion.” He feels silenced by the man’s greatness and does not know how to preach caution to such a face. Longstreet feels a small rage and tells Lee that he lost almost half his strength that day, and that the path to the right is still open. But Lee does not seem to hear him. Overwhelmed by the noise in headquarters, Longstreet moves outside, telling himself he must come back later.
Longstreet is totally flustered by Lee’s seeming blindness and misplaced hope. He makes a feeble attempt to make Lee see reason but isn’t heard, and he soon gives up.
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 country, capturing enemy wagons and leaving the army blind. Longstreet agrees that a court-martial is necessary and that he will try to speak to Lee, though it will not likely do much good. He rides away, amazed at the air of victory in the camp.
Longstreet isn’t alone in his disgust with Stuart, but there is such an air of unreality in the Confederate camp that it seems unlikely Stuart will face just consequences for his actions.
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 military matters and tactics. Longstreet finally hears enough. He tells Fremantle, “The secret of General Lee is that men love him and follow him … That’s why we win, mostly … God, man, we don’t win because of tricks.”
Fremantle, with his odd ability to draw frank speech out of Longstreet, causes Longstreet’s pent-up frustrations to burst forth. Longstreet’s illusions about Lee are decidedly shattered. He tells the Englishman that the army’s strength has been its love and faith in its leader, not the wisdom of its tactics.
Longstreet can’t contain his words. “There’s no strategy to this bloody war,” he tells Fremantle; it’s “old Napoleon and a hell of a lot of chivalry.” He explains that they are outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy, and that if they win tomorrow, it will be nothing more than “a bloody miracle.”
Fremantle appears shocked by the outburst. Longstreet, too, is alarmed by what 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 of the Englishman.
Longstreet realizes how long his anger and disillusionment has been simmering beneath the surface. He can no longer pretend to look at Lee in the same way.
Longstreet is reminded of the moment in church when, faced with his children’s deaths, he prayed and felt that no one was listening. He tells himself not to think of it anymore and that “this stuff is like 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.
Longstreet sits down under a tree. In the distance, he watches an enthusiastic Pickett telling a hilarious story around a campfire. The only one of Pickett’s men who doesn’t 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.
The laughter in the camp contrasts with Longstreet’s depression. Garnett’s solemnity reminds him once more of the Confederate obsession with honor and with conducting war in outdated ways.
Armistead joins Longstreet, and they discuss the day. Armistead shares his concerns for Dick Garnett, who is sick and can barely walk, but can’t stand to be out of the action. Longstreet can’t order him out, however. Armistead has tried to tell Garnett that he doesn’t have a thing to prove to them.
The drive to vindicate one’s honor is so consuming that Garnett can’t let it go, despite being so ill he shouldn’t go into battle at all.
Armistead brings up Fremantle, the “not too bright” Englishman. He says he asked Fremantle why England won’t intervene to help the Confederacy, and Fremantle said the problem was slavery. Armistead is disgusted that Europe thinks the war is about slavery and wonders what they are supposed to do about that. Longstreet says nothing. He thinks to himself that the war certainly is about slavery, though it is not why he fights. There is no point in denying the fact and no point in talking about it, either.
As one would expect from Longstreet, he makes no pretense of denying that slavery is at the heart of the war. Armistead, however, genuinely treats it as a misconception that they must clear up—to him, it is just an aspect of Southern culture that outsiders wouldn’t understand. Despite his delight in the South’s other “Old World” traits, Fremantle sees slavery as a shameful regression—but England also abolished slavery decades before the U.S. did.
They stop talking as they listen to a young man singing a sentimental Irish song. It especially touches Armistead, who remembers playing the same song with Hancock the spring before the men went their separate ways for the war. Armistead remembers telling Hancock, “If I ever lift a hand against you, may God strike me dead.” He is troubled to think of breaking his vow tomorrow. He wishes he could go to see his friend.
The war has pulled friendships apart. Inevitably, Armistead’s loyalty to the Confederacy means that he will have to break his vow not to raise his hand against Hancock.
Armistead wants Longstreet to join the group around the fire. Longstreet resists, knowing his presence will create awkwardness in the group, but he longs for the company and soon he yields. He can’t resist the “monstrous and temporary glittering joy” that soldiers share in between the nightmares of the previous day and those of the coming dawn.
Longstreet finally sets aside the aloofness he has maintained until now. His disillusionment and resignation seem to give him a little more freedom in relating to his men. The company also enables him to flee the burden of his thoughts once again.