Though he is tired and in pain, Lee works late into the night. He muses on the irony that they might gain independence from the Union on July 4th. He wonders if this is a glimpse of God’s plan. He goes outside to sit with his horse, Traveler, and consider the options before him: to move away to better ground, or to stay and fight to the end.
On the eve of the final day of battle, Lee still hasn’t completely dismissed the possibility of retreating to better ground. He hasn’t been totally deaf to Longstreet’s pleadings.
Lee flashes back to the night after Virginia’s secession, when he decided that he had no choice but to side with the Confederacy. It was not a matter of causes or vows, he felt. He could not lead an army that was to march against his own home and family. Neither could he stand back and do nothing. So finally, “he fought for his people … wrong as they were, insane even as many of them were … And so he took up arms willfully, knowingly, in perhaps the wrong cause against his own sacred oath.”
Lee tells himself that he has arrived here on alien soil through the hands of God, not through his own choice; there had never been any alternative but to run away, and honor would not allow that. He considers the present situation. To delay or retreat would be bad for morale, he thinks; and they have always been outgunned, winning through pride and tenacity rather than numbers.
Lee is aware that the Confederates are at a strong disadvantage from a tactical perspective—he doesn’t doubt Longstreet on this point. He just doesn’t believe it should be the determining factor for his strategy. Honor and the protection of his men’s faith is more critical to him. All other considerations, no matter how theoretically correct, must give way.
Jeb Stuart walks up, interrupting Lee’s thoughts. Lee has asked to see him. At first, he speaks sharply to Stuart about his failure to fulfill his mission of reporting enemy movements. Because of Stuart, the army was forced into battle with inadequate knowledge of enemy size and strength and without knowledge of ground conditions; they have barely escaped catastrophe. After a moment, Stuart dramatically offers his sword in resignation, but Lee turns away in annoyance, telling him he is needed for tomorrow’s fight, as Stuart is too good a soldier to be spared.
Lee finally confronts Stuart, as Longstreet has hoped. Interestingly, as badly as Stuart has betrayed him, Lee won’t accept Stuart’s resignation—pragmatic concerns offset the dictates of honor in this instance.
Lee feels affection for Stuart as the chastened man walks away. He knows Longstreet will not approve, but Lee believes that court-martial would have destroyed such a spirited soldier. Then Venable, one of Lee’s aides, approaches with news from Ewell’s camp. Ewell is uncertain in his actions, deferring too much to Early. This confirms Lee’s fear that Ewell cannot command a corps; his appointment was a mistake. Lee realizes he can rely neither on Ewell nor on Hill; only Longstreet is dependable, and Lee will lean on him in tomorrow’s attack.
Mistrusting his other officers, Lee will once more put Longstreet in the position of leading an offensive he doesn’t believe in.
Lee reviews the facts and makes his decision. He does not think about the men who will die—the men are ready to die for what they believe in, “and although it was often a terrible death it was always an honorable death.” Since watching his men get so close to the top of the slope earlier that day, he has known he cannot retreat: “It might be the clever thing to do, but cleverness did not win victories; the bright combinations rarely worked.” Courage and faith win battles, and faith must be protected; so, Lee cannot demoralize his men by asking them to retreat. He must stay and attack.
Because Lee believes in the value of an honorable death, he does not trouble himself about the probability that many of his men will be killed. Ultimately, he believes that Longstreet has made the error of excessive cleverness. He might be right on paper, Lee thinks, but it’s intangible ideals that will carry the day and bring victory.
Lee believes the Union is softest at the slope, so he will hit that point as hard as possible, with artillery support. He is sure that with Stuart’s eagerness for redemption and Pickett’s hunger for combat, fresh men can successfully rout the dug-in Yankees, cutting their army in two. He prays and continues to plan, sensing no flaw and feeling “a releasing thrill.” He will be able to “end with honor.” He sits with Traveler in peace, wondering about death. He falls asleep just as dawn begins to break.
Lee achieves the sense of peace about the battle that Longstreet so sorely lacks. The outcome doesn’t matter as much to Lee as the ability to end with honor—his highest ideal—intact. He also clearly has his own death in mind here, along with the fate of the Confederacy.