Lee rides out of Gettysburg amid joyful, whooping men. He is touched by the “lights in all the starry young eyes … tears for him, for the cause, for the dead of the day.” He arrives at headquarters, wondering why Ewell did not attack. He finds Ewell chattering and nervous. Jubal Early is also there; he confidently speaks for Ewell in giving Lee an account of the day. Lee tells Ewell he is disappointed that Ewell did not take Cemetery Hill, and he feels depressed by Ewell’s rambling defense and deference to Early.
The joy of the army stands in stark contrast to Longstreet’s depression and Lee’s own disappointment in his generals. The perception of the rank and file seems to bear relatively little connection to bigger-picture realities.
Early suggests that 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 two generals respond with disdain. Early assures Lee that if Longstreet can be induced to attack the Union flank, then they can capture the hill by sundown the next day.
Lee’s other generals share his rejection of Longstreet’s defensive tactics. Early and Ewell essentially affirm Lee in what he wants to hear about going on the offensive against the Union.
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 the dark. He talks with Trimble, an aide of Ewell’s who is furious with Ewell’s decision not to attack Cemetery Hill. When the man calms down, Lee questions him about Ewell’s apparent freeze in battle. He then returns to headquarters, detached from the cheerful uproar around him, and finally sends for Ewell.
Lee himself is haunted by the memory of Jackson and the letdown of Stuart. The weight of leadership weighs heavily on him, and he is not swayed by the celebration of those around him.
Ewell comes to Lee more confident about the necessity of attack and remorseful about his slowness and excessive caution that day. Lee reassures and dismisses him, struggling to understand the caution that comes with battlefield injuries like Ewell’s loss of his leg. Lee briefly second-guesses the wisdom of attacking before Stuart’s return, but finally falls asleep.
Lee sees Ewell’s caution as a weakness and failure, not as a potential asset. He sees attack as the only honorable way forward.