Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army, was one of the most beloved men in the American South, the darling of Virginia society. Lee is fifty-seven years old at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, and has less than a decade to live. He is having heart trouble, which will one day kill him. Some historians have speculated that Lee may have suffered a mild heart attack during the Battle of Gettysburg, and Shaara works from that idea. Lee is a brilliant tactician, but his traditional ideas frequently conflict with the more visionary policies of Longstreet, a Confederate general who constantly advises a defensive position.
Shaara characterizes Lee as a wise old man, a brilliant commander who knows he is nearing the end of his career. Lee fervently holds on to the traditional ways of combat even while recognizing the importance of Longstreet’s newer ideas. Lee inspires his troops—even as the wounded soldiers stagger back from Pickett’s Charge, they beg him to let them attack again. Lee’s presence alone helps keep Confederate morale high. But Lee’s confidence in his army leads him to overestimate his men, causing the disaster of Pickett’s Charge.