Eventually, the two men return to the party with the other officers, and forget their troubles for a few hours.
Late evening, Confederate camp. Lee considers his options for the following day. He recalls how he had once vowed to defend the very land he was attacking, when he was part of the whole United States army. Lee reflects on his past, and he tries to decide what to do. He considers a retreat, but realizes he has never seen men fight well after a retreat. He also knows his own army will never be stronger.
Stuart appears, having been sent for by Lee. Lee gently but firmly chastises the cavalry leader for joyriding and leaving him blind. Stuart tries to resign from his commission, but Lee will not accept his resignation and tells him to get back to work.
An aide reports to Lee that Ewell’s camp is in much disorder because Ewell defers too much to Early. The aide tells Lee that Early and Ewell got the men moving very late, almost when Longstreet had finished his attack, thus ruining the plan to divide the Union’s forces. It occurs to Lee that he has attacked the Union on both sides. The smartest next move, he thinks, would be to attack in the center. He decides to send his forces in to the center of Cemetery Ridge and break the Union army in two, then send Stuart and his cavalry around to the rear to finish the job.
Chapter 5 again focuses on Longstreet, who has at this point become the protagonist of the novel. It is tragic that Longstreet is completely aware of how effective a defensive position would be, since it would likely have allowed his side to win the war. Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is at times enigmatic. While we see much of the Confederate perspective through him, he is a grim and quiet man, prone to responding to his fellow officers with single syllables, shrugs, and grunts. He has strong feelings about what the army should do, but he has been weakened by the death of his children and the knowledge that Lee has no intention of attempting his defensive strategies. Longstreet can see the defeat approaching, but he makes no move to stand up to Lee. He often agrees that Lee’s plans could potentially work, though with heavy losses. His respect and admiration for Lee and for the chain of command is too strong for him to try and override Lee, and he knows Lee would ultimately censure him if necessary.
Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is probably overly sympathetic. In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Americans—soldiers and historians alike—began to blame Longstreet for the failure at Gettysburg, especially after Longstreet wrote a book blaming Lee. The book gave Longstreet a negative reputation all through the early twentieth century, until some historians began to see Longstreet in a more positive light—particularly in what they believed was his anticipation of modern warfare. Shaara perhaps portrays Longstreet as knowing more about how to correctly conduct the war than he actually did. Longstreet proposes the swing to the southeast over and over to Lee, who stubbornly refuses. In the true history, Longstreet was probably not so persistent in pushing for defensive tactics, and Lee was probably not so obtuse in his decision not to follow them.