Shaara decides to focus his novel on the Confederacy’s view of the Battle of Gettysburg for several reasons. The battle is often referred to as the “high tide of the Confederacy,” because it was as close as the Confederate States of America ever came to achieving their independence. They had invaded Northern territory and were now attempting to destroy the Union army once and for all. Lee knows that if they successfully destroy the Union army, the war will be over. This desire to completely vanquish his opponents may be part of the reason why Lee is so intent on attacking the Union troops instead of moving to the defensive posture Longstreet continually suggests.
In Chapter 5, Longstreet begins to take a central role in the novel. By focusing on his character, Shaara advances the idea, once very popular among historians, that Longstreet was a visionary tactician who understood the nature of modern warfare before there really was such a thing. In an extended discussion with Fremantle, Longstreet explains how a single man with a rifle can kill at least three men on a battlefield, on average, when in a defensive posture—behind a tree, or in a trench. This view of Longstreet is partially based on Longstreet’s own writings after the war, when it was very obvious that the Confederacy could have benefited from more defensive tactics. Shaara bases his characterization of Longstreet on a number of the man’s own writings, so all the discussion of futuristic tactics and Longstreet’s frustration at the backward or old-style strategies of Lee must be taken with a grain of salt. Longstreet became an advocate for defensive warfare after seeing it work well at Fredericksburg, but his enthusiasm was not necessarily based on a realization of the nature of modern warfare—he had seen defensive warfare work well, and so he thought it should be used more often.