Shaara uses multiple points of view. Most of the characters who are his centers of consciousness are Confederates, although if the novel has an individual hero, it is Chamberlain. Ultimately, however, the novel’s focus is collective, and the story’s closing reference to the Fourth of July underscores Shaara’s understanding, like Abraham Lincoln’s, that what happened at Gettysburg was a pivotal experience in the life of the nation.
Many historical figures at Gettysburg are presented only as flat characters in the novel. A character so flat that he is almost transparent, General Meade, the commander of the Union Army, hardly appears at all. Another example is the English observer Freemantle, who is always presented as awkward-looking and utterly uncomprehending. One simple memory of Hancock figures frequently in Armistead’s thoughts, and Hancock himself appears later in a brilliant cameo, sitting elegantly astride his horse, reassuring his troops in the midst of the artillery barrage that has Chamberlain lying flat on the ground.
The novel’s central characters are more fully developed. Shaara graphically and realistically describes the sensations of Lee’s heart disease and implies that Lee’s respect and affection for Longstreet have roots in his own physical weakness as well as in his appreciation of Longstreet’s solid merit. Lee’s aristocratic ethic shows in his distaste for Longstreet’s spy and his insistence that his...
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