03 Jul 2019

Lee’s Gamble

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For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstance which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.

—William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.

2 Feedbacks on "Lee’s Gamble"


I’ve walked those 1500 feet from the woods to the copse of trees. It took me fifteen minutes, which is a long time to be under fire from musket and cannon fire. I’m surprised any made it.

Schill McGuffin

Not to mention doing it in July heat, though perhaps the farm boys of those pre-air conditioned days would have been less daunted by that than pasty suburban me.

I remember seeing the old “electric map” presentation of the battle at Gettysburg, and thinking that another attack at the Peach Orchard would have seemed more auspicious than throwing Pickett at the Union center. I wonder how much Lee’s decision to make the charge was just a function of where his freshest assets happened to be, as opposed to what was the most vulnerable point in the Union line. I definitely feel that the charge was driven more by emotion than strategic calculation. Time wasn’t on the Confederacy’s side, either locally or strategically, and Lee may have felt that it was better to roll the dice with a chance of winning decisively, than to play it safe and win a lesser victory that might prove meaningless in the longer term.


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