03 Jul 2021

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.

4 Feedbacks on "Lee’s Gamble"


For this Southern boy, the battle was lost before they ever arrived at Gettysburg. The moral battle was lost when Lee crossed the Mason-Dixon and began a civil war rather than a defensive war of independence. Lee could have won a civil war after the first battle of Bull Run by simply marching into Washington and dictating terms. The proximate cause of the war – gaining independence from the North and defending against Lincoln’s attacks, was an honorable cause, even though the underlying cause of slavery was a dishonorable cause. Sad that this history has been hijacked.


Lee could have done no such thing, as he was not in command of the Confederate forces at the First Battle of Manassas.


Jackson wanted to do exactly that, but General Beauregard (his superior) considered his army too disorganized by the battle.


I stand corrected. Thanks for the details.


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