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ARMISTEAD (Chapter 4 of Part IV)
The book’s climax in the failure of Pickett’s Charge
Armistead anticipates the battle and remembers the old times with Hancock as he waits for the Rebel artillery barrage to end.
At the end of the Confederate cannon’s onslaught, Garnett rides up. Despite Lee’s order that nobody rides, Garnett insists on doing so because of his bad leg. Garnett is using the leg as an excuse to ride--he actually wants to be on horseback because he thinks a heroic death is the only way he can regain the honor he lost with Jackson’s accusations.
Alexander tells Pickett that he’s made some of the Union artillery retreat to safer ground, but as the Rebel troops march out of the forest it’s clear that the Federal cannons had only ceased fire in order to draw the Rebels into the open. The columns of men are soon under a rain of artillery fire but have no choice but to march forward across the field towards their enemy. There is no cover. Men fall in greater numbers as they come within range of the Federal muskets, and then the Federal canister.
Armistead orders his men to double-time (march twice as fast so that they are running). As he approaches the wall, Armistead realizes that they do not have enough to make it. Regardless, he rallies a charge and makes it over the stone wall. However, his troops are soon overwhelmed by the Union men and he is knocked down by a Federal officer.
Armistead opens his eyes to find the battle ending, his men vanquished. He asks his captor about his friend Hancock and the Federal responds with the news that Hancock has been hit. Armistead leaves a message for Hancock and then dies.
"Armistead walked out into the open, saw the men lying in long clumped rows, as if plowed up out of the earth." (p.312)
"The sound of the cannonade was enormous, like a beating of great wings." (p.313)
" ‘Do you realize that this may be the last great fight of the war? So you realize that? Isn’t that marvelous?’ " (p.314) And this from Pickett, whose division will be devastated.
Longstreet and Pickett are both crying, but for different reasons. Longstreet is distraught over the many good men who are going to die in Lee’s frontal assault on the Union line and Pickett’s crying tears of joy and excitement for being part of the "glorious event."
"He [Garnett] had to prove once and for all his honor, because there was Jackson’s charge, never answered, still in the air wherever Garnett moved, the word on men’s lips, watching him as he went by, for Jackson was gone and Jackson was a great soldier...there was nothing Armistead could say...They stood under the trees, waiting, not knowing what to say." (p.316) The communication theme also comes up.
"Down to the left he saw Garnett still on the horse. A mounted man in front of that line would not live five minutes. Every rifle on the crest would be aiming for him." (p.320)
"There was a horse coming down the ridge...Garnett’s horse." (p. 327)
Soldier’s Past Experiences:
"All that while in the back of Armistead’s mind he could see Mary at the spinet: it may be for years, it may be forever." (p.313)
"Their eyes never quite met, like two lights moving, never quite touching. There was an awkward silence." (p.317) Simile.
Lee vs. Longstreet (God):
Armistead is like Lee in that he resigns that it is all in God’s hands.