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The Effects of War Theme
Makes one numb:
The spy’s nonchalant comment that "there’ll be some of them die of the heat today." (p.3) Normal people would be shocked to know that some of the individuals they are watching would be dead within a few hours, but the spy has grown numb to it.
The Civil War was unlike other wars (such as the Gulf War, Vietnam, or WWII) in that the two sides were very similar culturally. Lee "is the most beloved man in either army." (p.xvi) Pickett "received his appointment to West Point through the good offices of Abraham Lincoln, a personal friend, and no one no can insult Abe Lincoln in Pickett’s presence." (p. xvii) Armistead "has developed over long years of service a deep affection for Winfield Scott Hancock, who fights now with the Union." (p.xvii) One of the quotations following the foreword is from when Lee turned down Lincoln’s offer to head the Union army. Also keep in mind the stories of those Civil War families in which one brother left to fight for the Confederacy while the other enlisted with the Union. Men end up killing their friends merely because the high generals and politicians tell them to.
Shows one who can be trusted:
"[Amistead] was one of the rare ones who was genuinely glad to see another man advance. In some of them there was a hunger for rank--in Jubal Early it was a disease--but Amistead...was an honest man, open as the sunrise, cut from the same pattern as Lee: old family, Virginia gentleman, man of honor, man of duty. He was one of the men who would...die for a word. He was a man to depend on, and there was this truth about war: it taught you the men you could depend on.’ " (p.62)
Blurs line between right and wrong:
" ‘Mrs. Pender...believes that now that we have invaded Pennsylvania we are in the wrong , and God has forsaken us.’ " (p.79) Where does one draw the line between what is wrong and right when there are few clear rules in war, if any?
The Good Ground Theme
The relatively primitive weapons of the Civil War era gave much advantage to the army that had gained the higher ground. This advantage is what caused Buford to take such risks to secure the hills around town and is what allowed the Union forces to win.
The Civilians Theme: conflict and cooperation
"Here and there along the road people came out to see the troops go by and there were a few cheers, but most of the people were silent and glum, not hostile, apprehensive. The sight was depressing. Some of them were selling food to the troops. One farmer had a stand offering cold milk for sale, at outrageous prices, and after Chamberlain was past there was a scuffle and some of the men requisitioned the milk and told him to charge it to the U.S. Government. Chamberlain heard but did not look back." (p.115)
"Now there were more people and they were much more friendly and the band struck up ‘Yankee Doodle.’ Now the farmers began to hand out free food." (p.115) Symbol (band)
The Jackson’s Absence Theme
The confederacy’s loss of Jackson was one of the key factors in the Union’s victory at Gettysburg. The indecisive Hill and Ewell are unfit replacements for the aggressive Jackson, and Lee’s frustration with his two new generals grows as the book progresses.
The Europe Theme
Fremantle is the primary source of the book’s occasional focus on Europe: "Fremantle...was continually amazed at the combination of raw earth and rough people, white columned houses and traces of English manner." (p.127)
"They will come when we don’t need them, like the bank offering money when you’re no longer in debt." (p.54) So thinks the skeptical realist Longstreet.