The novel starts out when Harrison, a Confederate spy, reports to James Longstreet that 80,000 to 100,000 Union soldiers have marched within 200 miles of Lee's position near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Harrison also bears news of a change in Union leadership. Major General George Meade had replaced "Fighting Joe" Hooker as commander of the Union Army. Lee sees this change as an opportunity to strike while the new commander gets his bearings. He decides to concentrate on Gettysburg, the small town where several roads in the area converge, where he intends to cut the Union army off from Washington, D.C.
First shots are fired at dawn as Rebels attack Buford's dismounted cavalry. Later that day Lee orders Ewell to take control of Cemetery Hill. Ewell did not follow orders and the union gained control of the Hill instead. Late in the afternoon, on the second day, Colonel Chamberlain's 20th Maine regiment is moved into the woods.
Colonel Vincent orders Chamberlain not to withdraw from his new position at the left flank of the Union line. The Confederates engage with the Union troops and Chamberlain's 20th Maine time and time again. Finally when ammunition is low Chamberlain gives the order to "fix bayonets," and charges down the hill driving the rebels back. That same day Lee orders Longstreet to attack the Union center, and Longstreet advises against it. "They will break," Lee insists. He directed Longstreet to take three divisions. Longstreet passes the order along to his generals Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble. Pickett and other commanders lose most of their men in the battle. As the survivors pull back, Lee finally admits his error to Longstreet, who gives his order to retreat.
The two personalities that stand out the most in my mind are Robert E. Lee and Joshua Chamberlain. Lee...