Colonel Joshua Chamberlain is an intelligent, well-spoken professor of rhetoric from Maine who enlists in the Union Army. He is the leader of a regiment of Maine men who are ordered to march north to confront the Confederate Army at Gettysburg. Although Chamberlain is committed to fighting for freedom, slavery only becomes real to him when his men happen upon a wounded black man. Chamberlain cares for all of his men but wants to protect his younger brother, Tom, in particular. Chamberlain is a brave soldier. When his regiment runs out of ammunition defending Little Round Top, Chamberlain leads them in a charge with fixed bayonets against the Confederates, forcing them to retreat. Although Chamberlain is elated at the victory, after the battle at Cemetery Hill and witnessing the tremendous loss of life, he believes the battle is a tragedy.
Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee is the older, experienced, revered leader of the Confederate Army. He is a devout Christian who does not personally support slavery. When his home state of Virginia secedes, Lee feels compelled to end his role in the US Army to lead the Confederate Army instead in order to defend his home and family. His heart is weak, and he worries about what will happen to the army if he dies before they win the war. Lee is a man of honor who has strict ideas about how it applies to warfare and tactics. Although he depends on his second in command, Longstreet, he doesn't believe Longstreet's suggestions for defensive warfare are the way honorable men conduct battles. He believes honest, face-to-face confrontation is the only way to secure the victory he desperately hopes will end the war. He also believes the fate of the battle is in God's hands. After the terrible defeat at Gettysburg, Lee admits that he was wrong to insist on the attack despite Longstreet's concerns. He orders the army to retreat.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet is a stubborn, practical Confederate officer. He is second in command to Lee, and he has over 20 years of experience fighting with many of his officers as well as some of the Union officers. He has recently lost his three children and his faith in God. He is troubled that, by joining the Confederate Army, he has broken his vow to uphold the Union, which he took before the war as an army officer. Longstreet favors defensive warfare and has specific tactics, including trenches, which he believes will give his soldiers a better chance at winning. He tries to convince Lee of his strategies, and he voices his objection to Lee's plans. Eventually Longstreet realizes there is nothing he can say to change Lee's mind. Longstreet resigns himself to following orders and goes into the Battle of Gettysburg knowing many of his beloved men will die. He predicts the defeat that happens, and he believes it will be a loss from which the Confederate Army will be unable to recover.