My Opinion about the Book The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
The Killer Angels is a historical novel written by Michael Shaara that is a very unique and gripping take on the Civil War. The main characters are General Robert E. Lee, General James Longstreet, and Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain. Lee and Longstreet battle for the Confederacy, while Longstreet is apart of the Union, otherwise known as the Army of the Potomac. Longstreet and Lee have a good relationship, as Longstreet has much respect for General Lee. It is stated in the book that Longstreet had always been opposed to the invasion but was overruled by Lee. Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain is a very bright man as he was a professor before leaving for the war. The setting is the bloody battle of Gettysburg, which by the end of the battle had caused the death of around 50,000 men. The novel switches between the two sides and it goes through the thoughts and reactions of the generals throughout the battle.
The novel starts with a paid spy riding in the rain to warn General Longstreet of the Union Army approaching unexpectedly. Longstreet then tells Lee and they decide to move their army towards Gettysburg, where all the roads came together. Lee wants to destroy the Union Army here in the upcoming battle. From here on the battle of Gettysburg ensues as Shaara breaks it down by the days of the battle.On July 1st 1863, General Buford is attacked by confederate forces, who then alerts General Reynolds of the attack so that Reynolds can aid him. Reynolds comes just in time but is soon shot and killed. The Union forces continue to hold the line for as much as they can. Later on, now from Lee’s point of view, the Confederate army sends Union forces to a retreat towards Cemetery Ridge. On day two, Shaara continues show Chamberlain’s feelings, as his troops encounter a wounded slave. Chamberlain finds himself repulsed by the man and feels somewhat guilty for these feelings. Chamberlain is then informed that his troops are moving toward Little Round Top. Now back on the Confederate side. The differences between Longstreet and Lee reveal themselves in full force in this part of the novel as it starts to take a toll on the Confederate Army. All Longstreet wants is to fight a defensive battle while Lee is set on an offensive assault. Chamberlain and his men soon find themselves taking part in the fight for Little Round Top, which Chamberlain performs a brilliant move to win the fight, but at the cost of many casualties. Shaara then ends the novel with Pickett’s Charge in which the confederacy took major blows to their army which ultimately causes a Confederate loss in Gettysburg.
Overall I somewhat liked the novel. The parts I enjoyed were specifically the switching of points of view between the Union and the Confederacy. I think it made the novel much more interesting and also it gave me insight as to what the military leaders were thinking about during this historic battle. Some things I disliked was overall tone of the novel. Although the switching of view points added some excitement, I felt majority of the novel was somewhat boring and I believe Shaara spent too much time on insignificant conversations between generals which didn’t lead to important actions being taken. For example I think Shaara brought up the indecisiveness of Longstreet with Lee’s strategy many times even though Lee was certain he could crush the Union with an attack. I also just wanted more of Lee instead of Longstreet because Lee was the commander. Shaara seemed to focus much more on Longstreet’s opinions and feelings more than Lee.
The historical accuracy is somewhat accurate in this novel as Shaara himself states in the beginning that he gets much of the information from actual letters and documents of the men themselves. Also all of the characters were real people in the war. Shaara also then states the interpretation of the characters are his own, meaning their feelings and emotions are shown as how he envisions them. This hurts the historical accuracy because of course there is really no way we can know their exact thoughts during this battle. He also states that he altered the language men used so that we could comprehend it better. Some things I learned about the time period was that education seemed to be pivotal to success even though it still was not universally common for everyone to receive one. We see this with Chamberlain and his ability to stop the Confederacy charge with his brilliant move of using a bayonet charge at Little Round Top. We also see this with Robert E. Lee’s success. Although the Confederacy lost the Civil War, Lee had success early in the war and was a brilliant military leader.
Some stories I found interesting were about the military generals and leaders. I was intrigued with Longstreet’s dedication to a defensive battle and how he knew that an offensive attack would end in disaster. Still, even with Longstreet’s reluctance, Lee was set that an invasion would end the Union and win the war. It’s mind boggling that two very smart military leaders disagreed with a such a huge decision for the the Confederacy. I also thought the storyline with Chamberlain and his brother, Tom had. Chamberlain had trouble commanding his brother in war, knowing that he could he send him to his death at any moment. Chamberlain eventually decides that he must no longer command Tom as he will eventually kill him. This storyline adds much more emotion and drama to the novel.
Overall, I would recommend this book if you have an interest American history as Shaara’s take on these military leaders is interesting and adds a unique feel compared to other historical fictions. I believe it was an okay read but nothing spectacular. I personally do not have much interest in historical fiction but this novel definitely had some interesting parts. I feel that there were many boring parts of the book, especially when battles were not actually being fought. I believe this novel provided a unique perspective of Gettysburg simply because of Shaara’s portrayal of men like Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Joshua Chamberlain. He adds a sense of emotion and feelings with his portrayals. I learned that with just a couple of strategic changes for the Confederacy, they could have won Gettysburg and maybe even won the Civil War. Also I did not know the impact of the lesser known generals were so large, especially generals Buford, Ewell, and Reynolds. The Killer Angels is a unique take on the Battle of Gettysburg and has emotional views and thoughts from the generals themselves.
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The Killer Angels is a historical novel written by Michael Shaara that is a very unique and gripping take on the Civil War. The main characters are General Robert E. […]