The Killer Angels by Shaara

The Killer Angels by Shaara

The Killer Angels is a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was published in 1974 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The novel depicts the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the most decisive and bloody battles of the American Civil War, from June 29 to July 3, 1863. The novel is based on historical facts and sources, but also uses fictional elements and techniques to create a vivid and dramatic portrayal of the events and the characters involved. The novel is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a day of the battle, and each part is further divided into chapters, each focusing on the perspective of a different historical figure from either the Confederate or the Union side. The novel explores the themes of war, leadership, courage, loyalty, and destiny, and shows the human and moral dilemmas of the soldiers and the generals who fought for their causes and beliefs.

Part One: The Spy

The novel begins on June 29, 1863, when a spy named Harrison informs General James Longstreet, the second-in-command of the Confederate army, that the Union army is approaching Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Longstreet reports this to General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army, who decides to move his troops to Gettysburg and engage the enemy. Lee is confident and optimistic, as he believes that his army is invincible and that God is on his side. However, he is also suffering from a heart condition and lacks reliable information, as his cavalry leader, General Jeb Stuart, has gone missing. Meanwhile, the Union army, led by General George Meade, is unaware of Lee’s movements and plans, and is marching slowly and cautiously towards Gettysburg.

Part Two: The First Day

The novel continues on July 1, 1863, when the first day of the battle begins. The Confederate army, led by General Richard Ewell, encounters the Union cavalry, led by General John Buford, near Gettysburg. Buford realizes the strategic importance of the high ground around the town, and decides to hold his position until the Union infantry arrives. The Confederate army attacks, but is repulsed by Buford’s men, who use their repeating rifles and artillery to inflict heavy casualties. The Union infantry, led by General John Reynolds, arrives and reinforces Buford’s line. Reynolds is killed in action, but his men manage to hold the high ground. The Confederate army, led by General A.P. Hill, arrives and joins the attack, but is also repelled by the Union forces. The Union army, led by General Winfield Scott Hancock, arrives and takes command of the situation. He orders his men to retreat to the hills south of the town, where they can form a strong defensive position. The Confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, arrives and surveys the scene. He orders Ewell to take the hills, but Ewell hesitates and fails to do so. Lee is disappointed and frustrated, as he realizes that he has lost a golden opportunity to crush the Union army.

Part Three: The Second Day

The novel resumes on July 2, 1863, when the second day of the battle unfolds. The Union army, led by General George Meade, has formed a fishhook-shaped line on the hills south of Gettysburg, with Cemetery Hill at the center, Culp’s Hill at the right, and Little Round Top at the left. The Confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, has formed a line parallel to the Union line, with Seminary Ridge at the center, Oak Hill at the right, and the Peach Orchard at the left. Lee decides to launch a flanking attack on the Union left, hoping to break through and roll up the Union line. He assigns the task to Longstreet, who is reluctant and doubtful, as he prefers to fight a defensive battle. Longstreet argues with Lee, but obeys his orders. He sends his men, led by General John Bell Hood and General Lafayette McLaws, to attack the Union left. However, the attack is delayed and misdirected, as Longstreet’s men have to march around the Union position and avoid being seen. The Union army, led by General Daniel Sickles, has also moved forward from its original position, creating a gap in the Union line. The Confederate army attacks, but faces fierce resistance from the Union forces, who fight desperately to hold their ground. The most intense and crucial fight takes place at Little Round Top, where the Union troops, led by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, manage to repel the Confederate charges, despite being outnumbered and running out of ammunition. Chamberlain orders a bayonet charge, which surprises and routs the Confederate soldiers. The Union left is saved, and the Confederate attack is halted.

Part Four: The Third Day

The novel concludes on July 3, 1863, when the third and final day of the battle occurs. The Union army, led by General George Meade, has maintained its position on the hills, and has reinforced its center and right. The Confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, has suffered heavy losses, but has not given up hope. Lee decides to launch a frontal assault on the Union center, believing that it is the weakest point of the Union line. He assigns the task to Longstreet, who is shocked and horrified, as he knows that the attack is doomed to fail. Longstreet tries to dissuade Lee, but Lee is adamant and determined. He orders Longstreet to send his men, led by General George Pickett, General James Pettigrew, and General Isaac Trimble, to charge across the open field and break through the Union line. The attack, known as Pickett’s Charge, begins with a massive artillery bombardment, which fails to silence the Union guns. The Confederate infantry advances, but is met with a devastating fire from the Union artillery and rifles. The Confederate soldiers are mowed down by the thousands, and only a few reach the Union line. The Union troops, led by General Winfield Scott Hancock, counterattack and repulse the Confederate survivors. The Confederate attack is a disaster, and the battle is over. The Confederate army, led by General Robert E. Lee, retreats from the field, leaving behind thousands of dead and wounded. The Union army, led by General George Meade, does not pursue the enemy, but remains on the field, celebrating and mourning. The Battle of Gettysburg is the turning point of the war, and the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

Epilogue

The novel ends with an epilogue, which summarizes the fate and legacy of the main characters and the battle. The epilogue states that the Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, with more than 50,000 casualties. The epilogue also states that the battle was the last major offensive of the Confederacy, and that the Union army gained the upper hand and eventually won the war. The epilogue also states that the battle was the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, which reaffirmed the ideals and values of the nation. The epilogue also states that the battle was the subject of many books, movies, and monuments, and that it became a symbol of courage, sacrifice, and freedom. The epilogue also states that the main characters of the novel, both the Confederate and the Union, were remembered and honored for their roles and actions in the battle. The epilogue also states that the novel was based on historical facts and sources, but also used fictional elements and techniques to create a vivid and dramatic portrayal of the events and the characters involved. The epilogue also states that the novel was written by Michael Shaara, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975, and that the novel was adapted into a movie, titled Gettysburg, in 1993. The epilogue also states that the novel was part of a trilogy, which included a prequel, titled Gods and Generals, and a sequel, titled The Last Full Measure, written by Shaara’s son, Jeffrey Shaara. The epilogue also states that the novel was a tribute and a testament to the men who fought and died at Gettysburg, and that it was a masterpiece of historical fiction.