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Unformatted text preview: 1 Alison Smith October 31, 2007 American Way of War M.W. 4:30-5:45 PM The Killer Angels, By Michael Shaara, Published by Random House in 1974 Michael Shaara was born to Italian immigrants in Jersey City, New Jersey. He went to Rutgers for college and made a living afterwards by writing short stories for various magazines and newspapers. In the mid-1950s he moved to Florida with his family to teach literature and creative writing at Florida State University. However, in his spare time he continued to write short stories and eventually novels, including The Killer Angels. The book was rejected by the first fifteen publishers that he sent it to, but was eventually accepted by a small independent publisher, The david McKay Company, who was later bought by Random House. However, the book won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975, shortly after it was published. The Killer Angels is a narrative semi-fictional work that was meant to explore the feelings and decisions made by the leaders on both sides of the Battle of Gettysburg, including Robert E. Lee, Longstreet, and Armistead on the Confederate side, with Chamberlain and Buford representing the Federal army. Each section of the book is written from the perspective of a particular leader, such as Armistead's view during Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle. While the book is very easy to read and enjoyable from a popular book perspective, one cannot be sure of its scholarly implications because he cites no sources beyond stating in the beginning in the "To The Reader," that he had "gone back primarily to the words of the man themselves, their letters and other documents" (Shaara xiii). However, the views of the men are heavily biased, as every man believes that every victory he has is because of his efforts, and every defeat is someone else's fault. Shaara cites no other sources for his novel. The book is organized into four sections, each one containing a day before or during the Battle of Gettysburg, and throughout the days, we see different battles and movements through the eyes of different commanders. Shaara's form allows the reader to not only understand what is going on in the battles, he also lets the reader understand why decisions were made and how the leaders reacted to the situation, both with military orders and personally. The first day focuses on the arrival of the Confederate army in Gettysburg and Buford's discovery of them and sending for reinforcements. The second day, July 1, 1863, was the first day of battle, and included Buford's defense of the high ground surrounding Gettysburg, the death of General Reynolds, and Ewell's decision to ignore Lee's orders and not try to take Cemetery Hill, a huge mistake on his part. The third section presents the events of the second day of battle but the third day in the book. July 2 included the Confederate's plan to flank the union troops on their left, with attacks elsewhere to prevent the movement of Union troops to reinforce their flank. However, Sickles a Union General who had left his assigned position and moved to "better ground," which forced Meade to send reinforcements to the position that Sickles had abandoned. One of the scenes highlighted in the book is Chamberlain's defense of Little Round Top and the bayonet charge that drove the Confederate troops back. Also during this day, Jeb Stuart arrived, too late to really be of use as the eyes of the army. The final day in both the book and the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. The main event of the day was Pickett's Charge, a mile long march from the forests up Cemetery Ridge to break the Union line down the middle. The charge ended in a huge defeat for the Confederates and the loss of many of their soldiers' lives. One could find two theses in this book, the first is that the Confederate army was condemned to lose the Battle of Gettysburg from the beginning, the second being that fighting against former comrades and friends was quite possibly the hardest part of fighting the war. The Confederate army walked into the Battle of Gettysburg basically blind because Jeb Stuart the leader of the calvary has been riding around the countryside of Pennsylvania, leaving General Lee without resources and saying "I can't imagine what's become of Stuart. I've heard nothing. You understand, I know nothing of what's in front of me. It might be the entire Federal Army," (Shaara 100). Since Lee disliked the use of spies, he had to go into battle without knowing the strength or position of the Union army. They also did not know the terrain and roadways around Gettysburg. Therefore, on the second day of battle when Longstreet was sent to attack the flank of the Union army, they proceeded blindly. However, they had to be undetected for the attack to be effective, so when they found that they could not pass through a certain area without being seen, they had to turn and countermarch, wasting much time and energy (Shaara 189-195). However, once Stuart arrives at Gettysburg, Lee only takes him aside and scolds him gently, because to court-martial him would "break his spirit," (Shaara 266-267). Lee felt pity for a man that had failed him, his orders, and his army when he should have punished him. Sun Tzu would have viewed this as poor leadership, since one of the things a Commander must stand for is strictness (Sun Tzu 9). Also, one of the dangerous faults that may affect a general is oversolicitude for his men, meaning that he cares too much for the men rather than the actions of the battle and the war itself (Sun Tzu 40). The other major factor that doomed the Confederate army was poor decision making on the part of the Generals. Ewell had a chance to take Little Round Top, but ignored it because his troops were tired from marching all day. Ewell's other mistake was relying too heavily on the advice of Jubal Early. If Ewell had ignored Earlys' ideas and taken Little Round Top, Chamberlain would not have achieved one of the major victories during the second day of battle his defense of Little Round Top and the bayonet charge. However, the biggest blunder the Confederates made was Pickett's charge on the third and final day of battle. In the book, Longstreet even states to Lee "I have to tell you now, sir, that I believe this attack will fail. I believe that no fifteen thousand men ever set for battle could take that hill," (Shaara 292). However, Lee ignored Longstreets' reservations and proceeded with the charge. As everyone with the slightest knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg knows, Pickett's charge was a complete failure and a huge loss of lives. The south never rallied after this defeat. Some would call it the true turning point of the Civil War. The friendship that exemplified the second thesis of the book is the one between Armistead of the Confederate army and Hancock of the Union army. During Pickett's charge, Armistead was ordered to march with the other commanders against Hancock's section of the Union line. However, Armistead is constantly reminded of their time together during the Spanish-American War and the promise he made to Hancock "If I lift a hand against you, friend, may God strike me dead," (Shaara 314). He dwells on this fact during the long artillery barrage before the charge and through the charge itself. His conscious will not let him forget his promise to his friend and God. As Armistead reached the top of the hill and is shot, he asks after his friend to beg his forgiveness, and feels a great amount of dread when he finds out that Hancock has been wounded. He fears more for the life of his friend then for his own quickly draining life. However, Armistead was not the only racked by these problems, in the lower ranks of the army, brothers could fight against brothers, and men often fought against their friends. This is a common theme through many Civil War books, including Across Five Aprils, because it was one of the few wars where fighting against a brother or a friend was possible. The Killer Angels was highly acclaimed by many reviewers, including Malcolm Forbes, who said, "You will learn more from this utterly absorbing book about Gettysbug than from any non-fictional account. Shaara fabulously, convincingly brings characters such as Robert E. Lee to life and makes the conflict all too real," (Forbes 28). However, while I believe the book to be well written and interesting enough to read, I have to disagree with the reviewers. I could not believe most of what was said of and by Longstreet because of what I learned during our trip to Gettysburg. The tour guide told us that Shaara used Longstreets' documents on the Battle of Gettysburg for one of his main sources, and that Longstreet was more interested in improving his reputation than telling the truth of the battles. Because of this, I was not able to really believe nearly half the book because much of the action was told through Longstreet's eyes. The events themselves might have been true, but how Longstreet reacted and took part in them, and his relationship with Lee were all questionable to me. As a fictional book, I believe that The Killer Angels was very enjoyable. The dialouge, both between the characters and each character's internal dialogue, is interesting though its slows the pace of the book in some places. Shaara does a good job of describing the battles so that the reader actually understands the movements during battle and doesn't just skip the sections where the battles take place, something that I used to do. However, most people would take the book as all fact, and that I cannot approve of, there are not enough sources, and the sources that he did use are excessively biased. Plus, one can not help wondering why fifteen publishers rejected the manuscript if the book is as wonderful as many of its reviewers claim it to be. Cited Sources Forbes Jr. Malcolm S. "Riveting Reading." Forbes Volume 150. Issue 9. (1992):28. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOHost. Hillman Library, Pittsburgh, PA. October 25, 2007. <http:..search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=921019741&site=ehost-live> Shaara, Jeffery. "Michael Shaara." Jeffery Shaara. 2007. October 24, 2007. <http://www.jeffshaara.com/michaelbio.html> Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels. New York: Random House, 1974. Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. New York: Dell Publishing, 1983/ ...
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- The Killer Angels