The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Afterword | Summary

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Summary

Lee will later offer his resignation. It is not accepted, and he serves for the remainder of the war. The eventual surrender of the Confederate Army is peaceful because men still follow his example. Longstreet becomes an unpopular figure in the South not only in his support of Grant in Reconstruction but also because he says after Lee's death that the Battle at Gettysburg failed because of Lee's decisions. His ideas of defensive warfare were far ahead of his time. Richard Ewell later admits many of the mistakes at Gettysburg were his. Ambrose Powell Hill never achieves social status and is killed before the end of the war by a sniper. John Bell Hood's wounded arm is never functional again, and he resents the decisions made at Gettysburg. Dorsey Pender dies of his wounds. His wife believes it is God's judgment. Isaac Trimble survives and believes if his men couldn't take the hill, "all Hell couldn't take it." Johnston Pettigrew is killed as the Confederate Army retreats. George Pickett remains bitter toward Lee, who he says "destroyed" his division. Jubal Early is dismissed from duty by Lee, and Early later blames Longstreet for the loss at Gettysburg. Fremantle writes a book predicting the Confederate Army wins the war. Harrison goes on to be an actor.

John Buford never gets the credit for choosing the high ground for the Union nor its importance in the battle. He dies that winter of pneumonia. Winfield Hancock remains popular but is defeated in a presidential bid against Andrew Garfield. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is promoted and serves for the reminder of the war, despite being wounded six times. He is one of the chosen few to be present at the Confederate surrender, and he surprises everyone by ordering his men to salute the Confederate troops. He goes on to become the governor of Maine and later the president of Bowdoin University.

Analysis

The afterword is like the end of an epic movie or documentary when text about each of the characters rolls across the screen at the end of the film. This is the book's version of "Where are they now?" Shaara includes facts about the lives of many of the characters after the battle to satisfy readers' curiosity about the characters they have come to know. This choice relates to the historical part of historical fiction. The lives of these characters ended nearly 100 years prior to the writing of the novel, so the author knows the ending of their stories and is able to include them. It adds another layer of understanding of the characters but also to the resolution of the events of the novel.

Readers will notice that some men from the novel have fairytale endings while some are tragic. Obviously the author only includes information on men who survived the battle. The fate of those who did not is already covered in the final chapters. Survivors have different reactions to the battle. Some seem to be embittered by the experience, while others are not. No man in the battle was unchanged, however, and the author shows where their paths diverge after the turning point of Gettysburg. For example, Lee, virtually unstoppable and confident before the battle, offers his resignation afterward. Longstreet does his duty in the battle only to become despised later. Pickett is cocky and carefree before the battle but becomes resentful and bitter. Buford's contribution isn't acknowledged, and he doesn't live to see the Union victory. They are tragically altered by the experience. In contrast, Chamberlain was a fairly low-ranking officer before the battle. His bravery is rewarded with promotion. The battle also gives him a new respect for the Confederates, whom he honors at their surrender. He leads something of a charmed life, receiving many awards and positions of power. The battle for him was a stepping stone to better things. The battle altered the course of their lives, and the author includes the afterword to give readers just a taste of that.

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