The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 1, Chapter 1 : Monday, June 29, 1863 (The Spy) | Summary

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Summary

A spy witnesses the movements of two corps of Union soldiers advancing, and he rides to inform the Confederate Army of the location and numbers of the enemy. He has gleaned the approximate location of the Confederate Army from his sources, and he is proud of the information he holds. He thinks of lines from Shakespeare about the death of the prince and the king who offers his kingdom for a horse. He notes it is odd that Jeb Stuart, the leader of the Confederate Calvary, is nowhere to be seen. A farmer tells him the name of the nearby town is Gettysburg. The spy, Harrison, is lucky to meet with a Confederate officer who agrees to take him to Longstreet. The spy notices the men in the camp are in good spirits.

The spy tells Longstreet that 80,000 or more Union soldiers, led by John Reynolds, are nearby. Longstreet wonders why Stuart has not brought him this news but decides he must pass it along to General Lee, even though he knows Lee distrusts spies. Longstreet had not supported the invasion of the North and prefers a defensive strategy, but he obeys Lee. The spy tells Longstreet the papers are saying General Meade has replaced General Hooker as the Union leader and that John Reynolds is said to have refused the job. Longstreet uses a map to show Lee where Harrison has seen the enemy. Lee doubts the spy and finds it hard to believe Stuart would leave him "blind" to the movements of the enemy. Longstreet suspects Stuart is out enjoying himself, courting the attention of the press. Presented with the opportunity to face the enemy under Meade, a new, cautious leader, Lee agrees to turn the army to face the approaching enemy at Gettysburg. He gives the order to move first thing in the morning. Longstreet notices Lee's frailty and feels concerned.

Analysis

Longstreet and Lee are two of the main characters in the novel, and Shaara wastes no time in introducing them to readers, developing their personalities early in the story. Longstreet has his own mind but is loyal to Lee, even to the point of going against his own best judgment. Longstreet doesn't believe in the offensive strategy of invasion that Lee has commanded; he thinks a more defensive approach would be effective. However, once the decision has been made by Lee, Longstreet is completely obedient to orders. He obeys Lee out of more than duty, however, showing a real concern and devotion to his superior, who he notices is become frailer. Lee trusts the men who serve under him. A principled man like Lee finds it hard to believe a man he trusts would let him down. He doesn't want to believe Stuart would fail to alert him to movement of the Union Army. Longstreet, on the other hand, is more cynical, or realistic as the case turns out to be later, suspecting Stuart of selfishly chasing after headlines. The differences in the personalities of the two men will lead to conflict between the two as the novel progresses.

The author foreshadows the tragic nature of the novel through allusions to Shakespeare's Hamlet and Richard III. Foreshadowing is a literary technique in which authors give small clues about what is to come later. The titular prince dies in Hamlet, and the titular king is defeated in battle in Richard III. The brief lines from the two plays that come to the spy's mind allude to both death and defeat, themes that will be very relevant to the conflict to come.

The author begins to build tension about Stuart's absence from this first chapter. The absence of Jeb Stuart is noted by the spy, Longstreet, and Lee. It was Stuart's job to use his cavalry to keep an eye on the enemy and report any changes in movement nearby to Lee. Without this information Lee is essentially "blind." Stuart's failure to perform his duty is a critical mistake that will cost the Confederate Army dearly. The author hints at the importance of this error by having all three characters questioning Stuart's whereabouts.

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