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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 1, Chapter 3 : Monday, June 29, 1863 (Buford) | Summary



Union cavalry commander John Buford arrives in Gettysburg and surveys the ground. He is an experienced soldier and leader who has been failed by his superiors in the past, but he has confidence in his men whom he has trained in practical fighting and the value of firing from cover. He notices Confederate soldiers on the road leading into the town from the north and orders his scouts to learn of the Confederate forces' location and numbers. Buford notices the high ground south of Gettysburg and imagines if it should be taken by the enemy how his troops would be slaughtered in the fields trying to reach the enemy at the summit. He recognizes the importance of claiming the high ground for his side. His scouts report, as Buford suspected, Lee's army is turning its full numbers toward Gettysburg. Buford sends a message to John Reynolds, commander of the infantry divisions to the south, to come to their aid. Buford has confidence his men can hold off the Confederate attack for several hours, digging in behind the stone wall of the cemetery at the top of the ridge, hoping it will be long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Reynold promises to come the next morning. Night falls, and Buford expects a battle first thing in the morning.


Chapter 3 introduces the importance of occupying high ground. Spoiler alert: Buford envisions the exact manner of the South's demise when he worries about what would happen if the enemy occupies the high ground, enabling them to slaughter their foes, who will be hopelessly fighting from the field below and straining to reach the top of the hills where their enemy sits. The strategic advantage of fighting from an elevated position is pivotal to the plot, and Shaara raises the issue early in the novel, foreshadowing the tragic ending of battle.

The author creates tension and suspense as readers, along with Buford, wonder if reinforcements will even come and if his men can hold off the Confederate forces long enough for help to arrive. Shaara reveals Buford's superiors have let him down in the past when he has begged for reinforcements that never arrived. Readers worry Buford's men will have to fight the Rebels alone. The author also uses Buford's worries about how long his men can last to build suspense as the chapter ends the evening before the battle. Although Reynolds promises to come quickly, Buford believes it will take Reynolds some time to reach him. Readers are left with a cliffhanger as the evening ends, with a battle impending in the morning.

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