The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 1, Chapter 4 : Monday, June 29, 1863 (Longstreet) | Summary

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Summary

Longstreet and his men relax in the camp that evening, playing cards with some foreign observers including Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lyon Fremantle, a British officer. Fremantle asks Longstreet for some poker advice. Officers George Pickett, Lewis Armistead, and Richard Garnett come to visit. Longstreet has served with these men for many years. Longstreet reflects that "it was more a family than an army." He teases Pickett for his cologne and reassures Garnett, who lives under the shadow of an unjust accusation by the late Stonewall Jackson. Longstreet introduces his friends to Fremantle, who doesn't quite know how to take the men's banter. Armistead confesses to Longstreet that he'd like to see his friend, Winfield Scott Hancock, now fighting for the Union. Longstreet calls the two friends "closer than brothers."

Major Moxley Sorrel and Jim Kemper reject Fremantle's suggestion that England would support the South if it weren't for the issue of slavery. They protest the war is not about slavery but about their right to self-governance. Longstreet does "not think much of the Cause ... the Cause was Victory [because] the war had come as a nightmare in which you chose your nightmare side." He doesn't believe his soldiers are any better than the soldiers on the other side. He reminds Armistead that they have both "fought with those boys over there." Armistead acknowledges Longstreet would prefer a defensive strategy but reminds Longstreet of how Lee was derided for using trenches in the past at Richmond. The press had called him King of Spades. Armistead claims, "If ever there was a man not suited for slow dull defense, its old R.E. [who is] ... just plain, well, too proud."

Harrison, the spy, confirms what scouts have seen: the Union cavalry is in Gettysburg. Pickett complains to Longstreet about being at the end of the line of troops. He doesn't want to miss the fight. Longstreet knows the whole Rebel army is heading for Gettysburg. The next morning a boy, looking from a tree, sees the first signs of their approach and fires a shot to warn the Union.

Analysis

The poker reference of drawing to an inside straight is a metaphor foreshadowing what is to come in the battle for the Confederate Army. In poker a straight is a hand of consecutive cards. Drawing to an inside straight is the choice to draw, hoping to get a single card to fill a missing number in the straight. For example, if a player has 5, 6, 8, and 9, the player might choose to draw for a 7 of hearts. The odds of drawing the 7 of hearts are very low. It is an extremely risky move in which all the odds are stacked against the player. Fremantle asks Longstreet if this is ever advisable. His answer is quite definitive: he repeats "never" three times. Readers can learn from this interaction that Longstreet is practical and doesn't take risks that are almost certain to fail. His preference to make calculated, prudent choices will be ignored by Lee, as readers will find out as the novel progresses, and the Confederate Army does the equivalent of drawing to an inside straight in the ill-fated Pickett's charge.

The author begins to contrast the personalities of Lee and Longstreet to lay the background necessary for readers to understand their future interactions and choices. Lee simply does not have the personality for defensive fighting, as Armistead explains to Longstreet. Lee's pride had been wounded at Richmond when he used trenches. The name King of Spades was like a stain on Lee's reputation, and Armistead believes defensive strategy is not one Lee will soon use again. Longstreet, on the other hand, is famously stubborn and "the best defensive soldier." The two men's opposite personalities and preferences will soon lead to conflict.

The author introduces the theme of brotherhood. Longstreet calls the men around him "more a family than an army." He jokes around with Armistead, Garnett, and Pickett as brothers do, ribbing each other mercilessly. Interestingly, Longstreet implies this sense of brotherhood extends across enemy lines. He reminds Armistead they have both fought in past conflicts with some of the boys on the other side. He sees no difference between his men and the Union men. The intimacy of brotherhood is perhaps nowhere more poignantly displayed than in Armistead's confession that he wishes he could see his dear friend Hancock again with the knowledge they will probably face each other in battle soon. The author raises the theme of brotherhood and complicates it through these affections across battle lines, illustrating how the nation was truly divided by the war. Even as men on each side felt a real kinship with their fellow soldiers, the war ripped apart families and pitted brother against brother.

What was the Civil War really about? The author complicates the answer most students would give, suggesting it was about more than freeing slaves. Characters like Sorrel and Kemper give voice to the Confederate claim that they were fighting for self-determination and freedom from federal rule. The author juxtaposes this self-righteous rhetoric with Longstreet's rejection of the Cause. He doesn't care about any cause but victory, and even that is a nightmare in which one is forced to pick a side. The implication is that both sides are equally distasteful. The author provides more interpretations of the Cause through other characters as the novel progresses, creating a nuanced, often conflicted array of motives.

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