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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 2, Chapter 3 : Wednesday, July 1, 1863: The First Day (Lee) | Summary



Lee advances with his troops, hearing the explosions ahead as they fight the Union soldiers. He wonders why Heth didn't follow orders not to engage the enemy. In his anxiety he stops to pray. He sends Hill to ahead to inquire. The lack of information concerns Lee. He complains, "I know nothing of what's in front of me. It may be the entire Federal army." Heth comes to explain his men fired on what they thought was just a small militia. It was actually Buford's two brigades, and the enemy's strength continues to grow with reinforcements from Reynolds, who is now dead. Lee is sorry to hear of Reynolds's death, remembering him as "a gentleman, a friend." There is also another corps led by an unknown commander. Lee frets to himself: "I know nothing."

A courier informs Lee his commander Rodes and his division have arrived on the Union's flank. Early would soon follow. Although Lee would prefer to have Longstreet at his side, two divisions stand between Longstreet and the front. However, with Pender and Heth, Lee begins to think everything was aligning "almost like a plan" even if it is one he didn't make. He feels more and more confident "God has decreed a fight here." He orders his commanders to attack. Hill reports Heth has a head injury that will take him out of the fight for some time.

A courier from Early reports some of the enemy is falling back. Part of the Union Army retreats, and Lee believes it is "God's will." Lee sees the enemy taking a position on a far hill. He realizes the fight isn't over and orders Ewell to take the high ground from the enemy. Longstreet arrives and proposes they move to the right to get between the Union and Washington to the south. Lee disagrees. Ewell requests support, but Lee has none to send as Longstreet's men are still six miles away. Longstreet claims the Union will soon outnumber them and they should leave to find better ground for a fight. Lee remembers the insult of King of Spades and is determined to "attack, and let it be done." Lee wonders why Ewell doesn't attack.


The switch in perspective back to Lee offers readers the contrast of two viewpoints and experiences of the same skirmish. In contrast to Buford and Reynolds who knew what they were facing, Lee is facing the unknown. He doesn't know if it is a couple of brigades firing at his men, or if it is, as he puts it, "the entire Federal army." Readers can feel his anxiety and uncertainty as much as they could feel the Union's confidence at the end of the previous chapter.

In Lee's reaction to Reynolds's death, Shaara reminds readers this is not a normal war. A civil war divides a country, families, and friends. Instead of feeling triumphant in the demise of his opposition's leader, and its most promising one at that, Lee feels sorrow. He thinks of Reynolds as "a friend" and a good man. He regrets the death. In most conflicts it is the goal to destroy the enemy, but the issue is much more complex in this war, as readers have already seen. The enemy soldiers are often friends and acquaintances.

The author develops Lee's character as a devout Christian. Lee turns to God through prayer when he feels worried about the battle and his men. He looks for signs of God's providence and feels certain of God's will for the battle in the circumstances that align his men without his own planning. He issues the order to attack with the conviction that God has ordained it. This conviction is Lee's motivation. It is confirmed for him in the enemy's initial retreat.

The author begins to describe the Confederate failure that will ultimately determine the outcome of the battle. Lee gives Ewell the orders to take the hill from the enemy. At the end of the chapter he wonders why Ewell hasn't attacked. As readers will soon learn, Ewell's failure to do so will prove disastrous for the Confederates. Lee sees the opportunity to take the high ground before the enemy is fully amassed, before they dig in. It is a missed opportunity for which the Confederate forces will not be able to compensate as the battle progresses.

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