The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 2, Chapter 5 : Wednesday, July 1, 1863: The First Day (Longstreet) | Summary

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Summary

Longstreet rides through the battlefield late that evening, passing piles of amputated limbs like white spiders and a heap of dead horses. He hears soft groans from the wounded. Longstreet knows Lee will attack in the morning. He feels depressed at the thought, and he cannot avoid the memory of his wife telling him his son had died. His other two children soon followed. Their deaths made him lose his faith and his sanity. Now he lives for his soldiers, like his children, and his leader Lee, "in place of God."

Longstreet welcomes Fremantle's company to help lighten his mood. Fremantle has enjoyed observing the battle that he thinks promises a victory to the Confederate Army. He expresses admiration for Lee, who he thinks is a true gentleman in every way, a real "English general." Longstreet corroborates stories of how the men revere Lee. He also tells Fremantle about the idiosyncrasies of his fellow commanders, including the late Stonewall Jackson, whom Longstreet calls "a hard man." Stonewall hated and wanted his enemy dead.

Longstreet, differing from Lee, believes "honor without intelligence is a disaster. Honor could lose the war." He tries to explain the logic and practicality of defensive warfare as opposed to what is seen as the more honorable way to fight, men facing each other in an open field. He stops trying when he realizes "like ... most Southerners, Fremantle would rather lose the war than his dignity." Longstreet stays up to avoid thinking about his children.

Analysis

In this chapter the author further develops Longstreet's character, showing readers what is behind his preference for defensive warfare. The loss of his children and resulting loss of faith makes Longstreet different from Lee and others for whom honor and faith in God are a driving force. Longstreet in contrast cares only about his men and his leader. As a result he rejects as stupidity what has been seen as the traditionally honorable way to fight: out the open, men facing off in a field. He believes this type of "honor without intelligence is a disaster." He favors practical, defensive fighting as the smarter approach. Longstreet thinks of his men as almost replacement children, and he does not want to lose again. However, he has faith in Lee, like he used to believe in God. The author creates this tension in Longstreet's character. The two men have very different beliefs, yet Longstreet is loyal to Lee. Readers will see how this tension plays out for Longstreet as the novel continues.

Longstreet's claims about honor foreshadow the downfall of the South in the battle of Gettysburg. He argues that "honor could lose the war." Lee's commitment to fighting the honorable way, rejecting defensive moves that could win the battle or simply save lives, as readers will soon see, costs the Confederate Army the battle and many casualties.

The vivid descriptions of the carnage of war are included to create a sense of what it was like to be there, in the middle of the Civil War, which Shaara says is his purpose in the novel. The sensory details of what Longstreet sees—the white, spidery pile of severed limbs, the clump of dead horses, and the sounds of groans—make the experience more real for readers.

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