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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Wednesday, July 1, 1863: The First Day (Lee) | Summary



Lee meets Ewell, Early, and Rodes. Ewell rejoices in the day's victory. Lee expresses disappointment that the hill was not taken, and Ewell explains it was a strong position and he had waited for support from Johnson. Lee asks them about strategy for the next day. They say the hill will be very hard to take once the Union has fortified their position. Early suggests Longstreet attack from the flank, drawing forces away from the hill so they can take it more easily. They reject Longstreet's defensive strategy, saying it would be "hardly fitting" to abandon Gettysburg, which they have just taken because "morale will suffer." They also reject Lee's question about a retreat.

The men depart, and Lee hears General Isaac Trimble's complaint about Ewell. Trimble had seen the opportunity to take the hill and had begged Ewell to give him orders to take it, even with only a small number of men. Ewell had choked. Trimble is livid. Ewell returns to apologize to Lee for being too cautious. Lee is charitable toward him and spends the night pondering his choices for action the next day, knowing it "will determine the war." Stuart's whereabouts are still unknown.


The author focuses this chapter on the mistake that likely costs the South the battle and the war. Of course there were other contributing mistakes, including Stuart's continued absence and decisions Lee will make to reject Longstreet's advice. However, Ewell's failure to take the hill gives the Union an advantage that proves insurmountable and on which the whole battle turns. The author shows both Ewell's perspective on the choice as well as the perspective of a seasoned soldier who urged him to choose otherwise. Trimble even offered to take the hill himself with just a few men. Ewell simply froze and missed an opportunity. Trimble's anger and condemnation serves as a contrast to Ewell's indecision and embarrassment. Readers will likely have less sympathy for Ewell than Lee manages to have.

The author uses Lee's certainty and prescience about the importance of the battle the next day to create suspense. The author makes it clear the choices Lee makes about strategy will determine not only the events of the battle but also of the whole war. Readers are left to wonder if Lee will side with Ewell and the others and try to take the hill or listen to Longstreet and go around the Union to the south in search of better ground, as he suggested earlier.

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