The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 3, Chapter 3 : Thursday, July 2, 1863: The Second Day (Longstreet) | Summary

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Summary

Longstreet reviews the map with Lee. He tells Longstreet to attack en echelon along the enemy's flank to draw forces away from Cemetery Hill so Ewell can take it. Although Longstreet disagrees, he doesn't try to argue with Lee any longer. Hood suggests Lee send his men around the flank of the enemy to the right, allowing them to attack from behind, but Lee refuses. Longstreet agrees with Hood but tells him Lee has already made up his mind on a frontal assault. Lee and Longstreet ride together, and the weather reminds Longstreet of their time in Mexico when they fought alongside many of the men they will soon oppose. Longstreet is bothered they "broke the vow" they made. Lee claims there is a "higher duty to Virginia" and they don't have a choice but to fight. Lee believes this battle was forced upon them—just like the war. He desperately wants "this to be the last battle" of the war.

Longstreet begins to move his men toward their attack position, trying to remain out of sight of the enemy. Because Stuart has not scouted the roads, he is forced to double back and find another road to avoid being seen. When he has his men in place, he discovers the Union is not on top of Rocky Hill as expected but down in the peach orchard below. He receives word from Hood that there is a clear path to the right of the enemy. Hood requests permission to move in that direction and cut the enemy off from their wagon train of supplies, attacking them from behind. Longstreet denies, citing their orders from Lee. Hood again sends word. He tells Longstreet the enemy has now taken position on Rocky Hill, entrenched behind huge boulders. Longstreet goes to see for himself. Hood says it will cost half his men to take the hill, and Longstreet agrees but knows from his arguments with Lee all morning that he will not agree. They must carry out Lee's commands. He regrets so many men will undoubtedly die in the attack but feels he has no choice. Hood will follow orders, but only under protest.

Analysis

The author develops Longstreet's character, showing just how committed he is to following Lee's orders. In fact, once commanded Longstreet will obey Lee, no matter the cost, even when it goes against his better judgment, even when it goes against the vow he took to the US Army back during the Mexican-American War. The author illustrates this part of his personality now because knowing this about Longstreet will be useful to understand his actions in chapters to come.

The opportunity Hood sees (but Lee won't take) is a decision that contributes to the Confederates' doom. It is one more mistake, a poor decision that leads to their eventual defeat. When Hood suggested moving to the right to get behind the enemy, he had a clear field. By the time he is ordered to take Rocky Hill, it is fully fortified by the enemy, and he only obeys under protest. Readers are left to wonder how the battle might have turned out differently if Lee had followed Hood's advice or if Longstreet had gone against Lee to allow Hood to do what he thought would work best.

Through Longstreet's conversation with Lee the author further establishes Lee's motivation for conducting the battle in the manner he chooses. He is desperate to make this battle the last. With failing health he wants it all to be over. He is further motivated by a powerful sense of duty and allegiance. Duty is perhaps most tied to Lee, as a primary motivation. His first duty is to obey God, then to protect Virginia. These duties supersede his allegiance to the vow he had taken as an officer in the US Army during the Mexican-American War, along with Longstreet, to defend and obey it. Lee truly believes he has no choice but to do what he does that day. God has ordained the battle. He must obey. He must honorably defend Virginia from the enemy—the Union. A defensive strategy is not honorable in the mind of Lee. The most honorable, honest way to fight is a frontal attack. All of these motivations lead him to issue the order he chooses at the battle.

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