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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 3, Chapter 5 : Thursday, July 2, 1863: The Second Day (Longstreet) | Summary



After the retreat from Little Round Top Longstreet sees Hood, who has a badly injured arm. Longstreet lies to Hood, not telling him they didn't take the hill or that he lost half of his men. T.J. Goree is angry that Hood's men blame Longstreet. Goree tells Longstreet, "If anything bad happens now, they all blame it on you ... They can't blame General Lee ... So they all take it out on you." Pickett has finally reached the front, and Longstreet is glad to have 5,000 fresh troops.

Longstreet rides to talk to Lee. He hopes to convince Lee against attacking again now that he has lost so many men and there are three Union corps on the top of the hills. Headquarters and the surrounding area are crowded with happy people and reporters congratulating him. He doesn't know what to think. They seem to think it was a victory. Stuart has finally showed up. Lee seems too busy and weary to talk to Longstreet, so Longstreet leaves and plans to return later. Marshall complains that Lee will not sign court-martial papers for Stuart. Longstreet admits he agrees with Marshall, but he knows Lee will never do it. Fremantle approaches Longstreet, singing Lee's praises. He calls Lee "devious," and Longstreet explains why that is precisely the opposite of the truth about Lee. As Longstreet explains the lack of strategy really involved in the war, he comes to realize that if they win the attack the next day, "it will not be because of tactics ... it will be a bloody miracle." He knows Lee will order the attack no matter his objections. He is just Lee's arm.

Back at his own camp, the men listen to Pickett tell stories and cry over a lonesome tenor's song around a fire. Armistead tells Longstreet about the vow he made to Winfield Scott Hancock on their last evening together before the war. Armistead had vowed not to harm Hancock, and the promise is weighing on his mind as they may meet on the battlefield tomorrow. Armstead finds it hard to believe the English think the war is about slavery, but Longstreet thinks to himself "the war was about slavery all right ... and there was no point in talking about it, never had been"—although it is not the reason he fights. Longstreet feels the weight of command and "suddenly ... he wanted ... the way it used to be, arms linked together ... with visions of death from the afternoon, and dreams of death in the coming dawn, the night filled with a monstrous and temporary glittering joy, fat moments ... like ... jewel after jewel," and he joins the men around the fire.


Goree foretells what really does happen to Longstreet after the war: some critics attributed the blame for the loss of the Battle of Gettysburg to Longstreet, perhaps because of precisely Goree's claim that few wanted to find fault with Lee. The author makes it clear he is not part of this camp of thought. No matter what Longstreet does or does not do in battle, Shaara shows just how much Longstreet opposed the battle and strategy of frontal assault and how hard he tried to convince Lee to take another approach.

The author makes it clear Longstreet has begun to see himself as powerless. He realizes Lee will stick to his own plan no matter what Longstreet says. He thinks of himself as just Lee's arm. Lee decides; Longstreet acts it out. Longstreet sees the battle and his role in it as inevitable. This speaks to his motivation before the deciding fight of the battle.

The author returns to the theme of the cause of the war. Surprisingly, Longstreet, a Southerner, unequivocally affirms the claim the war is really about slavery. It may not be the reason why he fights, but he sees no question that slavery is the reason behind the war. Armistead is more typical of Confederate forces who believe the claim is incorrect, although the author doesn't offer Armistead's version of the cause.

The stories around the campfire, the sentimental song, and Longstreet's reminiscence of his younger days of service romanticize the experience of being a soldier in war time. The men are all gathered around, like a family, sharing stories and laughing. Many shed tears over the tenor's song. Shaara uses words like linked, visions, glittering joy, and jewels in Longstreet's memories about his past service. It is something he misses and wants to recapture. It's a pretty rosy picture.

Readers learn of Armistead's vow to Hancock. The author uses the vow to create suspense in this subplot. Readers wonder what Armistead will do when he meets Hancock on the battlefield, having promised not to harm him. Where will his loyalties lie—with his army or with his friend? The author creates this question in the mind of readers to keep them reading.

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