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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 3, Chapter 6 : Thursday, July 2, 1863: The Second Day (Lee) | Summary



Lee works through the night. He moves outside for quiet time with his horse to reflect on the choice before him. Longstreet's accusation about breaking their vow returns to his mind. He remembers when he received news of Virginia seceding, and how he went into mourning: as a military officer he knew he would not lead men against his home and his family or "issue the orders to kill and burn and ruin." Neither could he stand idle, so "it was no cause ... he fought for"—"he fought for his people." He had no choice, but he knew he had broken a vow. He is a decisive man and comes to his decision about the battle relatively quickly. He will command his men to attack the ridge between the sets of hills, thus dividing the Union Army.

He rebukes Stuart for his absence, telling him he failed in his duty. Stuart theatrically tries to hand over his sword and resign, but Lee tells him there is no time for such things. He tells Stuart to learn from his mistake. He needs every man. Lee regrets causing Stuart pain, but it is necessary. Venable reports Ewell's attack had been disorganized and came much too late to coordinate with Longstreet's as it should have. Rodes had never even attacked at all. Lee makes sure Venable understands the orders for the next day to relay to Ewell, who is to attack from the north in conjunction with Longstreet. Lee knows he will have to count on Longstreet and Pickett. He feels confident in his choice: he believes men win because "the men thought they would win" and because once a fight is begun "a man of honor can no longer turn away." He hopes to "end with honor."


Through a glimpse into the past the author reveals Lee's motivations for joining the Confederacy. Readers already know Lee was not fighting for the cause of slavery, an institution he did not support. The author now further develops what it means for Lee to be fighting for Virginia. When he learned of the state seceding from the Union, he realized he could remain in his role and order attacks on his own family and home, stand by without doing anything, or leave with his state to defend it. His higher allegiance to his people is what made him break his vow. The cause then for Lee is defending his people out of loyalty and love. The author makes Lee an even more sympathetic character by including this memory to shine light on his reasons for fighting.

Stuart finally answers for his absence, and the interaction between him and Lee tells readers more about both men. Lee does not court-martial Stuart, although readers already know many think he deserves it. Lee wants Stuart to use the experience to become a better soldier. Lee is compassionate and wise. Stuart responds to Lee's just criticism with hurt, not regret. He dramatically offers to resign rather than apologize. He is prideful and more interested in himself than the good of the army or obeying Lee.

The author previews Lee's strategy for the next day, as well as gives his justification for choosing to attack rather than follow Longstreet's advice. The force will be concentrated on Cemetery Ridge, by Pickett. Lee hopes to break the Union line of defense and separate the army into two. He feels the attack is necessary because it is the honorable way to respond to the fight that has already begun, and that knowledge is what inspires men to win. He hopes to end the whole war honorably. This information will help readers interpret the action in the coming chapters.

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