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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 4, Chapter 2 : Friday, July 3, 1863 (Longstreet) | Summary



Lee visits Longstreet in the morning to go over his plans. Lee explains Ewell has been ordered to attack to the north at the same time Longstreet and his men attack the center of Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet tells Lee that in his opinion, with the losses he suffered the day before, "this attack will fail ... no fifteen thousand men ever set for battle could take that hill." He envisions each step of the charge over a mile of open ground with no cover and where along that route enemy weapons will hit them. He predicts half of his men will die, and he does not think they will take the wall at the top of the hill. Lee insists the plan of attack can work, and he tells Longstreet to do his duty. Longstreet is convinced "it was all set and fated like ... the damned rising of the damned sun, and nothing to do, no way to prevent it." He can't quit and leave Lee alone or abandon his men.

Longstreet gives instructions to his men. Pickett is delighted, and all Longstreet's officers are proud to serve under him. He keeps his doubts from them. He tells his men "the fate of your country rests on this attack." Lee reports Ewell was attacked by the Union and had to respond. Ewell will not be supporting Longstreet's attack. Lee says, "It is all in the hands of God."


When Longstreet tells Lee he believes the attack will be a disaster yet determines to follow Lee's order anyway, he becomes a tragic hero. Found in literature as far back as the Greeks, tragic heroes are protagonists who attempt a great feat but meet terrible ends through a mistake or a flaw in their character. Such heroes elicit sympathy and pity from the audience. Whether or not readers agree Longstreet's choice to obey Lee is fated as Longstreet claims, the author has made it clear Longstreet's character will not allow him to leave Lee or his men to face the attack without him. Longstreet has tried everything he can think of to convince Lee against the charge, and when his attempts fail one could argue his flaw is ultimately his loyalty. He will face death rather than be disloyal to his leader or the men he leads. One could also argue the battle itself is a mistake Longstreet fails to stop. In either case Longstreet is a pitiable character, forced to order his men into a fight he knows they cannot win, knowing he will likely face the blame should he survive.

Longstreet doesn't tell his commanders about his worries for the day. Readers can infer he feels it would hurt their confidence and chance of winning if he told them he didn't believe it was possible to take the hill. He is resolved to obey Lee no matter what, so telling his men of his concerns will only cause harm, accomplishing nothing.

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