The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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

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Summary

Lieutenant Pitzer leads Chamberlain and his regiment to their new position as reserve along the crest of Cemetery Ridge. Pitzer says Meade called a meeting that morning to vote on withdrawing. None of the commanders wanted to leave except Meade. Chamberlain's regiment still has no food. Chamberlain has not slept, and his foot is bleeding. It is oppressively hot. He fights sleep. He is called to see General Sykes, who praises his bravery and hints at a promotion. Back with the regiment, Chamberlain reflects on "plugging a hole in the line with a brother ... some things a man cannot be asked to do." He realizes "this whole war is concerned with the killing of brothers." Tom reports that Kilrain has died.

As Chamberlain contemplates his lack of faith in heaven, artillery fire falls on their position. It is an assault like none he has ever witnessed. He sees a horse with three legs and another without a head, as well as a wounded man clawing at the sky. The noise of the shelling is overwhelming, shaking the earth, an "orchestra of death." Chamberlain is amazed to see Hancock calmly riding his horse amid the onslaught, "untouched." John Gibbon, one of Hancock's men, has three brothers fighting for the Confederates. Chamberlain knows the Confederate Army will come his way when the shelling stops. Lying behind the rock wall, Chamberlain falls asleep.

Analysis

The author returns to the theme of brotherhood again as Chamberlain has time to reflect on his actions the day before, using Tom to fill the hole in the line. He thinks that asking men to kill their family, their brothers, is an impossible request. It is something "a man cannot be asked to do," and yet he knows the very nature of a civil war is the "killing of brothers." He thinks with pity of Gibbon facing the prospect of fighting his own brothers. The theme of brotherhood in the novel juxtaposed with the carnage of military conflicts also described in this chapter are the basis for many calling the novel an indictment of war.

Again the author shows just how narrowly the battle could have gone differently and been avoided entirely, possibly altering the outcome of the war. Meade had wanted to withdraw the Union Army and leave before the Confederates even attacked. He was outvoted by all of his generals. Every single one wanted to stay and fight. Had Meade been a more decisive leader, the battle might not have happened at all.

The author uses the chapter to build suspense. Amid the shelling Chamberlain knows the Confederate Army is just waiting to advance across the field to take the hill. He must wait and survive the world exploding around him to see what will happen next. He is confident they will come. Readers want to see what will happen next to all the characters they have come to know, on both sides of the fight.

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