The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 4, Chapter 5 : Friday, July 3, 1863 (Longstreet) | Summary

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Summary

Longstreet watches the charge, feeling numb as he sees the neat lines break apart into smoky chaos. Retreating men begin to stream back past him. Pickett sends back an urgent request for more men, but all of the forces were sent in at the start. Longstreet feels devastated that "they had all died for nothing and he had sent them." Lee rode up, head uncovered to stem the retreat, speaking with men who even then apologize to him. He tells them it is all his fault. Lee instructs Pickett to reform his brigade behind the ridge. Pickett, bloodied and grimacing, says he has no brigade left. He demands, "What about my men?"

Longstreet can't stand it. He picks up a rifle and directs the guns to fire to protect those retreating. He moves forward, expecting, hoping, the Union will attack. His staff follows and begs him to get back. Goree tells him "it's no good trying to get yourself killed, General. The Lord will come for you in His own time." He realizes the Union is not going to attack. The sun begins to set. Lee asks to speak with him alone, and he admits he was wrong. He believes they will fight again another day, but Longstreet says he believes the army will never recover from its losses at Gettysburg. He doesn't think the Confederates can win the war now. Lee says it was never about winning for him or Longstreet because they have no "Cause." Their only motivation for fighting is the army, and "it is only the soldiers who die," so he and Longstreet "cannot ever win." Lee orders the whole army to retreat under cover of darkness.

Analysis

Longstreet correctly predicts the long-term repercussions of the battle on the outcome of the war. He doesn't believe the army will be able to win the war after the losses they suffered at Gettysburg, and that was the case. The devastating defeat cost the Confederate Army a third of its soldiers. Considered by some to be the high water mark of the Confederate effort, the loss at Gettysburg signaled a turning point in the war. It ended Lee's attempts to invade the North, and it put the Confederate Army on the defensive.

Longstreet is driven to suicidal thoughts in his agony for his men and his role in their deaths. He takes up a gun and walks out into enemy fire. His feelings are clear to his assistant, Goree, who tells him he can't hasten his own death as only God appoints that time. Longstreet can't bear the pain of his responsibility in sending all those men to be slaughtered.

The author poignantly conveys the cost of the battle in the contrast between Pickett before and after the battle. Handsome Pickett was nearly crying in joy before the attack, so eager to be a part of the glorious last battle of the war, relieved he hadn't missed it. After the charge most commonly known as "Pickett's charge" he is shell-shocked and disheveled, covered in blood. He can't seem to understand it is all over. He wants to know what Lee is going to do about all his men. His regiment is gone, and he is virtually unrecognizable. The battle leaves him shattered, just as it does the Confederate Army.

The idea of cause comes up again, and surprisingly Lee modifies his reason for fighting, claiming he and Longstreet have no cause. They only fight because they are officers in the army. They are fighting for the army. He believes there is no way to win such a cause because "it is only the soldiers who die." He seems to suggest there is no real winner in war because it necessarily means the death of the army the leaders love.

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