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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Part 4, Chapter 6 : Friday, July 3, 1863 (Chamberlain) | Summary



Chamberlain sits on a rock after dark looking over the battlefield, remembering the scene as the Confederate Army lined up a mile long and marched in unison toward the hill. Although he had been afraid, he thinks it was "the most beautiful thing he had ever seen." He thinks Aristotle's definition of tragedy as "pity and terror" is an accurate way to understand the day. Tom doesn't understand what motivates the Rebels to fight. He says Confederate prisoners say the cause of the war is not slavery, but he is convinced there would not be war if it was not for slavery. Chamberlain "had forgotten the Cause" in the midst of the battle, and "it seemed very strange now to think of morality." He remembers the phrase the Killer Angels. He feels admiration and pity for all the men who died that day, as if they were all his own men, and he thanks God for the "privilege to be here today." Rain falls on the battlefield. The next day will be the Fourth of July.

A quotation from Winston Churchill calls the war "the noblest and least avoidable" of wars up until its time.


Chamberlain feels much differently after the final battle than he did after his victory at Little Round Top. Through the contrast between the two reactions the author shows the progression of Chamberlain's thoughts on war. Readers will recall that after Chamberlain's courageous bayonet charge downhill at the enemy, leading to their retreat, Chamberlain knew he felt as good as a man could ever feel. In contrast, after the bombardment of Cemetery Ridge he is contemplative and sad. Even though he recognizes the beauty of the charge, the perfect formation of the men moving as one, it only leads him to think about and respect the Confederates. He sees their dead being lined up in the field below, and he feels as if they are his own men. He pities them. He no longer thinks of the battle of the day as a victory of which to be proud but as a tragedy. He is no longer sure of the Cause.

As the final chapter of the novel, Chamberlain's perspective of war as a tragedy is the final one the author creates for readers, apart from the Churchill quotation, which concurs with sentiments readers have seen before in the novel from Lee. The war could not be avoided, and it was fought nobly. Readers are left, like Chamberlain, to reflect on what it was all for.

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