The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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Course Hero, "The Killer Angels Study Guide," January 18, 2018, accessed September 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Killer-Angels/.

The Killer Angels | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1: Monday, June 29, 1863

The Confederate Army, led by General Robert E. Lee, launches an invasion of the North, crossing into Pennsylvania. Although Lee's second in command, James Longstreet, thinks a defensive strategy would be more effective and opposes the invasion, he follows Lee's order, seeing it will do no good to protest once the decision to invade has been made. Harrison, a spy, spots two corps of Union soldiers near the town of Gettysburg and shares his information with Longstreet. Lee is suspicious of the spy's information since his own cavalry leader, J.E.B. Stuart, is assigned to tracking Union movements and has reported nothing. However, Lee recognizes that the chance to confront the Union Army under its new, weak leader General Meade is a good opportunity, so he orders the Confederate Army to turn to approach the enemy at Gettysburg. Longstreet meets up with his commanders that evening, men who are like brothers to him. Harrison the spy confirms what Confederate scouts have reported. The Union cavalry is in Gettysburg. This means the Union Army is not far off.

John Buford, a Union cavalry officer, surveys the land around Gettysburg and notices the advantage taking the high ground would provide. His scouts confirm the Confederate Army is turning to approach Gettysburg. Buford sends word to John Reynolds, who commands the Union forces to the south to bring the army quickly. Buford orders his men to occupy the hill, digging in to prepare to hold off the Confederate forces until the Union Army can arrive. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, one of the Union officers to the south of Gettysburg, begins marching with his troops toward Gettysburg. He convinces a group of mutinous soldiers from his home state of Maine to join his regiment to fight for freedom.

Part 2: Wednesday, July 1, 1863: The First Day

Longstreet advises Lee to move the Confederate Army around behind the Union Army, placing themselves between the enemy and their capital of Washington. This plan would allow the Confederate Army to choose the best ground and take a defensive stance, forcing the Union to attack. Lee refuses a defensive approach, preferring to attack the Union while he perceives they are unprepared. Although Lee orders one of his officers, Harry Heth, not to engage the enemy until the whole army is in position, Heth does engage, thinking it was just a small group of militia. Without information from Stuart who has reported nothing, the Confederates are unaware they are facing Buford's brigade, and they are quickly rebuffed by Buford's men on Seminary Ridge.

When the attack begins in earnest, Buford learns of the full number of Confederate troops headed toward his position. He is vastly outnumbered, but his men fight bravely. Just as Buford is about to despair, John Reynolds and reinforcements arrive. To Buford's shock Reynolds is shot dead almost immediately. The fight continues without a Union leader. The Union forces have to retreat from Seminary Ridge to the northwest of the city, moving back to the hills a little further south. Chamberlain and his men march toward Gettysburg.

Lee orders Richard Ewell to take the hill to which the Union has retreated, recognizing its strategic advantage. He refuses to follow Longstreet's advice to find better ground on which to face the Union defensively, recalling how he was chastised for using trenches in a past battle. Lee is concerned that he knows almost nothing about the strength and location of the enemy because there is still no word from Stuart. To Lee's disappointment Ewell fails to take the hill. Lee decides to stay and fight the Union rather than withdraw.

Part 3: Thursday, July 2, 1863: The Second Day

Chamberlain arrives just south of Gettysburg and is told to rest his men, who are to be held in reserve. In late afternoon they are unexpectedly ordered to march hurriedly to the top of a rocky hill that has been left foolishly undefended by General Sickles.

Longstreet and his officer Hood suggest Lee circle around the far-right flank of the Union, but Lee orders them to attack straight on, drawing Union forces away from Cemetery Hill for Ewell to take it. Longstreet knows it is pointless to argue with Lee, who has a weak heart and desperately wants this to be the battle to end the war. Longstreet tries to move his men into position without being seen by the enemy but is forced to double back to find a road that will work because the roads have not been scouted by Stuart. Hood reports there is an opening that leaves a clear path to the Union's right, and he asks for permission to move that way. Although he agrees it would be a good idea, Longstreet denies the request, citing Lee's orders. Hood tells Longstreet the Union troops have a fortified position on top of the rocky hill, and it will be virtually impossible to take without losing most of his men. Longstreet tells Hood to stick to orders, which Hood does only under protest.

Chamberlain and his men, on top of the rocky hill, fight fiercely against the Confederate troops trying to take the hill. The Union soldiers run out of bullets. Chamberlain orders them to charge down the hill with fixed bayonets. The Confederate soldiers retreat or surrender. Chamberlain has saved the hill, which he learns is called Little Round Top.

Despite the heavy losses and retreat from Little Round Top, Lee is not convinced to change his mind about continuing the battle. Longstreet realizes they cannot win the battle. The enemy position is too strong, and he has lost too many men. However, he knows there is nothing he can say to change Lee's mind. Stuart arrives, and Lee reprimands him for his failure that has left the Confederate leadership blind. Longstreet agrees with Marshall that Stuart should be court-martialed, but Lee says he needs every man. Pickett and his troops arrive, adding fresh soldiers to the Confederate force.

Part 4: Friday, July 3, 1863

Longstreet meets with Lee before the battle. He tells Lee he does not believe the Confederates can win the fight. Lee sticks to his plan anyway. He orders Longstreet to direct the troops to concentrate on attacking the center of the ridge, bombarding it first with artillery. They learn that Ewell was forced to engage Meade's troops to the north and will not be able to support the attack. Longstreet relays the orders to his men, feeling the fight is fated and out of his hands. He keeps his doubts from his men, telling them the Confederacy rests on the outcome. Longstreet watches as the mile-long formation of Confederate troops advances across the field to the hill, led by Pickett. The troops are ravaged by first artillery and cannon fire then bullets as they get closer to the enemy. The line gets thinner and more disorganized until he only sees scattered men climbing the hill. The Confederate force is gruesomely decimated, especially Pickett's division, and survivors retreat. Lee realizes the defeat is his fault, and he orders the whole army to retreat under cover of darkness.

After the battle Chamberlain, whose regiment had been ordered to move to Cemetery Ridge and experienced artillery bombardment from the Confederates, reflects on the loss of life, feeling pity and admiration for the Confederate troops. He decides the battle is a tragedy.

The Killer Angels Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Lee learns of the location of the Union Army from the spy.

Rising Action

2 Lee decides to face the enemy at Gettysburg.

3 Buford claims the high ground in Gettysburg.

4 Chamberlain defends Little Round Top; Confederates retreat.

5 Chamberlain is moved to Cemetery Ridge.

6 Lee orders an attack against Longstreet's objections.

Climax

7 The Confederate Army attacks Cemetery Ridge.

Falling Action

8 The attack fails, and Lee admits defeat.

Resolution

9 Lee orders the retreat of the Confederate Army.

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