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The Killer Angels | Study Guide

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels | Quotes


This was the land where no man had to bow.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 2

Joshua Chamberlain reflects before giving to the mutineers from Maine an inspiring speech about what they are fighting for. He enjoys the freedom America offers from the social structure of nobility. He wants freedom from being subservient based on birth to apply to everyone.


He was in possession of good ground ... If Reynolds came quick ... Buford could hold it.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 3

Major General Buford scouts the ground around Gettysburg and claims the high ground for the Union Army. It is an advantage on which the outcome of the battle will turn. He recognizes its value and the importance of holding it.


We are fighting for ... our freedom from the rule of what is to us a foreign government.

Jim Kemper, Part 1, Chapter 4

Jim Kemper protests that the Confederate Army is fighting for the cause of self-governance, not slavery. His argument recalls the ideals that inspired the American Revolution, that of freedom from foreign oppression and tyranny. He considers the North to be that foreign power against which they are justified in rebelling.


Take the defensive. Not again.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 1

One of the reasons Robert E. Lee is against James Longstreet's suggestions for a defensive strategy for dealing with the Union Army is that he recalls how he was ridiculed for doing so in the past when he dug trenches around Richmond to defend it. The papers had called him King of Spades, and it was a dishonor he was not willing to suffer twice.


I know nothing of what's in front of me. It may be the entire Federal army.

Robert E. Lee, Part 2, Chapter 3

Without a report from Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart on the Union's movements and numbers, Robert E. Lee is left blind at Gettysburg. The lack of information is a handicap that effects his decisions about the battle from the start.


Honor without intelligence is a disaster. Honor could lose the war.

James Longstreet, Part 2, Chapter 5

Pragmatic, deliberate James Longstreet understands that decisions based on honor alone, without thought to common sense, can be harmful. He tries to explain to Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lyon Fremantle that warfare is changing. Although facing the enemy in an open field was the honorable way to conduct war in the past, soldiers have since learned to fire from protected positions. This tactic is much more effective, although it may not be seen as honorable. He prefers the strategy that will protect his men and defeat the enemy. He predicts that basing decisions merely on what is considered honorable could destroy their chance to win.


The great experiment. In democracy ... In ... a generation they have come back to class.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 1

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lyon Fremantle believes the "experiment" of democratic rule has failed; quickly after forming their own country, the South has created a social structure not unlike the one he has back home. The South is just a transplanted Europe with its system of nobility. He thinks the Confederate officers are really British at heart and share his values. He believes the fact that the North does not share these values is what the war is really about.


You looked in the eye and there was a man. There was the divine spark.

Joshua Chamberlain, Part 3, Chapter 2

Although Joshua Chamberlain has not been around many people of color, he recognizes they are just as human as himself. He says he doesn't understand anyone who doesn't understand this. He only has to look such a person in the eye to see the "divine spark" that signals they are also made in God's image.


They're never quite the enemy, those boys in blue.

James Longstreet, Part 3, Chapter 3

James Longstreet feels very conflicted about fighting the Union Army because it is made up of so many soldiers with whom he has served in the past. He knows they are no different from his own soldiers because he sued to command them.


You cannot withdraw. Under any conditions. If you go, the line is flanked.

Colonel Vincent, Part 3, Chapter 4

Colonel Vincent gives Joshua Chamberlain the order to defend Little Round Top. Chamberlain is the end of the Union line. If he lets the Confederates get past him, or if he abandons the position, the Confederate Army will be able to attack the Union from behind. Chamberlain takes his duty very seriously, and when his soldiers run out of bullets he obeys Vincent's orders to never withdraw, leading his men in a charge with their bayonets.


When he ... sees the blood of the enemy, a man of honor can no longer turn away.

Robert E. Lee, Part 3, Chapter 6

Robert E. Lee believes in fighting battles in an honest, face-to-face manner, the honorable way to fight. He decides to stay and fight at Gettysburg, against the advice of Longstreet, who says they cannot win. Lee believes it would be dishonorable to leave the enemy on the field.


I believe that no fifteen thousand men ever set for battle could take that hill.

James Longstreet, Part 4, Chapter 2

James Longstreet tells Robert E. Lee plainly that his plans for attacking Cemetery Ridge will fail. Longstreet has lost half of his men at the failure at Little Round Top the previous day, and even with reinforcements from Major General George Pickett the terrain makes victory impossible. Men will have to march a mile across an open field under fire from the enemy on top of the hill opposite. He tells Lee there are no soldiers in existence that could overcome those facts to win the hill.


I cannot even refuse ... I cannot leave him to fight it alone, they're my people ... I can't even quit.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 2

In this glimpse into James Longstreet's thoughts he laments he can't resign from what he knows is a doomed attack. He cares too much about Robert E. Lee and his soldiers to leave them to go through the battle alone. He is tortured by the thought, but he can't leave the impossible situation in which he finds himself.


I don't think we can win it now.

James Longstreet, Part 4, Chapter 5

James Longstreet correctly predicts that the loss of men and the defeat at Gettysburg are wounds from which the army will never rebound. It spelled the beginning of the end for the Confederate Army and the inevitable slide toward their eventual surrender.


He thought of Aristotle: pity and terror. So this is tragedy. Yes.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 6

Joshua Chamberlain admires the men against whom he has fought, and as he surveys the lines of dead bodies he feels as if they were his own men. He feels tremendous pity for the same men he had feared just hours before. The combination of "pity and terror" is what Aristotle identified as the characteristics of tragedy. For Chamberlain the battle, although a victory for his side, is still very much a tragedy.

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