Killer Angels Essay

The Battle of Gettysburg brought the dueling North and South together to the
small town of Gettysburg and on the threshold of splitting the Union. Gettysburg
was as close as the United States got to Armageddon and The Killer Angels gives
the full day-to-day account of the battle that shaped America’s future.

Michael Shaara tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of
the generals and men involved in the action of the battle. The historical
account of the Battle of Gettysburg gives the reader a chance to experience the
battle personally and not the history book manner taught in schools. A
historical novel gives the facts straightforward and provides no commentary by
the people involved in history. The historical account of the Battle of
Gettysburg, as seen in Killer Angels, provides the facts of the battle as seen
through the eyes of Generals Robert E. Lee, Joshua Chamberlain, James Longstreet,
and John Buford. The feelings and inner-thoughts of each General and the
conditions of the battle are seen, heard, and felt by the reader in the
historical account. Shaara takes historical license with letters, the words of
the men, and documents written during the three hellish days of the battle.

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Shaara avoids historical opinion and provides his own opinion towards the Civil
War and the people. The historical account of the Civil War, the Battle of
Gettysburg specifically, in Killer Angels conveys the attitude to toward war,
attitude towards the Civil War, and cause for fighting the war of General Robert
E. Lee, Joshua Chamberlain, James Longstreet, and John Buford. General Robert E.

Lee gained stoic and legendary status as the heart and soul of the South in the
Civil War, but many did not know his reasons and feelings for fighting the war.

War and the slaughter of others did not interest Lee and he felt compassion for
the Union. Lee had contradictory feelings towards war and says, “He was not
only to serve in it but he was to lead it, to make the plans, and issue the
orders to kill and burn and ruin…he could not do that” (Shaara 263). The
Civil War is not in the taste of General Lee, but feels it is his duty, and he
cannot just stand by and watch the war pass him by. Michael Shaara says of
Lee’s reason for fighting the Civil War “, He found that he had no
choice…Lee could not raise his hand against his own. And so what then? To
stand by and do nothing? It had nothing to do with causes; it was no longer a
matter of vows” (Shaara 263). Shaara, through his commentary on General Lee,
explains that Lee did not want to fight the war but had to. Lee felt it was his
duty to fight for his fellow countrymen, but not for a cause, land, or slavery.

“So it was no cause and no country he fought for, no ideal and no justice. He
fought for his people, for the children, and the kin, and not even the land,
because the land was worth the war, but the people were,” General Lee says (Shaara
263). General Lee fights for himself and has no choice but to fight, knowing in
the end that he might be wrong with his cause and pay the price someday. General
Lee is not a proponent of war, but he will serve his country with honor and duty
if necessary. A man of ideals and honor represent the character of Union Colonel
Joshua Chamberlain. Being a man of education, Chamberlain knows the demeaning
and repulsive nature of slavery and has come to fight to end it. Chamberlain
hates the whole idea of the Civil War and the death and destruction that goes
along with it. “I used my brother to plug a hole. Did it automatically as if
he were expendable,” says Chamberlain (Shaara 304). He hates the idea that
men, including his brother, are dying out in the fight for slavery. The only
reason he believes in the Civil War is that if he the North did not fight
freedom would be tarnished and a great travesty would occur. Chamberlain is not
a man of war and blood and doesn’t relish war and its qualities. The idea of
war in general to Chamberlain was ludicrous, as he once wrote “Man: The Killer
Angel”. Chamberlain believes all other wars have been unnecessary expect for
the Civil War because it is a different kind of war. He says, “This is a
different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay,
or women, or some kind of loot. … They fight because a king makes them. But
we’re here for something new. …We’re an army going to set other men
free” (Shaara 30). Chamberlain is fighting the war because he believes every
man should have the right to freedom. “American’s fight for mankind, for
freedom; for the people, not the land,” says Chamberlain in regard to why he
is fighting the war (Shaara 29). Chamberlain is fighting this war because “the
fact of slavery upon this incredibly beautiful new clean land was appalling,”
and “true freedom would eventually spread all over the world, but it started
here… Many of us came . . . because it was the right thing to do” (Shaara
29). James Longstreet was a General under-appreciated for the great talents and
strategies he possessed in regard to war. Longstreet was a glory man who loved
war for its comradery and action it possessed. However, Longstreet doesn’t
believe and hates the idea of fighting the Civil War. He is put up against the
men he commanded and served with before the war, and Longstreet feels
traitorous. “It came to him in the night sometimes with a sudden appalling
shock that the boys he was fighting were boys he had grown up with,” says
Shaara on behalf of Longstreet. General Longstreet aside from his feelings is
very professional and is out to win the war, no matter at what cost. He needs no
cause except victory as Longstreet says, “He did not think much of the
Cause… the Cause was Victory” (Shaara 63). General Longstreet does not know
why he is fighting the war except for the fact that he had to choose a side or
get caught in the middle so he chose the South. “You choose your nightmare
side. Once chosen, you put your head down and went on to win,” says Longstreet
on behalf of his choice to fight. As General Longstreet says to General Lee,
“You have no Cause. You and I, we have no Cause” (Shaara 63). Longstreet is
a lost soul among men and fights because he has to not because he wants to. He
feels a great remorse and shame in fighting the men that he used to lead. He had
a great love for battle and the army, but the Civil War has tarnished that.

General John Buford may just be the reason the North won the Battle of
Gettysburg. With his grit and determination he holds down the whole Rebel army
until reinforcements arrive. Buford is a stoic and mild-mannered person whose
professionalism defines his attitude on the battlefield. Buford feels a duty to
his country and that’s his reason for fighting in the war. Michael Shaara
says, “Buford did not hate. He was a professional” (Shaara 45). However,
General Buford feels that the Civil War is sick and appalling as he says, “The
appalling sick stupidity that was so bad you thought sometimes you would go
suddenly, violently, completely insane” (Shaara 46). E.M. Forster, a writer
interested in the psychology behind personal relationship, once said, “I hate
the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and
betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” The
Southern Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet would betray the country
before their friends, while the Northern Colonel Chamberlain and General Buford
would pick their country. General Lee feels a strong sense of duty to his family
and friends over country as Shaara says, “He fought for his people, for the
children and the kin, and not even the land, because not even the land was worth
the war, but the people were… And so he took up arms willfully, knowingly, in
perhaps the wrong cause against his own sacred oath and stood upon alien ground
he had once sworn to defend.” (Shaara 263). Longstreet feels a sense of duty
to his friends including the ones on the Union side. Longstreet feels compassion
towards the Union soldiers, feeling that he has betrayed his friends, as he says
“, Difficult thing to fight the men you used to command.” Colonel
Chamberlain feels that his country is more important than friends are and he is
willing to kill to protect the Union. “He had grown up believing in America
and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God,” says
Shaara about Chamberlain. This shows that he loves his country that he puts it
above his faith in God. Chamberlain automatically and autonomically places his
brother in battle without even thinking about the consequences of losing his
brother just to win a battle. General John Buford feels a sense of duty to his
country and serves as a professional. He believes that his country is more
important than his friends are. “When men take up arms to set other men free,
there is something sacred and holy in the warfare,” said Woodrow Wilson, the
28th President of the U.S. and activist for world peace. General Robert E. Lee
feels that the Civil War is very sacred and holy because he is fighting for the
freedom of his kin and people. He believes in his cause and is willing to go
against the country and maybe the will of God to protect the rights of his
people. Chamberlain believes the actions of the Union army are very holy and the
most righteous deed done in the history of the world. “This hasn’t happened
much in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men
free; What has been done to the Black is a terrible thing” (Shaara 179). James
Longstreet is a very technical man and felt there was nothing sacred and holy in
the Civil War. He felt there were no ideals and fights only to win, “…The
Cause was Victory” (Shaara 63). Buford is a professional and sees nothing
sacred and holy either. He is in the war to serve and win. He has no ideals and
freedom to protect. The Civil war shattered futures and broke the innocence of
many young lives. Michael Shaara uses the horrific details of the Civil War to
teach the reader that war is not as valiant and courageous as men make it seem.

The vivid details included in the book help to draw and etch the gory pictures
of war into one’s mind. The generals each relay their feelings about the death
and destruction of the war to the reader. The reader gets the feeling that the
author is communicating only the negative aspects of the war and not too much of
the glory. All the Generals, Colonels, and men involved cannot seem to stop
talking about the lives they’ve seen lost and men wounded. General Lee and the
other men explain that they’ve has lost many great comrades and officers in
the battle. Shaara keeps sharp attention to all the blood and bullets’ flying
around the whole time so the reader feels that war is hell in essence. Robert E.

Lee is the heart and soul of the South and people depended on him to lead the
South into victory. The South admired him for the pride he brought and the North
admired him for his military prowess. One man goes as far as to say, “Well
maybe you are come from an ape, and maybe I am come from an ape, but General
Lee, he didn’t come from no ape” (Shaara 131). Robert E. Lee is the savior
and leader for the people of the South, and they worshiped him. No man in the
North or South doubted his military genius or ever went far enough to challenge
what he said. Fremantle explained that Lee was a mythical hero even in England,
he was a gentleman’s man. “Well. They love him. They do not blame him. They
do impossible things for him,” says Fremantle (Shaara 162). Men would do
anything make Lee proud. The Northern generals were afraid to go against him at
times and respected his power. However, General Longstreet through the course of
the book begins to doubt the old man’s power to make decisions. Longstreet
keeps to himself to not offend anybody, especially since General Lee was a loved
man by all. Longstreet feels that Lee is too powerful and sometimes makes the
wrong decisions without somebody being able to tell him he is wrong. “The men
shield from blaming Lee. The Old Man is becoming untouchable,” says Longstreet
(Shaara 240). Longstreet feels that Lee’s mythical status is getting in the
way of the war and might end up hurting him. The overall impression of Lee is
that he is a mythical and legendary person to most, but Longstreet quietly does
not see him as the superhuman he is made to seem. The Civil War was the greatest
battle ever waged on American soil and once it was over the battlefield lay in
ruins. The men, the fortunate one’s who survived, moved on to bigger and
better battles. However, the battle scars, both emotional and physical, remained
forever. General John Buford is greatly weakened by his wounds from the battle
and fights through the summer. In December 1863 Buford goes down with Typhoid
fever and dies without receiving recognition for saving the high ground and
perhaps the battle. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain is given a brigade after the
battle of Gettysburg but is wounded six times. He is regarded as one of the
greatest soldiers in American history, and receives numerous medals for honor
during the Battle of Gettysburg. Ulysses Grant gives him the honor of Major
General for heroism and is chosen by Grant as the officer to receive the
Southern surrender at Appomattox. Chamberlain is elected the governor of Maine
and eventually elected President of Bowdoin College. He dies from his wounds in
June 1914 at the age of eighty-three. General Longstreet asks to be relieved of
command after the Battle of Gettysburg, but Lee makes him stay. After the war he
blames Lee for the loss of Gettysburg, and this does not sit well with people.

His theory of defensive war is very advanced for the time. He serves as
President of Washington College until his death in 1904. General Lee remains the
symbol of all that is proud and noble in the South. He asks to be relieved of
his command but it is denied. After the war he asks for pardon from Congress and
it is denied until 1970. Lee dies of heart disease in 1870.


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