Book Analysis Assignment: Killer Angels In the book Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, he analyzes the roles of two important men in Civil War history. One is Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate army, and the other is James Longstreet, a Confederate general. Both men play key parts in the battle of Gettysburg and their choices help direct the course of the whole war, both in their favor and against. While they are fighting on the same side, there are differences that distinguish them and cause conflict between them, and these differences will determine major turning points in the war.
Robert E. Lee was one of the most beloved men in the American South. At the time of the battle of Gettysburg, he is fifty-seven years old and is having heart trouble, which will kill him in less than a decade. There is speculation that Lee may have suffered a mild heart attack during the Battle of Gettysburg, and Shaara uses that idea to work his story. Lee is a brilliant tactician, but his traditional ideas consistently butt heads with the more visionary policies of James Longstreet who constantly pushes for a defensive position.
Shaara portrays Lee as a wise old man and a brilliant commander who knows his career is soon ending. He steadfastly holds on to the traditional ways of combat even while realizing the importance of Longstreet’s newer ideas. His troops are so inspired by him that even as the wounded soldiers stagger back from Pickett’s Charge, they beg him to let them attack again. Lee’s presence is key in helping keep Confederate’s hopes high. However, his confidence in his army leads him to overestimate his men, which causes the disaster of Pickett’s Charge.
Shaara characterizes Longstreet as a man ahead of his time. Longstreet becomes Lee’s second in command after the death of “Stonewall” Jackson. He is a stubborn man, who has recently lost three of his children of a fever. Longstreet enters the Battle of Gettysburg with high hopes of success and speaks his mind about his plans about getting the Confederate army to swing to the southeast and coming between the Union army and Washington, D. C. , if Lee will let him. He argues that if the Confederates dig into good ground, then they can simply destroy the Union army as it comes at them.
Lee disagrees with this strategy, however, and this disagreement eventually forms the main conflict between the two characters. Lee is continuously ruffled by Longstreet’s stubbornness, and Longstreet is frustrated by Lee’s opposition to his defensive tactics. Longstreet envisions the fact that offensive warfare will become exceedingly difficult and outdated for the future. Although he has some advanced ideas, few of them were put into effect, and those that were unfortunately often failed.
Lee decided to not follow his general’s advice for most occasions and it was understandable because Lee already had an impressive list of strategic victories prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. For this particular battle, though, Longstreet’s suggestion probably would have worked well, but Longstreet had been making suggestions in the past that had not worked so far and so Longstreet is feeling pretty skeptical. Lee believes that taking an aggressive, offensive position against the North is wise, but Longstreet completely disagrees. “He had never believed in this invasion. Lee and Davis together had overruled him.
He did not believe in offensive warfare when the enemy outnumbered you and outgunned you and would come looking for you anyway if you waited somewhere on your own ground” (Shaara 10). Part of Longstreet’s tragedy is that he can see the disaster that’s going to happen, but he can’t prevent it. He’s stuck in the course set by Lee and powerless to shift direction. Lee orders Longstreet to attempt to take Little Round Top, which ends up resulting in a brutal battle that doesn’t win anything for the Confederates.
One of the biggest conflicts in The Killer Angels, aside from the battle itself, is the argument etween Lee and Longstreet over whether to use offensive or defensive tactics. Longstreet understands the modern nature of warfare and realizes that new technology, such as long-range artillery and repeating, breech-loading rifles, means the old strategies of war can no longer work as well. For example, a single man armed with a good rifle and in a defensive position – behind a tree, for instance – can kill at least three men charging toward him from across a field. Longstreet argues that even more men can be killed if the defender is aided by artillery.
Longstreet believes that fortified, defensive positions are the best way to win a battle, and so he suggests that Lee move the Confederate army to a position southeast of Gettysburg, so the Confederates come between the Union army and the Union capital, Washington, D. C. This strategy will force the Union army to attack to protect the capital, and if the Confederates dig into a defensive position, they can simply destroy the Union army as it attacks. Longstreet’s strategy is remarkably modern in theory, and Shaara portrays Longstreet as a man who is ahead of his time.
Lee, however, is a more traditional soldier, and he believes he can destroy the Union army – even in a fortified, high ground position – if he simply puts his men in the right places. After two days of battering the right and left flanks of the Union army, he finally tries to break through the center with Pickett’s Charge. He believes this tactic will allow him to cut the Union army in two and then destroy the confused pieces that remain. But Lee underestimates the Union artillery, secured in the high ground of Cemetery Ridge, which utterly demolishes the Confederate soldiers as they attempt to cross the field.
Pickett’s Charge was the last great infantry charge – never again would so many men slowly march across a field to strike their enemies. Advancements in artillery and rifle technology ended the age of such strategies, and Pickett’s Charge, whether or not a wise plan, marked the end of this era. Another difference between Lee and Longstreet are their views on slavery. Lee does not own slaves nor believe in slavery, but he does not believe that the Negro, “in the present stage of his development,” can be considered the equal of the white man (.
Longstreet doesn’t think it’s worth thinking about, even though he does admit that it’s the real cause of the war. Longstreet goes from a vague sense of foreboding and frustration, to then seeing that the Confederate Cause has been lost. “The war was about slavery, all right. That was not why Longstreet fought but that was what the war was about, and there was no point in talking about it, never had been” (Shaara 255). Lee represented everything good about the South and all the traditions and manners that had been overturned because of the Civil War.
Lee wasn’t even a big fan of slavery, though, and thought of himself as someone fighting primarily for the rights of his state, Virginia, against Northern aggression. This mindset helped boost the Southern notion that the war wasn’t really about slavery, but about something else, such as states’ rights. Lee makes a lot of mistakes, but at the same time, he demonstrates a lot of character when he admits to his retreating soldiers after the failure of the charge: “It is all my fault” (Shaara 332). While he acts as if he still thinks the Confederates have a chance, he also seems to feel that fate has turned against them, maybe once and for all.
After his death, Lee still lives on in the South as a war hero and a symbol of all that is fine and noble in the Southern cause. Longstreet, on the other hand, is branded as “the most hated man in the South” for insulting Lee’s name and believing that the battle was lost by Lee. He lives until the age of 83. Both of these men created legacies for themselves and their roles in the Civil War are still studied today. They were both truly influential in their time and it is so interesting to see their stories come alive through The Killer Angels.