Imagine being thrust into the middle of a raging battle, a battle that lasts for 3 long days. The book Killer Angels by Michael Shaara does just that, introducing the reader to the Battle of Gettysburg in detail. Killer Angels elaborates upon the 5 days surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, using key points of view from both Confederate and Union sides toshow the reader the brutal nature of war. Michael Shaara also uses this book to show how someof the generals were good friends before the war, and that this war helped to create breaches inthose friendships.
Additionally, this book also shows how the generals were people as well, not just mindless automatons portrayed by textbooks. Finally, this book also shows neither side sawa flaw in their own thinking, both unable to see or accept that their point of view was in error. Shaara shows how war can be brutal by portraying the pain and suffering of thethousands of men on both sides. During the battle at Little Round Top involving Chamberlain’s20 th Maine, Chamberlain sees a wounded soldier: “A few feet away he saw a man lying dead, half his face shot away. Vaguely familiar. He turned away, turned back.
Half the right jawbonevisible, above the bloody leer: face of one of the Second Maine prisoners who had volunteered just a few moments past. ” (Pg. 218) Once again after the 20 th Maine is moved to the center of the line, Chamberlain sees more of these depraved sights: “Union guns firing, men movingamong the guns, hunched, a bloody horse running eerily by, three-legged, horrible sight, runningtoward the road. Another horse down with no head, like a broken toy. ” (Pg. 310)Chamberlain was not the only one affected by these atrocious sights, as the generals on both sides of the battle were affected.
For example, Lee knew the movement on the last daywould cost many lives, but still ordered it on. He blames himself for making the mistake: “No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me…. lalone am to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess and valor … could I have Narra2 foreseen that the attack on the last day would fail, I should certainly have tried some other course… but I do not know what better course I could have pursued. ” (Pg. 349) He feels guilty thathe could not choose another course after having committed himself to attacking the Union headon at Gettysburg.
This example shows that the generals were actual people, not mindlessandroids. Another example of a general who shows his emotions is Longstreet. “Longstreet saton a rail fence, hugging his chest with both arms. He suspended thinking; his mind was a bloodyvacancy, like in a room where there has been a butchering. ” (Pg. 330) This quote shows howLongstreet has fallen into a state of shock after having sent the troops to their death in the center of the Union line. One of the commanders Longstreet sent into the center of the Union line was LewisArmistead, a friend of Winfield Scott Hancock on the Union side.
The war can be proven to tear apart friendships with several examples, one of which being the aforementioned comradeship. Armistead and Hancock became friends after fighting together in Mexico, along with Peter Longstreet and several others. In the final day of the battle, Armistead is commanded to take hisunit and march up to the Union line, out in the open. Armistead reaches the top of the Union post, but is hit by a bullet. He finally asks a soldier to give Hancock a message: “Will you tellGeneral Hancock, please, that General Armistead sends his regrets.
Will you tell him … owvery sorry I am… ” (Pg. 329) Another example of the war ruining a friendship is the friendshipof Chamberlain and Kilrain. Although the war had brought them together, it also separated them. When Kilrain was to be sent off to the hospital, Chamberlain feels warmheartedness towardsKilrain: “There was a tight long silent moment. Chamberlain felt a thickness all through hischest. It was like coming back to your father, having done something fine, and your father knows it, and you can see the knowledge in his eyes, and you are both too proud to speak of it. But he knows. Kilrain looked away. (Pg. 230)Another conclusion that can be drawn from this book is that neither side saw a flaw intheir thinking.
For example, Chamberlain reflects on a time when a Southern visitor was at hishome, he says to the minister: “I kept trying to be courteous, but this minister was so damned wrong and moral and arrogant all at the same time that he began to get under my skin. Andfinally he said, like this: ‘Look here, my good man, you don’t understand. ” Later on the sametopic: “I remember him sitting there, sipping tea. I tried to point out that a man is not a horse,and he replied, very patiently, that as the thing I did not understand, that a Negroe was nota man. ” (Pg. 177) Later, the professor came up to Chamberlain and had this to say, as recalled by Chamberlain: “Then he talked to me for a while, and he was trying to get through to me , justas I had tried with the minister. The difference was that this man was a brilliant man.
Heexplained that the minister was a moral man, kind to his children, and that the minister believedevery word he said, just as I did, and then he said, ‘My young friend, what if it is you who arewrong? This shows that conventional thinking cannot be applied to decide who is wrong or right in cases such as these, that a higher level of thinking must be applied for us to decide whois correct. Based on all this evidence presented by Shaara, his opinion seems to be that the war didn’t achieve much of anything but deaths, and that can be supported today, based on how many people still present prejudices towards African Americans. Although the attitude has beenchanged for the most part, the KKK still exists, as it should be allowed to (freedom of speech),and racial profiling and other types of discrimination still occurring throughout the US.
Michael Shaara’s presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg ascertains several known and previously unknown to me features of the Civil War. Some of these are the cold brutality of thewar, the human aspect of generals, the dismantling of friendships, and as well as the fact thateach division saw itself as the correct and all-knowing group. The writing style is in prolixity, but can be understood after all the tedious excess has been sorted out.