The Killer Angels By Michael Shaara

1392 words - 6 pages

In a letter to the reader, Michael Shaara states that his purpose is similar to Stephen Crane's in The Red Badge of Courage. He wishes to display history not as cold facts, but rather in such a way that the reader can live the history. This is to be accomplished through extensive detail of the emotions of the men, the atmosphere of the battle, and strategies of the commanding officers. Accepting this as Shaara's intent, it can be justifiably stated that he succeeds in his objective. The Killer Angels does not merely relate what assaults and defenses where made by which colonels and generals. Instead, the book delves into the emotions of the major figures of the battle and what they endured physically and mentally as they planned for assault, defense, or mere preservation of life. In this way, The Killer Angels aids the reader in understanding the causes for the Battle of Gettysburg and the incidents that took place from June 29 to July 4 of 1863. Because of this, when faced with the question of whether it is a good historical reference, emphatically yes.
Most history textbooks relate that, during the Battle of Gettysburg, General George Gordon Meade led the Army of the Potomac against General Robert Edward Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. If the text goes further in depth, it mentions Major General George Pickett who, under Lee, leads a doomed charge up Cemetery Hill. The history text will not further discuss the other officers who were instrumental in the Battle of Gettysburg, and this is precisely what Shaara concentrates on. The structure of the book itself is set up in sections, each following the point of view of one particular officer. Shaara assigns the sections as necessary, sometimes alternating between two opposing officers to give a clear understanding of how the Union and Confederate forces planned their tactics in response to one another. This is most evident in the third day, when Shaara alternates between Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the Union and James Longstreet of the Confederacy with one section focusing on Lewis Armistead. Chamberlain and Longstreet are the two major opposing officers, and we see the events from both perspectives. During Pickett's charge from Longstreet's view, it is conceivable to imagine that the Union forces are easily routing the charging Confederates. However, when the book looks at Chamberlain's side, we see that the Union forces are being hit fairly hard by Confederate artillery. By showing us the different characters' viewpoints, Shaara also shows us their personal feelings. For example, we learn of the deep friendship between Armistead and the Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock. This changes the reader's view of Armistead's role in Pickett's charge. There is now a poignant touch of pathos in seeing Armistead falter with emotion and die at the top of the hill with apologies to Hancock. When the readers can look at the characters of history as human, it becomes easier to grasp...

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