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Battle of Gettysburg: “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 10th, 2022

The book Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is about the famous Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. The book has been written from the viewpoint of the people who fought and shared their feelings and thoughts about the battle as it proceeded. The battle commenced with victory being achieved by the Confederacy (South), but during the peak of the story, there is a dramatic narration of how a frantic South made a charge that ultimately resulted in a slaughter. This battle signified a turning point in the Civil War. In his introduction as given in the book, the author has clarified that no facts have been changed and that primary sources and documentary evidence have been used in bringing to light this aspect of American history. The story commences on June 29, 1863, whereby a spy informs the Confederate army about the maneuvers and location of the Union army. General Longstreet and General Lee are at first doubtful about the information but later act upon it in moving their troops towards Gettysburg. The battle began on June 30 in the morning between a small group of infantry belonging to the Confederate and a group of cavalry soldiers of the Union army. This was the third summer after the outbreak of the Civil War and the fight would come to be known as the Battle of Gettysburg as also the bloodiest and fiercest battle fought in America.

Col Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is in command of the 120 men who were highly disgruntled because of having been made to sign a three year term to serve the army instead of the normal two years agreement signed by other soldiers. These men were forced to serve in difficult battle torn conditions while the other men were allowed to return home. These 120 men were made to starve and were punished in being handed over to Chamberlain who said he would have them penalized if they refused to fight. Col Chamberlain was a professor in a college before he joined the war efforts. His background explained his different approach, because he listened to his men and also understood that it was improper to force his men to fight. He handled his men with kindness and promised to resolve their grievances after the battle was over. He was also able to instill in them the confidence that if this battle was won, it would grant freedom to the entire country.

General Robert Lee demonstrates a lot of flexibility in his attitude. He changes strategies quickly when things do not move as per plans and takes other lines of action. General Lee is however not a strong decision taker since there is no surety whether his orders will be carried out. He is considered to be a man of honor since he does not indulge in gambling, drinking or cursing. For him reputation and honor are more central than his own life and he believes that a battle should be fought openly instead of being fought surreptitiously. Lee succeeds because where others would be cautious, he takes risks, but it is ironic that it is this very trait that lets him down and results in his downfall. When the defeat of the Confederate army becomes inevitable, Lee apologizes to his people and takes an onus on himself for the failure. It was however because Lee was arrogant in believing that his army was invincible.

General Longstreet is not always in agreement with Lee but is his right-hand man and the two men have faith in each other. Longstreet is a little overconfident and believes that weapons are more important than the caliber of the soldiers, but he cares for his men and takes initiative for their welfare.

The book is well known for linking the historical events of the period since it was about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil war. The novel has enabled a better understanding of the war and the purposes behind it. It also enabled a better understanding of the reasons for the decisions that were made regarding the Battle of Gettysburg. I particularly liked how the thought patterns of people were brought forth in the book instead of just the facts and events of the battle. The book was of great help in understanding the reasons for the attacks and the way they were carried out. Unless one knew the opinion and thought patterns of the soldiers, it would have been difficult to understand why the given decisions were taken. The deliberations amongst the characters were of particular interest in getting a thorough understanding of why particular decisions were taken against other options. The authenticity of the narrated facts along with the inclusion of fictional information made the book very interesting to read. It was of particular interest to note that there were some foreign observers who traveled with the soldiers in taking stock of all developments. Having read the book one is indeed more enlightened about the circumstances that were prevalent during the Civil War and about the fierceness of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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IvyPanda. "Battle of Gettysburg: “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara." June 10, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/killer-angels-by-michael-shaara-the-book-review/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Battle of Gettysburg: “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara." June 10, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/killer-angels-by-michael-shaara-the-book-review/.

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