The Civil War is one of the darkest chapters in the history of America. This was a war that tore a nation in half while pitting brother against brother, and neighbor against neighbor as the South battled the North for its independence and separation from the union. At the heart of this division was the belief by southerners that they should be able to own slaves and keep blacks under oppression. The Killer Angels gives a story like depiction of the Civil War while focusing the main attention on the Battle of Gettysburg. In this book the author gives us views of both the Confederate and Union armies. The officers for both sides used to fight together but are now on different sides according to their different views. In the end what is realized is that the war resulted in a plethora of deaths for both sides and that they aren’t necessarily fighting against and enemy but rather an opponent.
The Battle of Gettysburg is significant in that it turned the momentum of the war in the favor of the Union Army and led to their eventual victory over the Confederacy. The book focused its attention on the officers on each side and the strategies employed by each to win the war. The central figure for the South was General Robert E. Lee who was the commanding officer for the Confederates. His decisions (or lack thereof) depending on how you look at it led to the eventual defeat of the South at the Battle of Gettysburg and the war itself. Lee would go on to blame himself for all of the failures of the South during the war, but his men were extremely loyal to him and their cause through all sorts of circumstances.
General Lee is not an imposing figure and is described as a man in control, who never loses his temper or faith, and never complains. The respect and admiration that he is given by his subordinates is so powerful that even soldiers on the opposing side are not ashamed to openly acknowledge their respect for him. Lee knows that this battle will be the ultimate deciding factor of the war and although the Union has better position to defend he has no choice but to stay and fight. This decision is made without regards to the opinion of his second-in-command, General James Longstreet, who feels that the confederates should retreat, regroup, and find better ground that will be more suitable to the objectives. This disregard came as a total surprise to me because the relationship described in the book between Generals Lee and Longstreet was one that was built on compassion and mutual respect for each other as friends and comrades. However, Lee was faced with disgracing himself and the entire south if he pulled out his troops, not to mention what it would have done to the morale of the troops who were staunchly defending the ideals of the Confederacy.
The book gives the reader a detailed look of the movements of each of the officers under Lee’s command and how he orchestrated their movements leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg and during the battle. General Robert E. Lee’s poor judgment and decisions cause the South to lose the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee even credits himself for the South’s failure, as quoted in the book, “No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me. . . . I alone am to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess and valor . . . could I have 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.” General Lee wanted to attack the Union troops at Gettysburg, even though the North had the better ground, more supplies, and thousands of more troops. Lee’s mind was already set and he did not want to change it. Overall, Lee was a good general, but during this particular battle, he did not make the best of decisions, which led to the Confederate troops losing the war.
For the opposing Union army the most important figure was Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Regiment of Infantry, Maine Volunteers who, perhaps put up the most valiant fight of any unit in the war. Colonel Chamberlain is thrust into the forefront of the war while being charged with the responsibility of guarding over one hundred men from a non-operational unit from who refuse to pick up arms and fight because they feel as though they have already honored their enlistment in the Union army. The way he is able to persuade the men to set aside their grievances and not only fight but do so without the immediate availability of weapons is truly remarkable. Although a professor of rhetoric who is obviously well schooled in making speeches, however, the one he gave to those soldiers would be enough to stir the deepest emotions in almost any man. Chamberlain and his men were charged with defending the extreme left of the Union line and to stop any advancement by the Confederates by not allowing them to flank the Union line. Chamberlain accomplished this mission by incorporating strategies that had been previously unheard of yet were ultimately the determining factor in preventing the South from gaining an advantage in the Battle of Gettysburg.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book was the mutual adoration and respect shared between Major General Winfield Hancock of the Union Army and Brigadier General Lewis Armistead (or Lo as he is affectionately called) of the Confederate Army. These two were extremely close friends who were excited at the possibility of seeing each other at Gettysburg but did not relish the thought of having to fight directly with each other’s unit. This really drove home the point that not only were these men fighting against each other but they were also dealing with internal struggles that proved to be the ultimate test of their loyalty to the cause they were fighting. In this modern era it would be hard to imagine sitting down having dinner with some of your trusted friends, and then commencing battle less than a month later with some of those very same friend on the opposing side.
The one thing that I would have like to read more about was the battle through from the view of the men engaged in the action (the infantrymen). The book manly focused on the men who were directing the logistics of the war but gave us limited insight on the men who were fighting.
This book contributes a detailed description and story of the Battle of Gettysburg. Many books about Gettysburg give a biography about the battle and the commanders, but this makes commanders and soldiers come to life. It shows actual feelings about the war. While most books give a narrative monologue of the battle. This book brings characters to life and gives a detailed description of the battle.
This novel has raised questions in my mind because I was unaware of the real battle; but it raises no new questions to society such as Hofstadler’s writings. This novel gives a very accurate description of the Battle of Gettysburg. This novel shows the importance of each battle and each division in each of these battles. Moreover this novel shows importance of strategic positioning. If the union army was not holding that advantageous position, it would have been very difficult to win the battle.
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