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.
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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