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Killer Angels Essay, Research Paper

Most people think of the Civil War as a military battle between the North and South. Without studying the subject, they do not appreciate the facts that make up this historical event. When one reads the novel, Killer Angels, the reader is given a much better perception and understanding of what actually happened during the war. Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, is a realistic historical depiction of the great battle of Gettysburg, which left 50,000 Confederate and Union soldiers dead, wounded, or missing.

The novel is set up in chronological order of events that took place during the four days of the bloody and decisive battle of the Civil War. The tale is told from an alternating north and south perspective. In this manner, readers can have a good mental picture of how each event came about. It even shows maps for a better understanding of each step the North and South took. It is clear where each of the battles were taking place and why the generals try to use the land for their own advantage. It was very interesting to read about the different strategies and tactics the generals utilized in the attempted destruction of their enemies.

The well-deserved rave reviews that litter the front and back covers drew me to it, but Shaara’s powerful writing style and stunningly human characters drew me into it. Shaara has an amazing ability to portray the major players of the battle, whose real personalities must have since been lost over a century of historian analyzation, as real people. Shaara portrays the terrible butchery of the four days’ fighting through the vividly rendered thoughts and emotions of such great men as General Robert E. Lee, Major General John Buford from the South and from the North, Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain.

The main generals for the South were Lee and Longstreet. For the North there was Buford and Chamberlain. These men truly believed in what they were fighting for. Chamberlain’s sight on Little Round Top was very moving and courageous. I realized all the things the men had to give up and how amazing it was to see that they still had hope they would win and be back home with their families. I enjoyed how the book made me feel like I was directly involved with the incidents that occurred. The book instills in one’s mind what a battle fought during the Civil War was actually like. This is a tremendously moving novel, completely unforgettable.

Throughout the book, the reader is exposed to the pain, difficulty, anguish, and other dilemmas the armies face leading up to the final confrontation. There is extreme loss and unimaginable pain expressed as General Lee realizes that he is close to losing the war, 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.”

The passage that most deeply affected me is the conversation between Longstreet and Lee as they survey the ridge, planning for the next day’s battle. Here Lee observes that in order to be a good officer, one must be willing “to order the death of that thing which he loves above all others”, namely his men. Such is the terrible irony of war.

On the cover of the book, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf is quoted as saying that the book is “The best and most realistic historical novel about war I have ever read.”

To enjoy it you don’t have to be a Civil War buff or even know anything about the battle, you only have to be prepared to appreciate what is epic and human in the midst of this otherwise horrifying war.


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