The Killer Angels:A Novel of the Civil War

by Michael Shaara

Paperback, 1996

Call number

FIC SHA

Collection

Publication

Ballantine Books (1996), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages

Description

This Pulitzer Prize-winning classic is the finest historical dramatization of the Civil War. The book centers around the key battle of the war: the battle of Gettysburg. In July of 1863, the Confederate Army, led by General Robert E. Lee, invaded the North, in order to deal a fatal blow to the Union Army. Lee's right hand man was the loyal General Longstreet. Opposing them was General George Meade, an unknown quantity at best. In the four most bloody and courageous days of the Civil War, their armies fought, one side for freedom and the other side for tradition. As the bodies piled up on the gory field, so did the dreams and hopes of the dead. Their futures were the ultimate casualties of war.

Media reviews

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User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
Winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Killer Angels is a remarkable work. Within the pages of one book, it manages to recount an excellent history of the Battle of Gettysburg with fictional 'insights' into the minds, thoughts, and actions of several of the major players on both sides.

To
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deal with the historical aspect: Shaara's account is mostly accurate; those inaccuracies present are unintentional and minor. One inaccuracy that probably has become fixed in the public mind as history is the charge of the 20th Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top, routing the Alabamans and Texans of the last Confederate assault and taking over 400 prisoners. Until Shaara, very little attention was given to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine--just as a part of the desperate struggle for Little Round Top, while acknowledging the incredible bayonet charge that ended the fighting for the left flank of the Union army. In his superb 3 volume narrative history of the Civil War, in the outstanding chapter on Gettysburg (published in 1963), Shelby Foote gives one paragraph to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, and equal or slightly more space to his counterpart, Col. William Oates of the 15th Alabama. Chamberlain was highly articulate and wrote extensively after the war. From his writings, it is clear that in actuality, Chamberlain was probably the happiest and most "alive" in his life when he was in the thick of fighting. He wrote quite a bit about Little Round Top; as the years went by, his story changed. No one surviving the war from the 20th Maine, including then-Captain Spears, recalls Chamberlain ordering the right wheel charge or, for that matter, ordering the charge, period. Chamberlain had ordered the men to fix their bayonets, after which the charge just more or less happened. Chamberlain was not the first to remember things differently as time went by nor would he be the last. However, the excellent movie made from the book has as one of its high points the battle for Little Round Top, and the charge of the 20th Maine as described in the book, not as it really happened, was portrayed brilliantly. It really doesn't matter; the 20th Maine deserved all the glory it received and Chamberlain, who received the Medal of Honor (30 years later!) for his part in the defense of Little Round Top deserved the recognition.

But except for this and a few other details, the history is excellent. Even the maps are among the best I've seen for the summaries of the positions of the armies during the fighting.

So much for the history. What about the characterizations, particularly of Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain?

Clearly, Shaara depended heavily on the writings of the participants themselves for material for his fictional account of their thoughts and feelings. Lee is a problem; he never wrote anything after the war in terms of memoirs. There are letters, and there are the memories of those who fought under him, and that's it.

Longstreet wrote his memoirs and wrote other articles as well. As part of the losing team, Longstreet wasn't entirely objective about his role, particularly at Gettysburg; there were plenty of high-ranking Confederate officers who, after the war, accused Longstreet of losing the battle. Longstreet did not help his own cause by joining the Republican Party after the war (Grant was a personal friend), and much, much worse, criticizing Lee. Longsteet's reputation fell into disrepute; Shaara's novel helped resurrect Longstreet into repectablity.

As mentioned above, Chamberlain wrote extensively and articulately. It does appear that Gettysburg in many respects was the emotional high point of his life. He attended every single reunion until the year of his death.

As for the supporting cast, Buford is problematical. A taciturn man, he wrote little. His most recent biographer admitted the difficulty in putting together such a work since Buford left almost no letters; everything has to be based on memories of friends and colleagues. The same is true for Armistead.

Given those restraints, Shaara did an incredible job of "narrating" from the different points of view of, in particular, Lee, Longstreet,and Chamberlain. No one knows what truly goes on in the minds and hearts of another person. Few people are so honest even in their letters and conversations, except under unusual circumstances, to let others into those particular recesses. Thus, whatever is written from a 'point of view' has to be nearly sheer speculation. This is particularly true of such public persons such as Lee, Longstreet, and Chamberlain. Lee wrapped himself in his reserve and retreated into being a Marble Man of history. Longstreet had axes to grind, and Chamberlain clearly was wistful about the war.

Thus Shaara's is a remarkable achievement in making these figures of over 100 years ago come alive and in a thoroughly believable way. You feel Lee's fatigue, his profound belief in God--you're with him as he decides how to handle his subordinates, particularly Stuart-- as he makes the decision for what will be known in history as Pickett's Charge. You're right there with Dutch Longstreet, one of the two modern generals in that war (the other was Sherman) as he agonizes over being asked to throw away his men in impossible attacks when winning alternatives were available. You fight right along with Chamberlain as he assesses his position, thinks about his orders to defend to the last (a question of rhetoric--last man? last bullet? last Reb?), feel his horror when he realizes he has used his younger brother Tom to "plug" a hole in the 20th Maine lines on Little Round Top. These people are no longer just names in a history book but living human beings participating in the bloodiest struggle in American history.

Shaara takes both these aspects--the historical and the personal--and weaves them into a story that is written vividly in a totally compelling manner and that never stops, never even pauses, but keeps on driving to the bitter climax of Pickett's Charge and the brief aftermath.

As a result, he has made the Civil War, once just the province of buffs and re-enactors, easily accessible to everyone. All history should be as well presented as this novel presents the Batttle of Gettysburg, a crucial turning point in the climactic power struggle between North and South known as the Civil War.
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LibraryThing member 5hrdrive
Perhaps the finest book I've ever read. Brilliant historical narrative with just enough fiction to allow the author to "get inside the mind's" of the men who were there. The reader is left drained at the end, tasting the blood and the dust and the smoke of this most terrible battle.

What if Buford
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hadn't acted so quickly on the first day? What if Stuart had done his job as the eyes of the Army of Northern Virginia? What if Jackson hadn't needlessly died at Chancellorsville? What if Ewell hadn't been so slow and cautious on the first day? What if Lee had listened to Longstreet and slid his army around the Union left in the night? What if Chamberlain's 20th Maine hadn't held the Union left so valiantly? What if the Confederate's had occupied Big Round Top when they had the chance? And endless more what if's.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, it's one that every American should read.
Do they even teach about Gettysburg in school's anymore?
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LibraryThing member nbarth
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara was an incredible book. I just want to throw that out there to start out with. Essentially what it boils down to is that it’s the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from about 8 or so different characters. It switches back and forth in point of view with each
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chapter, and each character puts his own unique spin and perspective on the battle. They also bring a lot of internal conflict to the table that you wouldn’t get out of a history textbook about the Battle of Gettysburg. It is just an all round good story filled with emotion and heroic characters.
It’s hard to pick a hero for this book because there are so many of them. Being a war novel there are heroic figures all over the place, some that stand out for their deeds and others that stand out solely to the reader for their moral stand on certain issues. The two main heroes that stood out for me were Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine and Pete Longstreet of the Army of Northern Virginia. They were both moral and physical heroes and through them you could really get a sense of the emotion charged atmosphere that surrounded the battle.
Now I don’t know whether or not you have to be a history buff in order to enjoy it, but I thought it was one of the greatest books that I have ever read. It is incredibly powerful and thought provoking and portrays the Battle of Gettysburg in an emotional and almost romantic way. I would highly recommend reading it because as an American this book tells the story of one of the most important events in American history, and you should read it at least for that reason. Gettysburg was so much more than a battle and so much more was lost on those fields than just the lives of the soldiers, and The Killer Angels really helps portray that. It really makes you want to go hop in your car and drive to Gettysburg just to be able to soak it all in. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member brodiew2
It has been many years since I have been so profoundly affected by a piece of literature. I am no Civil War buff, and cannot remember why I picked up this book. However, I am eternally grateful that I did. Shaara's style is at once sad, foreboding, and so richly human. There is an honor in the
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prose that I could not escape; a truth which drew me further and further into the lives of the featured characters.

I am astounded by the depth of emotion felt by these military leaders. So often the soldier, especially officers, are portrayed without feeling. This war was utterly personal on so many levels. I was moved by General Longstreet's dilemma: refuse Lee's order and quit or send thousands of men to most certain death. An impossible choice for a career soldier.

Shaara's narrative genius did not stop at the depiction of inner dialogue and military tactics. Just when I thought the novel was going to stay out of the action, I was plunged into the thick of it. But description of combat was so rich and again personal that I felt like I was there; especially on day three of the battle. Chamberlain's experience of the Rebel's artillery bombardment had me mesmerized. And, General Armistead's lone chapter, describing Pickett's Charge, was arguably the most emotionally stirring of he novel.

These men had honor, loyalty, and heart. From Buford holding the high ground to Longstreet's guilt over leading Pickett's Charge to Chamberlain's final wisdom on the war and it purpose, this novel is very moving. I highly recommend you give it a chance.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The best thing about The Killer Angels is it re-ignited my latent interest in the Civil War which had burned out in the 1990s, after a few stints as a reenactor. I've been to Gettysburg many times but oddly never really studied the battle in depth. This novel, along with some online resources,
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helped me to better understand the general course of the battle. It's a fantastic gateway to Gettysburg geekdom.
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LibraryThing member elglo
This was an outstanding historical fiction. I felt such empathy with the characters. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War.
LibraryThing member andyray
I studied under Mike Shaara at FSU for two years in 1971-72. That spring before graduation, he read a chapter from a manuscript he was working on and I listened. "Sounds good," I thought. I had no idea I was hearing part of a Pulitzer Prize novel for 1975. Mike only wrote five novels and a passel
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of short stories for sci fi and other mags. He was meticulous in his prose, often rewriting again and again. I identify with him more than any other writer I know.
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LibraryThing member TZYuhas
Considered one of the best historical novels of all time, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angles takes the reader inside the turning point of the American Civil War.

The first few days in Gettysburg, Penn. in the summer of 1863 is considered not only one of the most important battles during the civil
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war, but the turning point of the war itself.

Shaara takes us into that world with a personal narrative look at the men who fought there. Through the eyes of its generals the story of those bloody days come to life; Robert E. Lee the proud general of the Army of Northern Virginia a man who wants to push through to Washington and once and for all prove that the South deserved its independence. James Longstreet the quite right hand of Lee trying to live up to his commander's expectations and in the shadow of the fallen Jackson. A wary man who wants to do his best for the South. Joshua Chamerlain, a professor drawn to fight for his country and with a conviction about the brutal ideas of slavery. A man with courage undaunted and a willingness to do what is right. It is also about a cast of others who strive to serve their respective armies and the sacrifices that they make in doing so.

This book is a beautiful look at a piece of history that should never be forgotten. A human look at an unhuman event.

I feel in love with this book the moment I read it. It will bring out emotions that you never thought you could experience while reading a book. I also appreciate Shaara's depiction of Longstreet, until now, a very misunderstood character during the Civil War.
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LibraryThing member ben_a
I flew through this book in a day and a half. Solid, enjoyable historical fiction; great choice to focus on the 20th ME on the union side. I wonder if the military history community finds the simple tactical message (WWI come early) correct. (8.25.07)
LibraryThing member RandyStafford
My reactions to reading this book in 1993. Spoilers follow.

I don’t ordinarily read historical novels, so this was a change for me. Generally I prefer my history straight. Reading historical novels for history is like reading sf for science. You may learn something true, but you may also learn a
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lot of lies and distorted truths. However, I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and I’m told by Civil War buffs it’s very historically accurate.

You can argue that doing a novel of a famous battle with all historically accurate characters whose feelings and thoughts and actions were documented by them and others is not that hard. Of course, the hard part is knowing what to include, what to disregard, what to distort. This is all covered by the old saying of art organizing experience. Shaara does a nice job not only of giving a concise (though somewhat condensed) version of the Battle of Gettysburg (and dispels the notion it started over a raiding of shoe warehouses in Gettysburg) complete with maps and a description of what the various officers on both sides hoped to achieve, but he also provides compelling portraits of the various characters and the reasons men fight.

Opening epigraphs from before, after, and urin he battle show that men fight for abstract ideals, friends, and their state – literally in the Civil War -- and God. Shaara says the motivations of characters are his own. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain came across as a totally believeable, clever man who has some strange mental wanderings during combat. The characters of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet were the best things in this novel. Longstreet, a proponent of defensive war, is Lee’s friend and th advisor trusted most. But Lee won’t listen to Longstreet in the Battle though he seeks out Longstreet’s advice. For his part, Longstreet admires and respects Lee, is faithful to him, but gradually we see Longstreet lose faith – though not devotion or love – in Lee as he orders increasingly futile moves culminating in Pickett’s Charge. Longstreet’s view of Lee is a seemingly (to me) novel one and thought provoking. He sees Lee’s great assets as his men’s devotion, his decisiveness, and confidence and faith in his cause; he’s the embodiment of the aristocratic Southerner’s view that faith in a cause and mere courage are enough to win. Longstreet knows these are not enough against the new technologies of war. Far from seeing Lee as devious (as the delightful British military observor Freemantle says), Longstreet sees him as merely being fortunate in not meeting a competent Union general. Longstreet’s character is increasingly depressed at the senseless tactics he sees the South use and the men who cheerfully go to their deaths using them. Lee seems, at times, a fantatical man who is convinced that Gettysburg is a sign of divine favor, a Southern victory that can be grasped with a willingness to sacrifice as much of his army as is necessary.

The telling of Pickett’s Charge through the eyes of Louis Armistead was well done and moving as well as his love for his friend Winfield Hancock, an officer on the Union side who will meet him as he dies. I liked the opening bits with Harrison the spy and John Buford, a Union officer, who realizes Gettysburg’s topographical value. The fascination with the Battle of Gettysburg is obvious. Not only was it big (in both numbers and length) and significant, but there were many times when it hinged on small acts (relatively speaking given the size of the forces), a few minutes, and moments of hesitation, indecision, and competence. This battle had several turning points.

An all around excellent, informative, well done book of battle and characte
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LibraryThing member parelle
This book has set me to become what I am today: a history major in college, studying miltary history. It was the first book which made the past truly alive for me, and remains still, one of my favorites today.

- from my Daily Dose selection on Powell Books
LibraryThing member atheist_goat
I'm sure this is just as important to Civil War fiction and historical fiction in general as everyone says it is. I just know he misquotes Hamlet six pages in and that's when he lost me. Yes, that makes me sound like a stereotypical snobby English major, but running across evidence of such sloppy
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research and editing six pages into something supposed to be incredibly historically accurate is not good. I honestly couldn't enjoy the rest of it.

(And come on! Like it takes an English major to know it's "the READINESS is all"? "The ripeness is all" is from KING LEAR, people. Get out your Bevington before you publish!)
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LibraryThing member Al-G
This is a must read for anyone who has an interest in the Civil War. It is historical fiction, but Shaara has really done his research and gives us an insightful look at the Battle of Gettysburg. From accurate and detailed maps and troop movements to the shading of the characters' personalities he
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has brought life to the history of this battle. Besides the meticulous details he has included about the battle itself, his research is apparent as he puts flesh and personality on the historical figures that we read about in the history books. Writing with a very readable style he brings Longstreet, Hancock, Chamberlain, and Robert E. Lee to life. As the reader follows the ebb and flow of battle, he discovers the people who engaged in battle. Not just partisan enemies, Shaara says, but colleagues and friends who find each other on the wrong ends of their rifles. More, Shaara digs deeper into the differences in the way the two sides understood the war, he delves into the faith lives of these men, and their personal lives and, in many cases, their friendships severed by war. As the battle evolves the reader discovers the horrors of war and the emotions that swirl around the soldiers, and why this became the turning point of the Civil War. In his afterword, Shaara concludes this superb book with an account of the surviving generals in post-war reconstruction and beyond. Truly a book that the Civil War buff will enjoy.
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LibraryThing member hskey
This is a tricky book to rate - I will say that, just like in Gods and Generals, I tended to zone out a bit when the author goes into extreme detail about brigades, their positioning. The play-by-play of the battles are mostly for Civil War buffs, which I am not one of them. I do, however, enjoy
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learning about history and the Civil War and aside from a few repetitive bits, this is a tremendous book. Passages like the opening chapter of the Spy, or the chapter featuring the Englishmen, or Armistead's final chapter are masterful, beautiful writing. I had to stop several times at the gorgeous prose and tragedy of the whole battle. Shaara does a terrific job showing both sides, the chaos of battle and how the soldiers/generals felt. If there were more chapters like the ones I mentioned and fewer "and then they did this, and then they marched here, and then they dug in here" it would be an easy 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member JGolomb
I've lived in the Washington D.C. area for most of my life and Virginia for the last 16. I love history, but the U.S. Civil War never really held my interest. I live only minutes from the great battlefields that dot the landscape surrounding D.C., and Gettysburg is only a 90-minute drive away, but
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it was completely off my personal radar.

One week ago, my wife who teaches sixth grade took our family north, just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania to see the hallowed Gettysburg ground.
The experience simply blew me away. Gettysburg is peppered with monuments and misted in history. The physical location is so unique (and beautiful), buffeted by the Blue Ridge Mountains on the western horizon, and rolling hills and pastures in the east, you're able to view the entire battle site from multiple locations. One can't help but hear the whispers of cannon fire, and the scream of the Rebel yell. We toured by car and on foot, and I found myself thirsting to learn more. My wife suggested I read Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels", a superbly realistic historical novel of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, a 3-day blood bath, that served as a turning point for the North in the Civil War.

"Killer Angels" is built upon a foundation of intense and realistic characterizations. While angling his point of view from the perspective of different players in this Civil War drama, Shaara focuses on General James Longstreet from the South and Corporal James Lawrence Chamberlain from the North. As the story of this battle is meticulously exposed, the reader is deftly introduced to the landscape (both physical and cultural) and perspectives that drove the war, as well as the raw emotional mindsets of its' participants.

The Civil War started when America was less than a century old. The generals leading the campaigns were barely a generation removed from Americans who could remember that being free was not a given. Wars, battles and military technology were evolving. General Longstreet ponders how fighting had altered, "When we were all young, they fought in a simple way. They faced each other out in the open, usually across a field. One side came running. The other got one shot in, from a close distance because the rifle wasn't very good at distance, because it wasn't a rifle. Then after that one shot they hit together hand to hand, or sword to sword, and the cavalry would ride in from one angle or another." Longstreet was a man of advanced strategic thinking. A running theme for his character is his advocacy for defensive battle schemes; dig trenches, and dig in deep, and let the enemy force you out. But he points out that not everyone has actualized that times are different, and a changed environment and advanced technology requires different thinking. Thinking that he had...and, as he points out, that General Robert E. Lee didn't.

Much of Shaara's dialogue is brief with the exception of cases where he utilizes his characters to convey a particular theme. Motivations for the war are explored numerous times and from a number of viewpoints.

Was the South defending slavery? Not according to most of the Rebels in the book, but it wasn't always clear what they WERE defending. General Lee was a Virginian, but as a leader of the U.S. military, had been offered command of the Union Army. He turned it down. In one passage, Shaara reflects on Lee's decision to join the Rebels: "The war had come. He was a member of the army that would march against his home, his sons. He was not only to serve in it, but actually to lead it, to make the plans and issue the orders to kill and burn and ruin. He could not do that...Lee could not raise his hand against his own...so it was no cause and no country he fought for, no ideal and no justice. He fought for his people, for the children and the kin, and not even the land, because not even the land was worth the war, but the people were, wrong as they were, insane even as many of the were, they were his own, he belonged with his own."

Shaara's writing is fluid and natural. The now famous Battle of Little Roundtop is told from the perspective of Lawrence Chamberlain who led a relatively small division of Union soldiers from Maine who were asked to hold the extreme flank of the Union battle line. Like much of Chamberlain's monologue throughout, he describes the action in short, staccato, but fluid language. The words pop like gunfire from a rifle. His descriptive monologues flow like soldiers over the Pennsylvania countryside.
Shaara describes the opening volleys in this key battle from Chamberlain's perspective: "Gray-Green-Yellow uniforms, rolling up in a mass...more and more. At least a hundred men. More. Coming up out of the green, out of the dark. They seemed to be rising out of the ground. Suddenly the terrible scream, the ripply crawly sound in your skull. A whole regiment. Dissolving in smoke and thunder. They came on. Chamberlain could see nothing but smoke, the blue mounds bobbing in front of him, clang of ramrods, grunts, a high gaunt wail. A bullet thunked into a tree near him. Chamberlain turned, saw white splintered wood. He ducked suddenly, then stood up, moved forward, crouched behind a boulder, looking."

For those enmeshed in the throes of battle, be it hand-to-hand combat or finding cover to duck and shoot, there is no honor or glory, just THE moment. The only thought is survival and trained instinct. The only sounds within the chaos are the din of battle and the voices and instruments of order.

General Longstreet discuss the concept of honor with a visiting British envoy: "I appreciate honor and bravery and courage...but the point of the war is not to show how brave you are and how you can die in a manly fashion, face to the enemy. God knows it's easy to die. Anybody can die."

Honor and form are represented by soldiers on both sides of the battle, but Shaara's subtle and poignant characterizations strip down to the core of what made these larger than life people. General Lee, for example, is not the seemingly untouchable piece of military and gentlemanly perfection that history mostly honors. He's portrayed as an aging strategist, full of warmth and as much human emotion as we can each see in ourselves. He's error prone, filled with the weight of one who feels he must carry a nation's hope entirely on his shoulders. And he's a man very aware of his own age and mortality, and potential for error.

What makes "The Killer Angels" so good and deeply affecting is the realism of the very human behaviors of these very extraordinary men. Colonel Chamberlain's younger brother serves beside him and, riding an emotional high after their victory at Little Round Top, tells his big brother that he thinks the North will win the war. Chamberlain only nods and reflects, "...but he was too tired to think about it, all those noble ideals, all true, all high and golden in the mind, but he was just too tired, and he had no need to talk about it."

"The Killer Angels" is a book about war. But it's much more than that. It's a character study dropped into an intensely fascinating place, time and circumstance, and written so well that any reader will connect with these personalities. I highly recommend "The Killer Angels".
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LibraryThing member Pondlife
This book is often shown as being second in the "civil war trilogy", which I think is misleading: this book was written first, and the other two book in the so-called "trilogy" were written by someone else. So I consider this a stand-alone book.

As a British person, I didn't know much about the
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battle of Gettysburg other than it was the first big defeat for the confederacy and marked the turning of the tide for the American civil war. I think the book expects you to know a bit more about the battle, as it makes comments that are ironic or pathetic when you know the final outcome.

So I'd recommend that people who don't know much about the battle do a bit of research first, as that will help the enjoyment of the book.
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LibraryThing member ehousewright
Beyond helping you to understand the facts of this key battle (lots of maps showing positions on day 1, 2, 3) this book gets inside several major participants, showing some very positively (Chamberlain, Longstreet) and others (notably Ewell, Stuart and even Lee) as contributing to the negative
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outcome for the South.

It was striking to me how much “science” there was (is?) to “military science” . I’m not sure why this was so surprising to me. For example, quoting Chamberlain:

“Now here’s the move. Keeping up the fire, and keeping a tight hold on the Eighty-third, we refuse the line. Men will sidestep to the left, thinning out to twice the present distance. See that boulder? When we reach that point we’ll refuse the line, form a new ine at right angles. That boulder will be the salient. Let’s place the colors there, right? Five. Now you go on back and move your men in sidestep and form a new line to the boulder, and then back from the boulder like a swinging door. I assume that, ah, F Company will take the point. Clear? Any questions?”

Shaara also shows that there was very little agreement, especially in the South, about what the war was about. Most seemed amazed that slavery was brought up so often and a conversation with a Southern prisoner was related in which he declared it was about “rats” [rights], he wasn’t sure what they were, but knew some were being kept from him and that is why he was fighting.

Concerns about family and friends were highlighted—Chamberlain’s wife didn’t want him to go to war, preferring university life, Longstreet had recently lost his three children to a fever, Armistead had vowed that God should strike him dead if he ever fought his dearest friend. These all too human thoughts and concerns influenced their motivations, actions and decisions.

Truly an outstanding book.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Most Americans know at least a little bit about the Civil War. I may know a bit more than some, because when I was 12, my history buff parents took our family on a three-week tour of all the Civil War battlegrounds. Because of that I think I've always been especially fascinated by the Civil War. It
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was so full of contradictions, brother fighting brother, a nation turned against itself. The Killer Angels is the best book I've read on the subject. It shows how thin the lines were between the two armies. Soldiers frequently knew the people they were fighting against.

The Killer Angels deals with the battle at Gettysburg, which is considered the turning point in the war. Shaara delves into the thoughts of the men who orchestrated the battle, specifically General Lee and General Longstreet on the confederate side and Col. Chamberlain on the Union side. Each of the men made decisions they regretted or struggled with and none of them walked away completely unscathed.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when the book hooked me. Colonel Chamberlain is presented with 120 men who tried to abandon their posts and head home. He is torn about how to convince them to stay. He's instructed to shoot them if they leave, but instead he stands in front of them and gives a speech about why they are fighting and the beauty and truth of his words inspire all but six of the men to fight with him.

It's no surprise this won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It's brilliantly researched and written. I understand why Shaara chose to make it a fiction book. Even though it's based on fact, making it a "fiction" book gave him the freedom to express the men's feelings and thoughts, which prevents the book from feeling dry. Shaara's main focus is on the leaders' decisions that led to the battle and the motivations behind those decisions.

It's not a quick, entertaining read, but it's one that is so important to fully understand what our nation has gone through to get to this point. It's a heartbreaking story, because it's our country, destroying itself. One of the things that stood out to me the most was the confederate soldiers feelings about the war. They didn't believe like they were fighting for slavery, they believed they were fighting for their states freedoms. They were fighting because they loved their state and were loyal to it. Even though there were wonderful things that came about because of it, it was truly a tragic war.
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LibraryThing member AB_Gayle
Normally when I hear a book won a major literary prize I run screaming in the opposite direction, but the topic has always interested me and the way the author dealt with the subject had me turning the pages like a novel.

Being an Aussie, the American Civil war was just something I was taught at
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school, it had no real relevance. Undoubtedly, US citizens have a totally different perspective from their much closer connection. So I understand if for some of you the book is overload of stuff you've been exposed to all your life.

Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is not a new book, in fact it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 1975. It's based on the Battle of Gettysburg and looks at the action through the eyes of the significant characters of the different stages of the short but bloody battle.

In presenting history like this, the reader is very dependant on trusting the author to have done his research and is not cheating by switching a character's motivations or aims to fit the "story". In fact at times, I was imagining how Steven Spielberg would have filmed this. Would he have "killed off" certain characters just to make the drama more poignant?

It did read more like a novel. I couldn't wait to find out whether both Chamberlain brothers survived or whether Lee would ever admit his tactics were wrong.

If we can make the assumption that the author just "gives us the facts Ma'am", then after reading "Killer Angels" you definitely get a better insight not only into why one side lost and one side won, or why so many men were killed in senseless attacks, but it also tells you something about the stubbornness, courage and faith men can demonstrate.

To me the whole scenario in which the battle was fought seemed more like two macho guys arm wrestling in a pub to see who would take the pretty girl home. But maybe that's the whole point. The battle was senseless in some ways.

This wasn't for control of a strategic position or to capture a town and its produce, this was a war of attrition to see who could continue to field more men into the fight as carnage whittled away the numbers. Almost as if there was an underlying vote involved, but in this case, the winner was the one who could put the most bodies on the line.

The characters of the men involved shine through and in an epilogue we find out what happened to them afterwards. Having got to know them from the excellent way Michael Shaara got inside their heads to explain why they acted the way they did, we can extrapolate out how the rest of their life would have gone from the few facts included.

If more history was told like this, we'd all be clamoring to learn it at school.
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LibraryThing member MelissaLenhardt
Forty years since publication, how has this book not punctured the myth of Robert E Lee's greatness?
LibraryThing member bell7
Gettysburg. A three day fight in the middle of the American Civil War that was in many ways a pivotal moment that brought eventual northern victory. The Killer Angels focuses on each day of the battle from multiple perspectives: Joshua Chamberlain, the leader of a Maine division whose brother is
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with him; General Longstreet, a Virginian who argues with General Lee but does his duty as a soldier; General Lee, commander of the southern army who seeks God's will and fought for man and soil over country; and many others.

This is the book on which the movie Gettysburg was based. Just as when I was watching the movie, there was so much going on and so many people that I sometimes lost track of who I was following. The maps were really helpful in understanding strategy, which gave a good amount of detail without getting overwhelmingly technical. Shaara's style was often staccato bursts of sentence fragments and not the prettiest-sounding prose, but his descriptions of warfare were heartbreaking and vivid.
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LibraryThing member meroof30
This book gets inside the heads of the military leaders involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. An historical novel that shows the true horror of
a war that pitted relatives and friends against each other. I couldn't put it down
LibraryThing member Joles
This is my all-time favorite book. There is no other that surpasses it. I have read this book over 20 times and it never gets old. I'm on my third copy or so.

If you are interested in the story of Gettysburg this novel is riveting.
LibraryThing member buffalogr
Centered on the battle of Gettysburg, the novel sees the battle mostly from the Confederate perspective. The major exception is a reliance on Joshua Chamberlain, a personal hero of mine, for a the Union view. One can never rely much on a historical novel for a truthful view, but this one seems to
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carry the day on this battle.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I'm not a big fan of historical fiction and I'm really not into war novels - but this was surprisingly interesting. I found myself drawn into the drama of the Battle of Gettysburg and came away grateful to Mr. Shaara for teaching me about this part of the civil war in such a captivating way.
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Sometimes bookclub selections are effective at getting me to read something I wouldn't have but which I should have!
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Pages

368

ISBN

034540727X / 9780345407276
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