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The Killer Angels

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The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is a novel that outlines the Battle of Gettysburg. It is told in from a third person omniscient point of view with the main character rotating each chapter. The book covers a four-day period covering the Battle of Gettysburg and gives insight to each side of the fight (Union and Confederate).

The book begins on Monday, June 29, 1863 and provides an introduction to the circumstances directly before fighting begins. A spy named Harrison, hired by Longstreet comes back to the Confederate camp and alerts General Lee of the proximity of the Federal troops. Both Lee and Longstreet, another Confederate general, adopt an untrustworthy attitude toward the spy. After dismissing Harrison, the two discuss the news that Harrison has brought, along with Stuart's absence, and the report that Meade has replaced Hooker as the Union general. The information brought by Harrison is magnified in its importance because Stuart has left the Confederate army "blind" with the lack of his information. After careful consideration, General Lee decides to march for the town of Gettysburg where he will attempt to gash the Union troops.

On the Union side of the battle, we are introduced to Colonel Chamberlain, who commands the 20th Maine Regiment. As Chamberlain, younger brother Tom, and fatherly aide Kilrain lead the regiment, the colonel is presented with a dilemma. The army has dumped one hundred and twenty mutinous Maine men in his lap, with orders to shoot any man who refuses to fight. Chamberlain is faced with the task of convincing the tortured men to follow him and he approaches using utmost kindness and respect for the men. Chamberlain delivers an emotional and moving speech that convinces the vast majority of the men to join his regiment, nearly doubling his manpower. Meanwhile, fellow Union commander John Buford stumbles upon Confederate troops who, he is told is heading for the town of Gettysburg. Buford immediately sends word to General Reynolds, and takes a risk by settling into a defensive position northwest of the town.

Day two, Wednesday, introduces the debate that will be ongoing between Lee and Longstreet between taking an offensive or defensive approach to the upcoming battle. Lee would prefer to hit the Union Army hard and fast and end the war quickly, whereas Longstreet believes it wise to swing round the Union troops and set up defensively between the Union Army and Washington. The conversation is interrupted as the sound of fighting is heard. The Confederate Army, under General Hill's command, suffers considerable losses against Buford's defensive stronghold, before realizing that they are up against an organized force. Buford considers retreating with the knowledge that his reinforcements are much farther away than the Confederate's. At that moment, Reynolds arrives and provides fresh brigades. Moments later, the Union Army is dealt a devastating blow as Reynolds is killed by a sniper.

A few lucky circumstances including Reynolds death, and Confederate troops arriving conveniently at the Union flank from the North prompt Lee to order attacks from the center and flanks, causing the Union army to retreat. Lee orders troops under command of Ewell and Early to pursue the fleeing troops. Later, he is incensed and demands an explanation from the two commanders who failed to execute for him. This represents the impact of losing Stonewall Jackson, as his knowledge and ability on the battlefield is sorely missed. The battle, a seesaw effect thus far, is prepared to tip one way or the other as Thursday, day three of the battle, approaches.

July 2nd arrives and the beginning of the day describes Chamberlain's encounter with a black man outside his camp. Although he believes in the cause of fighting for the freedom of men like the one he has seen, he is repulsed by the sight of him. Kilrain and Chamberlain have a heart-to-heart discussion about the why each is fighting this war, and Chamberlain regains his confidence.

The military attacks begin as Longstreet first attacks the left flank, occupied by Chamberlain of the Union Army and his troops. Chamberlain has been ordered to hold his position at all costs, for the fate of the entire battle rests on his ability to not give up the flank. Chamberlain holds, but the waves of Confederate attacks deplete his supply of men and ammunition. Chamberlain makes a desperate move for his men to charge

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