The Killer Angels Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Killer Angels

Michael Shaara gives an accurate and fair account of the battle of Gettysburg in his book The Killer Angels. In the introductory letter to the reader, Shaara states that he used primary sources and documents and did not consciously change any facts. His purpose was to bring this part of American History to life. Throughout, Shaara attempts to evenly show both sides of the war and explain why the soldiers were really fighting. By using Harrison, an actor who is hired by General Longstreet to spy on the Union forces, as a narrator, Shaara is able to remain neutral as he tells the events leading up to and during the battle. He is able to tell what both the Confederate and Union forces are planning. This story begins in June 1863. It is the third summer of the Civil War and just days before what will become the infamous Battle of Gettysburg, a battle called the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who is in command of the 20th Maine, is given command of 120 mutinous men. By accident, these men signed three year contracts, rather than the two year contracts the rest of the men in their regiment had signed. When the other men returned home, these men wanted to return as well. They were starved, punished, and taken to Chamberlain who is ordered to kill any who refuse to return to fight.
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Colonel Chamberlain was a college professor before joining the war effort. This background may explain why he approaches this situation differently. He listens to the men's side of the story. He recognizes that it is ironic to force the men to fight for freedom. Approaching the situation with kindness, he promises to look into their claims after the upcoming battle at Gettysburg. He tells them they can choose whether or not to fight, but he believes that if they loose this battle they will lose the war. Chamberlain tells the men that they are not fighting for land or power, but for the right for other men to be free. They are fighting for the right for one to be judged by who he is and what he does, not who his father was. The men respect Chamberlain and follow him. He is able to convince all but six of the men to fight.

General Robert E. Lee is a very flexible leader. When things do not go their way, he quickly changes plans and comes up with new strategies. There is so much chaos and confusion; no one seems to know who is going where or exactly what is happening. Lee has given orders, but he's not sure how they will be carried out. General Lee is also very honorable. He does not drink, curse, or gamble. Honor and reputation are more important than his own life. He believes men should battle on an open field, rather than through undercover means.   Lee is successful because is willing to gamble and take risks, whether others would err on the side of caution. It is ironic, of course, because it is this same attitude that brings about his downfall. Overall, the Confederate army is very religious. When their loss is apparent, Lee even apologizes to his men and tells them that it is his fault. He was too arrogant. He thought they were invincible. The men argue. They want to reform and his them again. They are proud. Too proud.

Although their views differ, Longstreet is Lee's right hand man. The two men trust each other and are concerned for one another's safety. Longstreet believes that good weapons will win the battle, not the soldiers themselves. However, he cares for his men a great deal and works hard to take care of them and their needs.
One night around the campfire, the southern soldiers are talking with an Englishmen named Colonel Fremantle. He is an observer more than anything else and will report to the queen. The soldiers are trying to explain why this war is so important. They are fighting for states' rights to govern themselves, not about slavery. Outsiders believed that slavery was the main cause of the war.
The Southern officers wanted the Englishmen to talk to the queen about the war. They hoped the queen would do something to try to stop the blockade imposed by the North. Until they lost the battle at Gettysburg and lost English support, they fully expected England to step in and help them win the war.

Chamberlain's men take him to see some Southern prisoners and an escaped slave. He talks to them about why they are fighting. Again, they say they are fighting for their rights, not for slavery. The escaped slave was wounded, so they tend to his wounds. They talk about him, rather than to him, because he speaks English poorly. The men are surprised that the black man looks just like a white man on the inside.
The review of this Book prepared by Jeanne Milligan

Lee has pushed into southwestern Pennsylvania in the hope of luring the Union Army away from Washington and then cutting between the men in blue and their capital, and forcing an end to the war. But his army is strung out, and Union General Hooker has just been replaced by Meade, who heads west in surprisingly hot pursuit. The two mighty armies meet almost by accident near a little town called Gettysburg. Although the narrative moves through the minds of Lee, Meade, Pickett, and many others (even a Confederate spy), Shaara presents much of the story through the eyes of Union Colonel Chamberlain, a Bowdoin professor who commanded a regiment from Maine that got hit at Little Round Top on day two and in the center line on day three when they were supposed to be relieved; and of Lee's trusted, careful right hand, General Longstreet. This excellent, compulsively readable 1974 novel won the Pulitzer, inspired young Ken Burns, and much later was filmed by Ted Turner with an all-star cast as "Gettysburg."
The review of this Book prepared by David Loftus

This book is of the famous Battle of Gettysburg in the U.S. Civil War, in the view of main characters. The battle starts out with the Confederacy (South) winning, but at the pinnacle of the story, a desperate charge by the South turns into a slaughter, and the Union soldiers finally win a
significant battle. This is the turning point of the Civil War.

The review of this Book prepared by Eugene Kim

Chapter Analysis of The Killer Angels

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 26.7%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 26.7%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 16.7% Tone of story    -   depressing/sad Time/era of story:    -   1600-1899 War Thriller    -   Yes Armed Forces:    -   Army Specific to    -   Civil War Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   infantry soldier Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   White/American


United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast    -   Mid-Atlantic states Small town?    -   Yes Small town people:    -   nice, like Andy/Opie/Aunt Bee

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   moderately detailed references to deaths Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Michael Shaara Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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