Between the days of July 1, 1863 and July 4, 1863, the Civil War’s outcome was decided. These four days have been known as the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the war. In The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara brings us a vivid image of what the battle was like.
Shaara’s work is very impressive. He is able to capture how things were during the Civil War. The fate of the country was resting on that war so the novel adds a great deal to the reader’s mind. Shaara was able to bring to the reader a little of the war.
The book also gives you a feel for some of the important characters of the battle, including Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Buford, and Hancock. The most inspiring figure in the book, however, is Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He led the 20th Maine regiment of volunteers who held the Union's left flank on the second day of the battle.
The Killer Angels gives us an idea on how war affects people. The characters could have been anyone. The author focuses in on universal emotions, not great figures. For example, everyone has always heard of Grant and Lee because of their importance. But few have heard stories about the common soldier. The book centralizes on the actions of the common soldier, even though it is from the leader’s point o view.
Emotion in the story affects even generals. Several times in the book you can see that they feel for those lost in battle. Usually, generals are often portrayed as being larger than life. Shaara adds a human touch to them.
One conclusion that could be drawn from the book is that the Confederates quick start had some effect. Outnumbered, the Union forces managed to hold until afternoon when they were overpowered and driven back. In the confusion, thousands of Union soldiers were captured before they could rally on Cemetery Hill. The Confederates had captured the town.
Pickett’s charge was the Confederates last chance to change the outcome of the battle. The charge turned out to be a total failure and Pickett lost almost all of his division after that defeat. When he returned to Lee, he was ordered to prepare against a possible Union counterattack. Pickett then replied, "General Lee, I have no division now." With the failure of the charge the battle was over - the Union had been saved. The next day, July 4, Lee’s army had to retreat.
Shaara use of evidence was greatly seen throughout the novel. Just by reading it, I had an excellent idea of what the Battle of Gettysburg was. His novel could easily be transformed into a history textbook because it gives just as much information as one. If you were to read an article on the battle, you would find almost the same information that you would find in this book.
The writer’s writing style is one that I have never seen before. He has a way for detailing all events that it is easy to visualize them. Nothing is left to the imagination. Shaara manages to strike a balance and his tale is very well told. The book also starts slow but things pick up as it reaches the middle. Once things do become active, the novel does not let up much. The excitement goes all the way to the very last pages.
Word Count: 563