IFN Discussion: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


Welcome to our discussion of the Civil War classic novel The Killer Angels, based on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Through the lens of fiction, Shaara depicts the chief commanders and soldiers on both sides of the conflict, Union and Confederate. To do so, Shaara projects the real-time thoughts and conversations of such figures as General Robert E. Lee, Lt. General James Longstreet and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. With a writer’s and researcher’s eye, he brings to life factual material culled from journals, biographies, memoirs, and numerous other historical documents.

To start off our discussion, here are a few questions (below.) Feel free to respond to these, add your own thoughts, and comment on observations by your fellow writers. Because the issues here are Big, be sure to converse with the kind of mutual respect many of these figures seemed to display even in the throes of war:

1.) Describe the voice of a few of the characters, such as Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Major General Pickett, Major General John Buford or others. Does the author’s narrative voice change when we see the battle through these men’s eyes? What elements of their character are shown via their gestures, words, action, or internal musings?

Is this multi-character viewpoint effective or not?

2.) Name a few transformational moments for the primary characters–as well as the battle itself and the plot of the story. (The events unfold in many ways like fiction even in the historical retelling. Why?) In the end, what themes did the outcome of the battle predict for the remainder of the war, and the trajectory of the nation?

3.) What parallels do you see between the Battle of Gettysburg/Civil War and the current political landscape? What do these three days tell us about modern history-in-the-making?

5.) What elements of figurative language do you find in the book, such as simile, metaphor, or symbolism? What passages of language are especially effective, or problematic?

6.) Overall, any other thoughts or points you’d like to make… (Also, please use first names or monikers when responding to a comment so we can keep track…I am jcscribe)



168 thoughts on “IFN Discussion: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

  1. Kory J says:

    Hi all. In response to topic two i really thought the multi character view point was effective and i really enjoyed it. It was to me unbiased as far as confederates v union and by the end of the book I felt like I knew all the characters, empathized with them all as men and was hard to distinguish protagonist and antagonist

    • Natasha Bornhorst says:

      I agree with Kory. I thought that having the multi-character view points were really useful when trying to understand these characters. It was especially interesting to understand their differing reasons for fighting. Chamberlain gives this as his reason: “The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land. This is different than what Longstreet reveals: “He did not think much of the Cause… the Cause was Victory…” (63).

      • David Miller says:

        The topic of why the soldiers are fighting is brought up from nearly every character’s point of view. I agree that it provides an illuminating perspective on these soldiers, where they came from, and what they hope to accomplish. I found Fremantle’s opinion to be one of the most interesting: “…But the point is [the Southerners] do it all exactly as we do in Europe. And the North does not. That’s what the war is really about.” (Second Day, chapter 1) Kilrain offers the opposite side of the same view when he says that “it’s the aristocracy I’m after” when stating his reasons for fighting. (Second Day, chapter 2) For a lot of the soldiers, it seems class was as big of an issue as slavery.

      • Kristin Yim says:

        I felt like “the reason for fighting” was never really freedom but was victory for both sides. Chamberlain himself is repulsed by a black person on page 171 and I believe Longstreet also admits at one point that he doesn’t have a slave or believe that blacks are that different. At the end, it really hit home when Tom and Chamberlain are talking and say that all the dead men are equal in the sight of god now on page 344. Neither side really cares for slavery or equality but in a morbid twist get it in the form of mass casualty.

      • Nicita Mehta says:

        I agree. I especially appreciated the focus on the viewpoints of the Confederate soldiers. It offered a humanizing perspective.

    • David Miller says:

      The use of multiple perspectives to view all sides of the story reminded me a lot of Devil’s Highway. Shaara and Urrea both want to cover all sides of the story and get the reader to view the people involved as flawed, complex humans and not stereotypes or caricatures.

      • jcscribe says:

        Yes, the ensemble cast approach works well for deeply dramatic stories with a lot of players. Another excellent example is John Hersey’s nonfiction book Hiroshima. If you haven’t had a chance pick it up, it’s a must read.

    • Justin Lopez says:

      I agree that the author was unbiased evidenced by the multi character view. If you count it up I think 10 chapters are told from union side (7 chamberlain, 3 Buford), and 10 from the confederate view (6 Longstreet, 3 Lee, 1 Fremantle).

    • Bryan L. says:

      I agree here as well. I was able to compare the different perspectives of all the characters as the days progressed. Shaara was also respectful to the characters and their actions and didn’t portray anyone as more of a hero than others.
      To me, it was also like watching an episode of Game of Thrones, and witnessing the smaller conflicts of each land unravel and how they influence the battle for the iron throne.

  2. Sai Talluru says:

    I like the background before the first chapter even begins. I appreciate the balance between the facts of history but framing the structure in a way that is conducive to good story-telling. Notably, in the first section in which the author describes important men on each side, he states age, where they are from, and what their positions are, but also weaves in their sentiments towards the political climate and other people in the Army. I’m already invested in the characters that I initially thought would be hard to relate to.

    • Kory J says:

      definitely the forward plus the quotes and then that line “Mine eyes have seen the glory…” before it began made it very intense

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      I also personally like how Shaara begins his novel with a foreword consisting of a detailed background information on the army and the men. The fact that he focuses his description primarily on the characters of the novel also tells us in advance that the novel is a story about the people. It’s also evident that Shaara is great at conveying the intricate emotions and details of the people and history he describes. The sentence, “They have lost faith in their leaders but not in themselves,” really stood out to me as a great introductory sentiment of the Union army in contrast with the Confederate’s great (to a fault) confidence in Lee.

      • David Miller says:

        The descriptions of each of the generals in the foreword reminded me a lot of “The Things They Carried.” In both, small details (Chamberlain speaks seven languages, Armistead hit Jubal Early over the head with a plate) add up to a nuanced characterization of each of the soldiers.

        They also both contain some fairly blunt foreshadowing of future events. In his description of J.E.B. Stuart, Shaara writes that “his mission that month is to keep Lee informed of the movement of the Union Army. He fails.” Shaara gives the end away first and leaves the reader in suspense for the details. This reminded me of how O’Brien offhandedly mentions the crucial moment in his short story: “Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April.”

    • Kristin Yim says:

      I really agree with this. It also made them more personable and human. The detail about Longstreet losing 3 children made him not standing up against Lee and forcing the army to take a more defensive approach even more saddening and a bit more understandable. I know that part of the reason he didn’t was his respect for General Lee but I can’t help but think that this also played a factor. There was one line (which I wished I had bookmarked/had a page number for now) where he said that the army was all he had left and it made me sympathize with him and the Confederates, which I never expected myself to do.

      • jcscribe says:

        That is the power of great characters and story telling. Understanding all humans makes for a richer experience.

    • Nicita Mehta says:

      I agree with this. I liked the choice of using fiction to tell this story. It’s obvious that the author did a fair amount of research and could’ve easily made this a work of nonfiction. But using the fiction medium allowed the author freedom to personify the characters.

  3. Justin Lopez says:

    I think a main theme in this novel is that leadership determined the course of the war. When a leader dies, it severely impacts the outcome of battles due to the dynamic between leaders as well as the value of experience—both soldiers and commanding officers recognize this. Lee knows Longstreet’s value and warns him to not risk himself in front battle (82). He is clearly shaken by the loss of Stonewall Jackson who was accidentally shot by his own men and died from pneumonia. Lee is fearful that he will die and if Longstreet is not there to take over there will be no proper leadership for the confederate army anymore ensuring their demise in the war. Another example is when soldiers see Colonel Chamberlain weak, they demand he get back on his horse to avoid overworking himself, “Tozier said, ‘How are you, sir?’ Chamberlain nodded, grinned weakly. ‘We don’t need no more new commanding officers’ Tozier said. ‘Here you, Lieutenant, keep an eye on the Colonel.’” (pg. 121) The impact of new officers can be seen in the interactions between Lee and Ewell who does not take Cemetery hill which leads to Union forces having a strong position.

    • Juan Villabona says:

      Justin to your point, I felt that he authors ability to get inside the heads of his characters was his best used tool in conveying the theme of leadership and the idea that these were complex men. Like Sai said, from the very beginning of the novel we were presented with characters that are complex and it really does becomes impossible to try and view any of them as simply good or bad. Simply knowing that General Lee was a well respected confederate general or perhaps even knowing that Longstreet had lost his children prior to the war, wouldn’t have been enough to cause me to consider these characters as more than confederate soldiers. However, getting inside their minds the way that Shaara does allowed me to connect with them.

  4. Jeremy Dubin says:

    1. The multi-character viewpoint is effective in combining a zoom in-zoom out approach and rationalizing different mindsets at different times. In my mind, the most inspiring display is Col. Joshua Chamberlain helping the 20th Maine regiment of volunteers turn the tide of the war around at Little Round Top. The zoom in-zoom out approach is displayed on Page 182 in this dialogue:

    “Little Round Top,” Rice said. “Name of the hill you defended. The one you’re going to is Big Round Top.”
    Little Round Top. Battle of Little Round Top. Well. I guess we’ll remember it. “Move’em out, Ellis.”
    He went back to say goodbye to Kilrain. The white head was visible from a long way off, sitting stump-like, motionless in the dark of the trees. He had leaned back and was staring at the sky, his eyes closed. He had welcomed Chamberlain to the Regiment and there had never been a day with- out him. He would be going to the hospital now, and Chamberlain did not know what to say, did not know how to express it. Blue eyes opened in a weary face. Kilrain smiled.
    “I’ll be going, Buster,” Chamberlain said.
    Kilrain grumbled, looked sourly, accusingly at his bloody wound. “Damn.”
    “Well, you take care. I’ll send Tom back with word.”
    “We’ll miss you. Probably get into all kinds of trouble without you.” “No.” Kilrain said. “You’ll do all right.”
    “Well, I have to go.”
    “Right. Goodbye, Colonel.”
    He put out a hand, formally. Chamberlain took it.
    “It was a hell of a day, wasn’t it. Buster?”
    Kilrain grinned, his eyes glistened.
    “I’ll come down and see you tomorrow.” Chamberlain backed off.

    This dialogue sets the stage for the effective use of the zoom in-zoom out approach to display the true characters of the generals. Chamberlain’s efforts are inspired and sympathetic, shown through this approach.

    • jcscribe says:

      Great voice and character reflections overall. I too also love the Chamberlain scene with Kilrain, and the other interactions and roles of the leaders, and the men in their care. Much like “The Things They Carried…”

  5. natashabornhorst says:

    The first thing I noticed when reading The Killer Angels is how many adverbs Michael Shaara uses. For example, on page 19, he uses the adverbs: silently, fatherly, grumpily, and critically. I found these adverbs to be unnecessary and I thought they bogged down the writing.

    • jcscribe says:

      Good eye, Natasha. Not needed. Shaara relies on these too much. The drama of the moment and action should show/tell all.

    • Sai Talluru says:

      I agree! I picked up on a lot of superfluous adverbs and phrases. For example, on page 115, at the end of the first paragraph, Shaara writes: “When [Chamberlain] opened his eyes again the day was violently bright and very dusty, and so he rode half asleep, eyes partly closed, dreaming.”

      Using the “every word on trial” technique, I would replace “was violently bright” with a descriptive verb, cut out very in “very dusty,” and take out the redundant phrase, “eyes partly closed.”

      Then again, Killer Angels won a Pulitzer, so the writing style worked.

    • Kory J says:

      agreed but then a passage that really struck me was when Longstreet and Hood were saying their goodbyes
      “Hood took the hand, held it for a moment. Sometimes you touched a man like this and it was the last time, and the next time you saw him he was cold and white and bloodless, and the warmth was gone forever.”

      I just found the way the language to be powerful and not overdone at all. moments like this were really easy to read and and induced intense emotion

  6. Nicita Mehta says:

    One thing I thought was interesting about this book compared to others was the personification and focus on the individual leaders. I think the fact that this was a piece of fiction offered some freedom to Shaara to imagine conversations and personalities. It also provoked empathy for the leaders involved

    One particularly interesting contrast between characters, Longstreet and Lee were in constant conflict throughout the novel in terms of their approach to the War. Lee advocated a more offensive position, while Longstreet a more defensive position. This conflict made a bigger commentary on how the Civil War was developing and, particularly, how the Battle of Gettysburg played a pivotal role. This marked the increased violence and bloodiness of the war and this is mirrored in the conflict of Lee and Longstreet in their choice of warfare

  7. Jihae says:

    I thought that the multi-character viewpoint was effective in that it allowed us to humanize the various characters despite what side they were on and understand what was going on in their heads. The way the writer brings up a little bit of description about the characters in the beginning and then expands upon it throughout the story as he goes along draws you in. For example about Longstreet and that his children died which is why he doesn’t play poker anymore which is brought up a couple of times (e.g. “Long time ago, another world. And then Longstreet thought of his children, that terrible Christmas, and turned his mind away. There was a silence.”)
    Each of the men had a family, friends, lovers, homes, and stories of their own. It makes the story about real people which is very effective for a historical nonfiction story.

    • Jihae says:

      Another thing I noticed was that he likes to go into second person. I thought that the way he used it worked well. The writer switches to second-person narrative to allow the reader to gain perspective into the mind of that particular character. By asking questions as well, it is as if you are thinking and reasoning through the same things that that character is thinking which places you directly into the scene.

      “He rode slowly away to inspect the ground in front of him, between him and the Rebels. If we made a stand here, how long do you think we could hold?”

  8. Kristin Yim says:

    It says there are 2 comments, yet it doesn’t allow me to view them, is that just me?

  9. Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

    (1) Out of that of all the main characters, I found Chamberlain’s voice to be most interesting and relatable. Chamberlain’s presence throughout the novel provides readers with someone with whom they can more closely identify given his background as a professor and civilian. Also, his poetic insights give the readers a fresh perspective of the war from a different point of view than the other main characters’. For example, towards the end of the book he describes the scene in which the confederate soldiers dashed towards him to kill the union as “… the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.” Chamberlain’s voice also depicts the apathetic nature of the war’s soldiers through paradoxical descriptions of the war. Although at times he talks about the “sensation of unspeakable beauty” (pg 266) of the war, he then sharply contrasts it to the tragedy of the war to make his point that in the face of real tragedy “you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred.”

    • jcscribe says:

      I know, truly amazing. These insights are available partly because Chamberlain, a gifted writer and teacher, survived the war and went on to write about it extensively, and eloquently

  10. Michael Carter says:

    In response to question 5, Robert E. Lee’s heart condition appears pretty frequently throughout the book, and as the story goes on, we can see that the war has been detrimental to his health, “He took another deep breath, almost a gasp, put a hand to his chest, shook his head with regret” (189). Through this quote and others like it, Shaara acknowledges how much the war has hurt him (especially his decision that resulted in Pickett’s charge and the slaughter of thousands of soldiers), and heart is failing both physically and mentally as a result.

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, I love the moments when the airiness in his chest is described, and heart problems and flailing health could be affecting his decisions. He was a respected man, and a flawed man. A complexity of character. His heart not being in it with him seems symbolic to me.

    • Justin Lopez says:

      His heart definitely shows his poor health, but I think it is also a testament to his strength. Despite his condition, he continues to command and give morale to his soldiers. They trust him because of his favorability and the alignment of his and his soldiers’ goals: “But Old Robert, now, he’s from
      the old school, and I’ll bet you right now he can’t wait to get them out in the open somewhere
      where he can hit them face to face. And you know every soldier in the army feels the same way,
      and it’s one of the reasons why the morale here is so good and the Union morale is so bad, and isn’t
      that a fact?” (64)

  11. Michael Carter says:

    I can’t see any comments that I posted. Is this normal?

  12. Kory J says:

    regarding 3. Chamberlain thinks to himself, “have to come back to this place when the war is over. Maybe then I’ll understand it,” (344). This line just goes to show that they really cannot appreciate why they are fighting. Especially while they were just talking about how they don’t really understand why people could be fighting for slaves. Makes me think a lot about the election and the way we are divided today. Some people cannot appreciate another’s viewpoints and don’t intend to. As far as war today, I think mindsets in war are mostly driven through their leaders and the whole needing to follow orders deal makes them go through motions as they were trained and not sit back to really understand the purpose. The goal is just to win the war.

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, a campaign is like a battle, and 2015 was no exception, and perhaps more so: Complete with twists and turns and a victory and defeat surprising to many. The distance of time brings out the humanity of a conflict like Gettysburg, which was fought partly to perpetuate or end slavery. Those three days were such a turning point that visiting the site today, which looks nearly exactly the same 150 years later, is moving — the rocks on Little Round Top where Chamberlain and his men made a stand, and then fixed bayonets to rush down the hillis somewhere you or I can stand too.

    • Kristin Yim says:

      I also saw parallels with the recent election and wondered if these tendencies are somehow ingrained American values:
      1) Using a scapegoat to avoid looking at your own mistakes and what you could’ve done better. Buford was the scapegoat of Heth’s attack and the Union’s loss on July 1st. The Democratic National Party places Hilary’s loss on James Comey and the FBI.
      2) Nationalism and living in a bubble where you only hear good things about your side and believe that your side will win as a result. Fremantle believed that the South will win because they are Englishmen and doesn’t take the War seriously: “The morning at war. Marvelous. Good men around a table. What a joy to be with the winners!…the war would soon be over….Fremantly enjoyed himself enormously. Southerners! They were Englishmen, by George” (156-157). This is basically what happened with this year’s election.

      • jcscribe says:

        Yes re: today. Two opposing sides. Rancor and big differences in beliefs. What we seem to be missing is the mutual respect for leadership from both sides. There were notes of that post-election, but it seems to be trumped up (pardon the major pun!) in the vitriol of online discourse among many following the election, and the violence against members of numerous communities. Have we progressed as a society since the late 1800s, or devolved? What about the chivalry depicted here are we missing? (Though the brutality of slavery and war is indeed stark at that time).

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      I really agree with your reference to the election. I also think that it can be challenging for one side to understand another side’s viewpoints and motivations, and often people forget or become uncertain of what they are really fighting for. It’s also sometimes challenging to understand a leader’s plans or true personality. It would be really interesting to have a Shaara-style narrative of the main characters of this election!

  13. Jeremy Dubin says:

    The idea of a multi-character viewpoint can be expanded to include the nature of the writing. Shaara uses both a poetic and lyrical style contrasted with a direct style in describing troops movements and details of officers. The poetic and lyrical style can be seen in:
    The true rain came in a monster wind, and the storm broke in blackness over the hills and the bloody valley; the sky opened along the ridge and the vast water thundered down, drowning the fires, flooding the red creeks, washing the rocks and the grass and the white bones of the dead, cleansing the earth and soaking it thick and rich with water and wet again with clean cold rainwater, driving the blood deep into the earth, to grow again with the roots toward Heaven. 

    This effort lyrically reveals that America is about to flourish.

    Shaara’s attempt at using a direct style can be seen in:
    He came out of the tent into a fine cold rain. The troops were already up and moving out on the misty road beyond the trees. Some of them saw the white head and came to the fence to stare at him. The ground rocked. Lee floated, clutched the tent. Got up too quickly. Must move slowly, with care. Bryan came out of the mist, bearing steaming coffee in a metal cup. Lee took it in pained hands, drank, felt the heat soak down through him like hot liquid sunshine. The dizziness passed. There was fog flat and low in the treetops, like a soft roof. The rain was clean on his face. He walked slowly to the rail where the horses were tethered: gentle Traveler, skittish Lucy”

    The direct style aids in “getting in the minds of the generals,” while hoping to maintain historical accuracy. This novelty and use of contrasting writing styles helps reveal the power of a multi-character approach.

    • jcscribe says:

      Well said!

    • David Miller says:

      I also thought Shaara’s writing style really helped bring the material to life. It’s especially evident in the battle scenes, where his prose is evocative of both the chaos of war and the mental state of those fighting it. There’s a moment during the battle of Little Round Top in Chapter 4 of the second day that really captures Chamberlain’s thoughts:
      “He turned: Kilrain reloading the carbine. Said something. Noise too great to hear. Screams and yells of joy and pain and rage. He saw bloodstains spatter against a tree. Turned. Fire slowing. They were moving back.”
      The use of fragmented, short sentences gives the reader a sense of Chamberlain’s frantic thought process during the battle. This passage comes right after several incredibly long sentences spaced out by commas, giving the punchy sentences even more weight.

      • jcscribe says:

        Good ear, David. The rhythm of the sentences matches the rhythm of the battle. I think Shaara’s writing works best in these passages vs. the windy and flowery ones (though some of those indeed qualify as lyrical).

  14. Michael Carter says:

    In response to the question “is the multi-character viewpoint effective or not, I found it interesting that Shaara focuses much more on the Confederate Army than the Union Army. Unless there were significantly more letters and memoirs from the Confederate Army that Shaara was able to use, it appears he intentionally chose to focus on the Confederate Army, which creates a bias. Perhaps he was more interested in the Confederate story and Confederate characters than the Union story or characters of the Civil War. Or perhaps he wanted to depict the Confederate soldiers in much more favorable light than they are normally viewed in school. When I was learning about the Civil War in school, the Union soldiers were aways shown as the “bad guys,” so Shaara could be challenging this notion by telling the story from a predominantly Confederate perspective. But he still gives us some Union perspective so that we do not become too attached to the Confederacy’s goals.

    • Jeremy Dubin says:

      I agree with Michael’s interpretation of the multi-character viewpoint’s effectiveness. I would like to add that Shaara believed that researching “diary writing” helped to maintain the authenticity of the accounts and prevent people from questioning the truthfulness of the writing. Thus, this approach aids in Shaara’s attempt to remain objective about the war, letting readers “see it as it is.”

    • jcscribe says:

      Interesting note. He does focus mostly on Lee and Longstreet, perhaps because the respectful, nearly father-son conflict over how to wage war, and fight this battle, was particularly universal? It was a transition time in human warfare, where Napoleonic forms of chivalry and march-across-the field were to soon be replaced with technological weaponry and the very trench fighting that Longstreet supported (World War I).

      I do think that the Union’s Chamberlain and Buford (I love Buford) come off as the true heroes, both militarily and in human terms.

      • Kristin Yim says:

        While I did enjoy Lee and Longstreet’s conflict, I was also a little skeptical about the assertion that if they had followed Longstreet and gone on the defensive, they would have won for sure. I don’t know much about military tactics but it seems to parallel people who say “If Bernie was the nominee, he would have won”. You don’t know that for sure either, it might have happened but I felt like the author was a little biased/irrational in that respect.

      • jcscribe says:

        Great insight. Second guessing rarely works. And this book does soften the edges I imagine on the interactions. I’m sure there was a lot of cussing and such, too.

        There were so many moments where the outcome of the battle could have gone either way, if it weren’t for certain hesitations or untimely deaths. That’s why this book, and the event itself, is a good example of the “incremental perturbations” that ratchet up the action and propel the plot. That, and the “latently voltaged ground situation, of course.”

  15. Natasha Bornhorst says:

    I noticed that the sun was a constant throughout the book. In many places, he comments on it. He even uses it in a simile when he says, “It came out of Longstreet like sunlight” (81). I’m not quite sure the significance of it, though. The weather in general seemed to play a role in this book as well. On page 86, just as the rain starts, shooting begins (86).

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, the weather is nearly a character in this book. The impending storm. The touch of the sun. The heat of the day. Shaara uses these for scene, mood, historic authenticity, and symbolism.

      • Nicita Mehta says:

        I agree. This pathetic fallacy is something we saw in the Devil’s Highway. It not only foreshadows possible events but also provides subtle hints into the tension of the situation

  16. Jihae says:

    I’m not exactly sure why but for some reason the line, “The faces were staring at him, all the bright apple faces.” really stuck out to me when Buford is writing the letter to Reynolds and not expecting a response. He’s looking at his men and uses this simile and it felt like one of those fresh descriptors/similes that you wouldn’t think of normally but fit perfectly. He uses SO many similes.

    “He looked like a popeyed bird who had just swallowed something large and sticky and triangular. He was wearing a tall gray hat and a remarkable coat with very wide shoulders, like wings.”
    “They rode toward Longstreet like ships through a gleeful surf, Pickett bowing from side to side”
    ” Long, long rows, like walking trees, coming up toward him out of the mist”
    ” He had a sudden rushing sensation of human frailty, death like a
    blowing wind”
    “He passed a hospital wagon, saw
    mounded limbs glowing whitely in the dark, a pile of legs, another of arms. It looked like masses of
    fat white spiders.”

  17. Jihae says:

    I thought that the multi-character viewpoint was effective in that it allowed us to humanize the various characters despite what side they were on and understand what was going on in their heads. The way the writer brings up a little bit of description about the characters in the beginning and then expands upon it throughout the story as he goes along draws you in. For example about Longstreet and that his children died which is why he doesn’t play poker anymore which is brought up a couple of times (e.g. “Long time ago, another world. And then Longstreet thought of his children, that terrible Christmas, and turned his mind away. There was a silence.”)
    Each of the men had a family, friends, lovers, homes, and stories of their own. It makes the story about real people which is very effective for a historical nonfiction story.

    • Jihae says:

      I noticed that the writer switches to second-person narrative to allow the reader to gain perspective into the mind of that particular character. By asking questions as well, it is as if you are thinking and reasoning through the same things that that character is thinking which places you directly into the scene.

      e.g. “He rode slowly away to inspect the ground in front of him, between him and the Rebels. If we made a stand here, how long do you think we could hold?”

      • Justin Lopez says:

        The second-person narrative definitely gives a greater feeling of immersion. It makes the reader feel as if those thoughts are going through their head. I remember in Devil’s Highway Urrea used a similar technique of using “you” when the characters were undergoing the progression of hyperthermia. ” “Just one more sip. Don’t gulp. One tiny lil’ sip. OK, just one. One more. One more. Suddenly, your hot water is gone You can’t remember where you dropped the jug. Dizzy. Where’s the water?…” (Urrea 123)

    • Kristin Yim says:

      To go off of the family thing, I really enjoyed the bits about Chamberlain and his brother, Tom. At the end when Chamberlain is examining the battlefield, he comes to a realization that he sent his brother to fill a hole in the line, turning him into a “warm bloody cork” (342). He decides that he has to send his brother away because their relation clouds his judgment. This makes me wonder about the brutality of war. Everyone we’re sending in has a family and if we wouldn’t send our own family in, why are we sending other people’s loved ones to war? This is kind of a general comment about war but I wonder if it was something the author wanted the reader to think about since he does focus a lot of time on Tom and has this important scene at the end of the book.

      • David Miller says:

        Your point about family can also apply to the nature of the Civil War itself. When Chamberlain is reflecting on the events of Little Round Top later, he regrets his actions. “Must think on the theology of that: plugging a hole in the line with a brother… Some things a man cannot be asked to do. Killing of brothers. This whole war is concerned with the killing of brothers.”

        The fact that the Civil War pit countrymen against each other and split up families shows how war, even a war fought “to set other men free” as Chamberlain puts it, can cause us to lose sight of our common humanity.

  18. Kory J says:

    i think the speech chamberlain gives to the group of maines after he thinks, “How do you force a man to fight–for freedom? The idiocy of it jarred him. Think on it later. Must do something now,” (20). was very powerful and pivotal. it gives them the idea not to just fight as prisoners.

    “This is a different kind of army,” Chamberlain explains. “If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. I don’t…this hasn’t happened in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men free.”

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, his speech to the Maine mutineers is astounding as a high point of leadership. Many modern leadership groups study this moment, and Chamberlain’s words, to learn from it.

    • Jihae says:

      I agree. He realizes the irony and immorality of a situation where men are being forced to fight in the name of freedom for people who may not care about them for a cause they might not believe in. He would rather they know the truth and help willingly than not and die because he forced them to fight with him. The sacrifice that the men were asked to make is overwhelming, even after having been a soldier and fought so long himself.
      “The uneasiness still troubled him. He had missed something, he did not know what. Well, he was an instinctive man; the mind would tell him sooner or later. Perhaps it was only that when you try to put it into words you cannot express it truly, it never sounds as you dream it. But then… you were asking them to die.”

      • Jihae says:

        I also really liked how shortly later, Buford is riding through the town and, “He smiled down, but in the square ahead he saw a crowd, a speaker, a circle of portly men. He turned quickly away. He was no good with civilians. There was something about the mayors of towns that troubled him. They were too fat and they talked too much and they did not think twice of asking a man to die for them.”
        So unlike the military officers who fight alongside, lead, and have a respect for the lives of the men and what they ask of them, the local politicians lose nothing and gain everything from the sacrifice of the soldiers.

      • David Miller says:

        The weight of having to order men to their deaths is explored on both sides of the conflict. Lee has a poignant speech in Day 2, chapter 3 about the “great trap” of soldiering. “To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.”

        This weight becomes an increasingly heavy burden on the generals towards the end of the book, especially on the Confederate side after Longstreet realizes he has no choice but to order his men to certain death. It’s a powerful moment when Longstreet, who has been the taciturn voice of reason through the whole book, begins to cry right before giving the order to make the final charge.

      • jcscribe says:

        Truly sad. In the end, sending men to their deaths to keep up a tradition was the wrong thing to do. Perhaps that’s symbolic of the move to break off from the Union and create a confederacy, partly over the fact that many in the South wanted slavery to continue, and to expand into new Western territories.

    • Kristin Yim says:

      I thought that that last line had some morbid irony at the end when Chamberlain and Tom say that the dead men are now equal in the eyes of god (344). They did end up setting men free, which I take to mean equal, but they did so by killing them. Chamberlain also is a hypocrite because on page 171 he himself is repulsed by a black man.

  19. Nicita Mehta says:

    One of the hallmarks of wartime novels is dehumanization of the other side. We see this particularly in this novel as well. Each side dehumanizes the opposing side to ease their ability to fight. However, this seems to wear greatly on Lee, as we see that he struggles with the casualties of the war and feeling like he is not defending the entire country’s interests

    • David Miller says:

      One of the biggest conflicts in the book is the dissonance between the need to dehumanize the opposing side as “Rebs” or “Yankees” and the fact that many of the opposing generals knew and respected each other. This is brought into focus in the chapter we get from Armistead’s perspective towards the end of the book. His friendship with Hancock is a tragic example of how the war split apart friends and families. “It may be for years, and it may be forever,” the line from ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’ that Armistead dwells on before his death, serves as a reminder of the emotional toll this divide inflicted upon soldiers from both sides.

  20. Rachel Park says:

    1. In my opinion, the multi-character viewpoint is effective to delineate the situation in different perspectives. The characteristics, background and position of the characters highlight why the problem occurred. For example, because General Robert E Lee has traditional tactic ideology, he stands for an offensive position in the war with the Union. Although Longstreet tries to persuade him several times to move around the southeast of the Gettysburg, Lee’s resistance results a disastrous defeat. Also, because Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College, as a reader, I can understand more thoughtful evaluations about a war. His perspective reminds about the true purpose of the Civil war whether it occurred by slavery or the control of states.

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      I also agree that this tactic by Shaara was very effective in not only showing the personalities of the characters but also their approaches to war and the ways the interact with their fellow soldiers.

  21. Justin Lopez says:

    Chamberlain seems to be most human out of all the characters. His doubts and mannerisms are similar to how someone I would be able to identify with would act: “Chamberlain sat for a long moment silently trying to function… He had no idea what to do. But it was time to go out into the sun. He crawled forward through the tent flap and stood up, blinking, swaying, one hand against the bole of a tree.” (pg. 19). His thoughts can also be seen in growing to love the life of a soldier, but unsure of the more morbid aspects: “He did not know the name of this horse. He did not bother any more; the horses were all dead too soon. Yet your learn to love it. Isn’t that amazing? Long marches and no rest, up very early in the morning and asleep late in the rain, and there’s a marvelous excitement to it” (pg. 118)

    • Sai Talluru says:

      I agree! Chamberlain was a character, after Lee, that I really connected to. I think the fact that he’s a professor and not an army person, per say, really shows throughout the book. Shaara follows up the quote you included from page 118 with Chamberlain thinking back to memories of his father and making him proud.

      The way Chamberlain transports himself to another time, thinking of whether or not he is making his family proud–by being where he is right now and fulfilling his role in the army–is deeply moving. On page 119, Shaara writes, “And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel. And when the old man heard about it he was very proud, and Chamberlain felt very good remembering it. The old man was proud of his on, the Colonel. Of infantry. What would he have thought of the speech this morning/ Home and Mother. Mother wanted me to be a parson…He turned his mind away from that. Think on it when time comes. You think too much beforehand and you get too self-conscious and tight and you don’t function well.”

      The way characters are humanized in this novel, no matter how revered they might be for the crucial role they played at this historical crossroads, is a testament to Shaara’s skill.

      • jcscribe says:

        Beautifully said. I think it is why I love this book so much, as well as the story of the battle. It is Greek tragedy and Shakespearean in that way.

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      Yes, I definitely agree with you. In fact, I found Chamberlain to be the most relatable. In addition, to being simply most human I really value the poetic insight he lends to the readers (I posted quotes on my other comment regarding Chamberlain).

      I also really liked the conversation that Chamberlain had with his dad regarding Shakespeare’s speeches and his father comments on human nature, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” I believe this is shows how the title of the book came to be “Killer Angels”.

    • Natasha Bornhorst says:

      I agree with what everyone else has said. Chamberlain is definitely the most human. I especially loved the scene when the Maine soldiers are brought in. They were used to being treated with disrespect. In contrast, Chamberlain treats them with a lot of respect, feeding them and revealing that he would never shoot them. This ends up paying off, as all of the men besides six agree to fight with them. I would not expect a colonel to be so kind and understanding, but it seems to be his source of power.

  22. Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

    (5) I really liked Shaara’s figurative involving war or battle themes. For example, in his descriptive paragraph on Richard Ewell: “But he has lost something along with the leg that soldiers sometimes lose with big wounds”. This figurative language further brings readers in to the story of this great battle.

    Even in the first few paragraphs of the story Shaara’s symbolic language foreshadows a Union victory, with repeated mentions of the word “blue” – “blue rainstorm”, “blue hills”, “blue wall of rain” (pg 13). There is also a great sense of urgency on the side of the Confederacy that Shaara really portrays well with the sentences, “The Army of the Potomac had never moved this fast” and “there was the pressure of that great blue army behind him, building like water behind a cracking dam” (pg 13).

    • jcscribe says:

      Great eye on the use of the word ‘Blue!”

    • Sai Talluru says:

      Nice observation! I didn’t pick up on the use of “blue.” But I noticed when describing the men on both sides, he refers to the role they will play in the battle. Even though everyone knows the ending (or who wins the battle), I like the foreshadowing of the events that lead to the defeat of the Confederates.

      “J. E. B. Stuart, Lieutenant General, thirty. The laughing banjo player…whose reports are always accurate…His mission that month is to keep Lee informed of the movement of the Union Army. He fails.”

  23. Jeremy Dubin says:

    Chamberlain is able to realize that the war is fought for a greater cause than nationalism but rather that the Union is defending humanity. This “stripping” of all existing notion helps to not only show but tell about the true visceral nature of the war.

    This can be seen in:
    But he was fighting for the dignity of man and in that way he was fighting for himself. If men were equal in America, all these former Poles and English and Czechs and blacks, then they were equal everywhere, and there was really no such thing as a foreigner; there were only free men and slaves. And so it was not even patriotism but a new faith. The Frenchman may fight for France, but the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land. (1.2.119)

    • jcscribe says:

      Great example. That’s why it still speaks to us today.

    • Jihae says:

      This stood out to me as well. I thought it was very powerful when he said, “This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. I don’t… this hasn’t happened much in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men free”

    • Rachel Park says:

      I do agree with Jeremy that the perspective of Chamberlain shows the true reasons for fighting a war. Especially, when he discusses the issue with his friend, Kilrain. For example, in page 189, Kilrain says, “The point is that we have a country here where the past cannot keep a good man in chains, and that’s the nature of the war. ” This highlights the conflict about reason for war between slavery or just a destruction of Southern aristocracy.

  24. Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

    I have posted three comments/replies yet don’t see any of them. What should I do?

  25. Michael Carter says:

    The dynamic between Longstreet and Lee is interesting because the two are both quite stubborn, and differ drastically on battle strategies, with Longstreet being much more cautious than Lee. Longstreet always obeys Lee’s orders out of respect for his general, but this respect appears to go both ways; on page 139, Longstreet says that “He [Lee] wants me to agree. But I cannot agree. Let’s get on with it,” which seems to indicate that Lee yearns for Longstreet’s approval, even though he does not need it. This shows that there is mutual respect between Lee and Longstreet. The quote “I did not want this fight but I think it was forced upon us. As the war was” (139) shows that although they have their disagreements, they are a team and know that they must work together in order to be successful.

    • Nicita Mehta says:

      I agree

    • Jeremy Dubin says:

      I noted this dynamic as well.

      Longstreet understands the war is modern in nature, ahead of his time, with new technology (i.e. long-range artillery, and repeating), thus fortified, defensive strategies will help win.

      Meanwhile, Lee is more traditional and the Union can be destroyed if men are in right places. In Pickett’s Charge, he believes that that Union army can be cut in two and destroy remaining pieces. This reveals one of the final charges before new technology took over.

      Page 56. Longstreet said nothing. It was all probably true. And yet there was danger in it; there was even something dangerous in Lee. Longstreet said, “He promised me he would stay on the defensive.

      Without Shaara’s brilliant description it would not be apparent why Longstreet would oppose Lee so much. They are both men seemingly fighting for the same cause. It would only seem natural that they agree on everything.

    • Nicita Mehta says:

      I totally agree with this. The conflict between these characters provides an interesting commentary on the nature of the war as well: a conflict between defensive and offensive personalities

    • Kory J says:

      I thought this interaction between them was very powerful

      ”They’re never quite the enemy, those boys in blue.”
      “I know,” Lee said.
      “I used to command those boys,” Longstreet said.
      “Difficult thing to fight men you used to command.”
      Lee said nothing.”

      • jcscribe says:

        Yes, that is a big part of the American Civil War. Lee went to West Point with some of the Union generals and other officers. This was indeed a war between brothers.

      • Nicita Mehta says:

        This is a good example of something I was alluding to before. I think the heart trouble for Lee (sort of like Story an hour) is really a metaphor for the toll the war has taken on Lee

  26. Rachel Park says:

    In my opinion, the multi-character viewpoint is effective to delineate the situation in different perspectives. The characteristics, background and position of the characters highlight why the problem occurred. For example, because General Robert E Lee has traditional tactic ideology, he stands for an offensive position in the war with the Union. Although Longstreet tries to persuade him several times to move around the southeast of the Gettysburg, Lee’s resistance results a disastrous defeat. Also, because Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College, as a reader, I can understand more thoughtful evaluations about a war. His perspective reminds about the true purpose of the Civil war whether it occurred by slavery or the control of states.

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      I agree with your interpretation of Shaara’s usage of multiple characters. It also helps the reader really get a feel for each character’s personality, the war’s impact on each character’s personality, and that personality’s impact on their decisions in the battle. For example, Longstreet’s pessimistic as well as novel outlook on war and leadership is evident in his conversation with Fremantle on page 167 where Longstreet tells Fremantle “Honor without intelligence is a disaster. Honor could lose the war”, a statement to which Fremantle is shocked.

  27. Jihae says:

    I don’t know if this is technically classified as jargon, but there are sections where dialogue is written the way that it would be said with the accents of whoever is talking.
    e.g. “The General could use a di-version. Beggin’ yer pardon. General. But ye’r too shy a lad, for yer age. Ye work too hard. These here ow quiet towns, now, nothin’ ever happens here, and the ladies would be so delighted to see you, an important adventurous man such as you, who has see the world, now, ye’d be doin’ ‘em a gracious favor, just wi’ yer presence.” and so on.
    I thought that this worked because the author uses the language of the man with his mispronunciations of words and incorrect grammar to give a more accurate portrayal of way the man might have spoken and make the scene/dialogue more realistic.

    • Kory J says:

      he does the same here

      “Lawrence, you want to hear a funny thing? We were talking to these three Reb prisoners, trying to be sociable, you know? But mainly trying to figure ’em out. They were farm-type fellers. We asked them why they were fighting this war, thinkin’ on slavery and all, and one fella said they was fightin’ for their ‘rats.’ Hee. That’s what he said.” Tom giggled, grinned. “We all thought they was crazy, but we hadn’t heard a-right. They kept on insistin’ they wasn’t fightin’ for no slaves, they were fighting for their ‘rats.’ It finally dawned on me that what the feller meant was their ‘rights,’ only, the way they talk, it came out ‘rats.’

      and i thought this added a nice comical kind of break. It also makes me think of the different levels of intelligence/ education of the leaders and those fighting.

      • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

        I also noticed this especially in the dialogue of the Union soldiers, which Shaara might be using to indicate the the diversity of the Union side not only in socioeconomic status but also in regional backgrounds.

  28. Jeremy Dubin says:

    In my opinion, one of the most poignant moments was the depiction of the Twentieth Maine running down Little Round Top. The regiment has held off the confederate soldiers for an hour but have run out of ammunition. The only opportunity is to charge down the hill and get confederate to flee. This depiction is as powerful as any signature fight scene is a movie (i.e Braveheart, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings). This is achieved by word choice and development of characters through a multi-perspective lense.

    Chamberlain raised his saber, let loose the shout that was the greatest sound he could make, boiling the yell up from his chest: Fix bayonets! Charge! Fix bayonets! Charge! Fix bayonets! Charge! He leaped down from the boulder, still screaming, his voice beginning to crack and give, and all around him his men were roaring animal screams, and he saw the whole Regiment rising and pouring over the wall and beginning to bound down through the dark bushes, over the dead and dying and wounded. . .

    • jcscribe says:

      My very favorite moment in the book.

    • Rachel Park says:

      I strongly agree with you! I can vividly imagine the scene. Moreover, I think the Chamberlain’s perspective when he watches the approaching Confederates in the statement, ‘It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.’ Even the battle is divine in Chamberlain’s eyes.

  29. Bryan L. says:

    I thought Chamberlain was such a unique character. As a professor gone regiment commander, his way of thinking remained true. On page 118 he says, ” Piled-up bodies in front of you to catch the bullets, using the dead for a shield; remember the sound? Of bullets in dead bodies? Like a shot into a rotten leg, a wet thick leg. All a man is: wet leg of blood.” He is very visual in this memory as it has had a lasting impression on him. In every war there are horrors that leave impacts on soldiers’ lives.

    • jcscribe says:

      And the fact that Chamberlain has to plug a hole in the line with his brother. That moment that really bothers him. The tug of war between the guilt and the need at hand.

  30. Jeremy Dubin says:

    It is hard to read a book of this caliber without paying attention to the setting. It seems like whoever controls the high ground stands the best chance to win. Lee orders an advance across open ground toward Union position on Cemetery Ridge in a similar fashion when Chamberlain secure Little Round Top. The “physical” setting and “orientational ” setting explain both, the importance of positioning and the constant insecurity of placement.

    “Johnston and Clarke had scouted the Union position and it was drawn now on the map in blue ink. Longstreet looked down at the map and then up at the hazy blue ridge in the east, trying to orient himself. (Page 138) He moved forward and began to climb the big hill in the dark. As he walked he forgot his pain; his heart began to beat quickly, and he felt an incredible joy. He looked at himself, wonderingly, at the beloved men around him, and he said to himself: Lawrence, old son, treasure this moment. Because you feel as good as a man can feel. “

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, the issue of securing the high ground is tactical, essential to the plot of the story and symbolic. The High Ground means a good deal in this context. I truly admire Buford for his decision early one to mark and hold that spot, a true turning point in the battle.

    • Kory J says:

      Also the maps he used throughout were great. Getting to actually visualize and see how they planned out attacks and their way of thinking was very cool

  31. Jihae says:

    This might be a little bit obvious because of the title, but there were a good number of times that angels were referenced.
    “Old Jackson was dead. Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels
    sing thee to thy rest”
    ” He grinned, thinking of Meade surrounded by his angelic staff”
    “He stopped by a white angel, arm uplifted, a stony sadness”
    “He saw again the white angel”
    “They hush when he passes, like an angel of the Lord. You ever see anything like it?”
    “What a piece of work is man… in action how like an angel! And
    the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.”
    “Buford stopped in the cemetery. He could not find the white angel.”
    I find it interesting that an angel, which is supposed to be a divine being of peace and goodness, also is representing death and punishment/cleansing of evil. The angel of death (God) in the bible uses death to bring about the will of God and here war/killing is used to try to bring about the better good, although either side will disagree on what that is.

    • Jeremy Dubin says:

      In reference to the title, I tried to find some meaning. I noticed Chamberlain cites a speech from Hamlet to his father. His father believes an angel needs to be physically dominant. Then, Chamberlain reflects on the battle explaining that men are both “good and wicked,” in that they stand up for slaves but also cause suffering and destruction on a large scale. This leads me to understand “Killer Angel” in a meaningful way.

    • Michael Carter says:

      I agree. The title Killer Angels is a bit of an oxymoron title. Perhaps Shaara hopes to argue that even though the men are killing people, they can still be considered angels because their hearts are pure and are fighting for a very noble cause.

    • jcscribe says:

      Excellent list and great discussion overall on the concept of angels and the title. The Angel of Death is clearly implied as well.

    • Rachel Park says:

      In addition, there is a transformational moment related with the title. On page 38, Buford rides along the stone wall and sees ‘a white angel, arm uplifted, a stony sadness’ before the shoot fires. After the war begins, he returns to the cemetery and finds out that the statue of angel disappears. As discussed above, the angel symbolizes the duality of human nature; after the first day of the war, the angel(divine goodness) disappears.

  32. Michael Carter says:

    From the quote “He [Longstreet] was not sure he
    could do it. There had never been anything like this in his life before. But here was Pickett, wide-eyed,
    curious, long hair ringed and combed, mounted on a black horse, under a great tree. Longstreet told him the orders. Pickett whooped with joy” (189) I immediately drew a comparison between Pickett and Gavroche of Les Miserables. Although Pickett is a general, I felt that throughout the book, he had a happy-go-lucky type of personality, which I interpreted as naivety about the dangers of war. Like Gavroche, Pickett appeared overly enthusiastic about the war, hoping to prove himself amongst his fellow generals and soldiers. Gavroche’s death was one of the sadder moments of Les Miserables, and I think that if Pickett had been killed during the battle of Gettysburg, it might have made Pickett’s charge all the more disheartening.

    • jcscribe says:

      Pickett brings the book to life as well, especially as a contrasting character. When he returns from the charge on the Union line and Lee orders him to reform his regiment, that enthusiastic boy is gone. He tells Lee: “Sir, I have no regiment.” That is clearly a transformative moment for his character. An innocence lost. A cynical turn. An insight into the real nature of things.

      (Pickett’s hair, btw, wasn’t all that long. I just saw a photo of him at Gettysburg. I always pictured him like the Three Musketeers.)

  33. Jeremy Dubin says:

    A “cool” example of Shaara showing multidimensional characters is the poker scene. Longfellow advises a novice that an “inside straight” is impossible with his hand, hoping to gain an edge. Then Shaara foreshadows to the disappointment that Longfellow feels in administering Pickett’s Charge. The characters are truly authentic, shown through juxtaposition.

    Juxtaposition can also be seen in comparing the Army of the Potomac to the Army of Northern Virginia, revealing humanizing similarities between characters, as in “The Devil’s Highway.”

    “It is a strange new kind of army, a polyglot mass of vastly dissimilar men, fighting for union. There are strange accents and strange religions and many who do not speak English at all. Nothing like this army has been seen upon the planet. It is a collection of men from many different places who have seen much defeat and many different commanders.”

    • jcscribe says:

      Yes, this speaks to the universality of humans in conflict. And both books, The Killer Angels and The Devil’s Highway, in many ways feel both modern and rooted in history because of this. I also just noticed the angel-devil dichotomy in the book selections. Interesting coincidence, or super great planning on my part. 😉

  34. jcscribe says:

    What can we learn from this book, the characters, and the battle itself, that we could tell U.S. leaders as the country moves forward, no matter their party affiliation?

    • Jihae says:

      I feel like something I felt a lot in the book and definitely a lot lately in the current political affairs is that you need to take into consideration perspectives other than your own. You can’t just limit yourself to what you believe and surround yourself by only others who think and believe what you do. Each side has a story/background worth telling. We are all people with different stories and backgrounds. Many people on both sides of the political spectrum believe that they want what is best for themselves and the country. Many people truly believe they are fighting for the right side. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person to not believe the same things as you do.

      • Bryan L. says:

        I agree completely. Both the Union and the Confederates felt that they were being patriotic and they had the correct view of what patriotism was. Political party affiliation now separates the nation into opposing sides that are both ultimately fighting to better America. It is important to bring up everyone’s ideas into discussion to have everyone’s voices heard.

      • jcscribe says:

        Well said!

    • Sai Talluru says:

      I think one thing I admired about this book is that even in times of conflict within their own camps, each character looked back to the reason they were fighting. Chamberlain looked back to instances of his interactions with his friend black acquaintance, etc. This si important. More people need to break out of their bubble and learn about what experience drive people’s visions for the country. In short, as the country moves forward, I think people need to focus on the underlying principles behind each policy change they want to enact. Which groups of people does this affect? What are their experiences and/or how will this shape their experiences to come in this nation?

      • jcscribe says:

        Well said. I think the book’s power is also to avoid war, of course, as well as to apply this filter of history, and the concept of respect for individual humans, to a situation we might be embroiled in at the moment. Is this what history can teach us? What stories about past conflicts really have to tell? Why we remember, or try to?

      • Jihae says:

        While I think ideally we can to try to apply the knowledge of how things turned out in the past to present times, it is so difficult in practice because although there are similar themes or underlying goals (e.g. freedom and equality), society, culture, technology, and the way we live has changed so drastically. Not to say we shouldn’t try, but that is a huge thing to overcome because for one thing there is the temptation to compare how far things have come as an excuse to not continue to move forward.

      • jcscribe says:

        Excellent list of the common themes, such as society, culture, freedom, equality. I wonder how much we have changed. The Post-It notes on the boards at one of the museums told a story, as I mentioned to a few of you last week, before the 2 a.m. presidential surprise. The majority of the Post-Its read Trump, putting into juxtaposition the lines: “Make America Great Again” and Lincoln’s words at the soldier’s cemetery at Gettysburg, paraphrased: “Let them not have died in vain.”

        The Hillary Post-Its had smiley faces in the center of the A. Not sure what the symbolism is there, but there were certainly fewer notes in support of her. I should have known where the election was going act that point. It’s all about paying attention.

    • Justin Lopez says:

      Lee and Longstreet’s disagreements reminded me of the conflict between forward and traditional thinkers. Even though Longstreet wanted to employ new strategies that would have been useful, Lee kept to what he knew. Lee and Longstreet consistently disagreed, but Longstreet always conceded to Lee’s decisions due to the fact that he was in charge and the majority of the soldiers listened and aligned with Lee. I’m not sure about moving forward, but this draws a parallel between US leaders and the current fear of regressing to “traditional” thought.

      • jcscribe says:

        Yes, thoughts and philosophies seem to work best when people listen to others and don’t dig in their heels (pardon the cliche, but you all are so fast with your comments I don’t think I have time to give it a fresh twist).

      • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

        I agree, this is a really interesting parallel. I think that, with the results of this election as well as the success of some primary candidates, it has been shown that what the people actually want are more progressive thinkers. As it is shown in the book, I think even history and Shaara sympathize with the progressive thinkers, although those already in the government or military tend to trust more traditional thinkers.

    • Jeremy Dubin says:

      A unique insight can be seen on Page 123.

      What makes a good officer or now, what makes a good president?

      Chamberlain gets off his horse since “a good officer rode as little as possible” which is followed by Sergeant Tozier “do us all a favor and get back on that…horse?”
      Chamberlain “you must care for your men’s welfare and show physical courage-132”
      Longstreet describes Stonewall Jackson as a great officer by “move troops, know how to hate, and a little eccentricity-139”

      You can see what eccentricity has done recently. This book reveals that “adapting to change and being open minded” are effective tools leading to success. The most powerful, however, is “stubborn to a point where the best interest of your people are truly met.”

      This is supported by a book compares the leadership styles of the Federal generals; Ulysses S. Grant, George H. Thomas, and Francis C. Barlow and the Confederate generals; Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and John B. Gordon.

  35. Michael Carter says:

    Winston Churchill’s comment “Thus ended the great American Civil War, which must upon the -whole be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record” is interesting because it points to the fact that the Civil War was essentially inevitable. There were too many conflicting ideas between the North and the South that were never addressed when the U.S. Constitution was being written. And conflicts never magically go away when you push them under the table. In the Civil War, over 600,000 people had to lose their lives in order to keep the U.S from splitting in two. If the severe tension between supporters of both parties tells us anything about today, it’s that this nation is still deeply conflicted just as it was in the years leading up to the Civil War. These issues are going to have to be addressed because they will not go away on their own.

  36. jcscribe says:

    Well said, and as Chamberlain writes about this experience with cringe-worthy honesty, to admit one’s own biases, seek knowledge, and move past them.

  37. Jeremy Dubin says:

    I listened to Michael Shaara’s son give a talk to a public library in Boston. He revealed the power of historical fiction. He said that even though you are inside the head of a character, you can maintain real dialogue to make sure it is as historically accurate as possible. This made me think about how the media affected the recent election.

    Shaara is able to “accurately” depict a war by investigating past dialogue. The media in today’s society can “alter” the minds of people by twisting dialogue. At the end of the day, the truth should come out but an approach like Shaara’s expedites this process.

    • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

      Wow, that’s really awesome that you were able to hear Shaara’s son give a talk. I think the wealth of primary resources at Shaara’s disposal really helped him give an as-accurate-as-possible portrayal of the thoughts and feelings of some of the characters. It’ll be interesting to see if in the digital age such resources will still be available (or be available almost in excess) to writers in the future, or if they will use it to twist the truth like you said.

      • jcscribe says:

        So true. So many web pages or sites disappear, either on purpose or because their Go Daddy domain bills are unpaid. Check out the Wayback Machine, btw (just Google that phrase). That Internet Archive is working to forever chronicle our virtual histories. As far as forever goes, I guess.

    • jcscribe says:

      Excellent point. I like the post-Millennial “inside the mind” via media idea. And the media-prism through which we view characters, our own and others, is constantly shifting. And with avid Twitter user president-elect Trump, that’s a pretty direct glimpse so far.

    • Nicita Mehta says:

      An interesting thought: I think we also saw this in the Devil’s Highway; where thorough research informs a more honest representation of what happened. Even though this was a work of fiction, it definitely offered some good insight into the factual events of the Civil War in an interested read. And learning about the characters and the struggles they personally faced in coping with the brutality of the war humanized both sides instead of just seeing them as people in a textbook.

    • David Miller says:

      You make an interesting point with the comparison between Shaara and today’s media. No matter how many sources you use or how accurate you try to be, writing nonfiction involves crafting a narrative around the facts. While both of them are ostensibly nonfiction, there’s a clear difference between the goals of a book like The Devil’s Highway/Killer Angels and something that is trying to falsely “alter” people’s minds, as you put it. In my opinion, “good” writing crafts a narrative to try and illuminate the truth and “bad” writing twists the truth to try and fit a narrative.

  38. Nicita Mehta says:

    Concerning one of the posed questions, I think Shaara uses the battle of Gettysburg to understand the greater motivations of the Civil War. We see this in smaller moments, such as when Chamberlain runs into the slave, and also in larger contexts when we get a chance to see Lee’s inner dialogue, struggling with the brutality of the war

    • Jihae says:

      I agree. I think that even though we really only see a fictional piece covering a few days of the entire war, we get such a more in depth understanding of the heart of the matter than you would in an actual history book. It is interesting that the way many of us learn history is by trying to look at everything objectively when really you can only truly understand it by getting into the subjectivity and humanity of each side.

      • Jeremy Dubin says:

        I think both approaches can be effective. The idea of objectivity is to create a framework where one action leads to another but viewing both actions linearly. Subjectivity can be effective in observing someones mindset because it truly is what they are thinking. I think Shaara combines both in expanding the genre of “historical fiction” to include more accurate accounts, overall.

      • Jin Young "Daniel" Sohn says:

        I completely agree with you. As an international student, I didn’t have much knowledge regarding American History and the Civil War. I personally found this novel very interesting to read in parallel with factual historical information. The multiple-perspective method was especially effective at providing readers like me with a well-rounded perspective of the history.

      • jcscribe says:

        I really admire this discussion on objectivity vs. subjectivity. To know a person, one needs to know how they view the world. It’s rarely in a way that is consistently objective, since so much synthesizing and analyzing is going on in a person’s mind. So, authentic characterization would follow that same vein.

    • Kristin Yim says:

      I agree with that and also thought maybe the addition of Fremantle and his thoughts about the Confederacy rejoining the British were part of that. I also Googled Fremantle, however, and he was more of a tourist than an official representative and maybe that sentiment wasn’t held by either country? It is an albeit smaller detail but one I had never thought about regarding the Civil War

    • jcscribe says:

      To Nikita’s comments on the battle as depicted shedding light on the motivations of the Civil War, and other recent comments: The power of this Pulitzer-winning novel, so deeply grounded in truth, is that it reveals much about the greater motivations of humankind as well. That’s why I think such stories, and histories, are important to understand how we live today, and perhaps not repeat the same mistakes.

    • Michael Carter says:

      I agree. I think Lee’s quote, “to be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. This is… a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That if one reason why there are so very few good officers. Although there are many good men.” (146) summarizes his character very well in a way that no textbook every could. He has been extremely successful in war, yet is not bloodthirsty like many other leaders that we have seen throughout history. He has great compassion and love for his men. He does not want to be in war, but he has an obligation to honor his country, and to honor his home state of Virginia. I don’t think Shaara could have depicted Lee more effectively.

  39. Nicita Mehta says:

    The ending of this book offered a really great metaphor about how the carnage incurred at the Battle of Gettysburg is followed by the rise of America:

    “The light rain went on falling on the hills above Gettysburg, but it was only the overture to the great storm to come. Out of the black night it came at last, cold and wild and flooded with lightning. The true rain came in a monster wind, and the storm broke in blackness over the hills and the bloody valley; the sky opened along the ridge and the vast water thundered down, drowning the fires, flooding the red creeks, washing the rocks and the grass and the white bones of the dead, cleansing the earth and soaking it thick and rich with water and wet again with clean cold rainwater, driving the blood deep into the earth, to grow again with the roots toward Heaven. It rained all that night. The next day was Saturday, the Fourth of July.”

    The use of pathetic fallacy to depict the transition from the battle to a new beginning is seen in the blood fueling the growth of plants towards the Heavens

    • Nicita Mehta says:

      Also concerning the end, I’m curious to hear what you guys thought about the Churchill quote at the end.

      • jcscribe says:

        Interesting too. I’d say that Churchill deeply respected the concept of a “Just War,” thus his stances and leadership in World War II as exactly such a Just War, what some see as a similar inevitable conflict.

    • Jeremy Dubin says:

      I heard that this book was turned down by 16 publishers because it was trying to get published at the end of the Vietnam War when no one wanted to hear about generals and fighting. The idea suggested above makes room for personal growth and growth for the country. The ends is unknown, but the means (support towards common good or “blood fueling”) is a suitable start.

  40. jcscribe says:

    Noting the power of the final passage of Shaara’s narrative, Nikita and Jeremy, are wonderful commentary, and a great place to wrap up this deep and thoughtful discussion (unless there are a few more ideas out there in the next few minutes. Always welcome.) We have to wonder how such pathos and ethos will play out today. I’m honored to have the opportunity to analyze this book, and these concepts, with such a sharp group.

  41. jcscribe says:

    p.s. Wow! We officially hit an IFN discussion-board high water mark, at 167 comments! Make that 168. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s