Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is one of the most celebrated novels about the battle of Gettysburg that occurred during the American Civil War. The novel was first released in 1974 to a critical acclaim, leading to several awards and recognitions, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction of 1975 (Shaara 337). The story focuses on one of the most significant battles in the political history of the US, the Battle of Gettysburg, which was pivotal in the development of the Civil War. Inasmuch as it is a fictional story, the author makes a fair attempt at narrating the events as though they were factual, thereby creating an immediate emotional connection and experience with the readers.
The book introduced the armies and key personalities that were involved in the battle before proceeding to give a day-by-day account of the events that took place in the four-day battle. The author creates scenes that illustrate the exchanges and discussions among the armies on both the Union and the Confederate side, highlighting some of the challenges and the key decisions that each commander dealt with during the battle. The approach used by the author in narrating the story allows readers to delve into the minds of the characters to get deeper insights about their thoughts and reactions on the events taking place, despite the novel being based on an omniscient perspective (Shaara 337). Thus, the novel manages to illustrate to the readers the reasons why the war was fought as well as exposing the main motivations for each of the characters involved in the battle and why each side was determined to advance their interests. Therefore, the novel manages to convey the reality of the war with its tragedies and losses. The book details the events of the battles in a chronological sequence beginning from Monday 29th June 1863 to Friday June 3, 1863 (Shaara 337). The plot keeps alternating between the viewpoints of the Confederate and the Union side to show the different viewpoints from each side of the battle.
On the first day of the war, Buford succeeds in holding the confederates off until the union soldiers arrive. On the side of the confederates, Lee and Longstreet wants the commander to secure high ground located around Gettysburg from the infantry of the arriving troops. On the second day, the course of the victory diverts to the union troops. Lee is in need of conquering a Rocky Hill away from the control of the union but his mission fails. The third day of the battle is described as the most deadly and worse for both sides (Shaara 337). General Lee becomes desperate to break hold of the union on cemetery Ridge after his plan on seizing Little Round Top fails. Noticing that Lee is trying to strike Cemetery Ridge, the commander of the union army sends his soldiers there. In the end, troop of Northern Virginia is devastated, and General Lee decides to withdraw.
Michael Shaara authored this novel to reveal the significance Gettysburg had in the American civil war. He provides an exact account of events of the war. In the introduction letter, the author tells the reader that he used the primary sources in writing, and he did not change anything about the war. His aim is to bring this important aspect in the history of America. In the whole book, Shaara attempt to depict both sides of the battle without any bias by outlining the actual causes of the war (Shaara 337). He utilizes a spy who is hired to investigate the actions of the union forces. The purpose of taking this approach is to ensure that he remains neutral in his work. Therefore, it appears that the author was motivated by the interest of bringing out the unbiased facts regarding the war, the importance of the war to the history of America and the causes of the war.
The most important issue depicted in the book is slavery. This act surrounded the civil war. However, the Killer Angel and Gettysburg mention slavery in an indirect way. From the standpoint of the confederate, the author points out that the government was the major cause of the war. Nonetheless, the secession acts of the thirteen confederate states has a different perspective. In this case, Alabama blames Lincoln as the root cause of secession because of his hostile actions to the domestic institutions. In brief, the thirteen confederate states, as mentioned by the author, views slavery as the cause of civil war (Shaara 337). From the viewpoint of Shaara, the confederate cause of the war is not slavery because it does not feature in his goal of humanizing the soldiers on both sides. Therefore, it is hard for readers to have sympathy for the men who influenced slavery. It is also worth noting that the author stated that it would be difficult for England to join the confederate campaign because slavery was prohibited in the south and had been banned in the British Empire.
Shaara also mentions slavery from the perspective of the union. In order to convince the troops of the second Maine Regiment to be part of his command, General Chamberlain insists that their aim is to set other men fee. Concerning this statement, Shaara gives a hint that the union is fighting to end slavery rather than fighting for nationalism. The slavery that is mentioned in the novel is when the union solders find an escaped slave who is wounded. Besides, Chamberlain and Sergeant Kilran are spotted having a conversation about slavery. Most importantly, they are discussing freedom and liberty for the enslaved (Shaara 337). The manner in which the injured slave is handled humanizes and dehumanizes him. He is humanized when the surgeon tells him that he looks just like anyone else inside. The slave is also dehumanized when he notices that some union soldiers are discussing the amount he could be sold to the confederacy. It is worth noting that union Calvary captured Negroes to sell them for profit. This action could imply that some union soldiers were interested in monetary gains rather than the freedom of slaves. From this point, one can clearly tell that racism was widely practices in America.
The Killer Angel is recommended for any person who wants to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg and the men who agreed to sacrifice their lives in the civil war. Shaara brilliantly gave the viewpoints from both the confederacy and the union in an unconfiding way. The author also made the characters relevant, and reminds the reader of the effects and the heartbreak that occurred due to the civil war (Shaara 337). It is imperative to remember the political and social issues that existed at this time. These issues include slavery and shortage of food. However, the narrative only briefs the reader about these occurrences. It is also important for the reader to note that the author sacrificed the significance of slavery during this civil war for his entire theme of humanizing the union and the confederacy. Another issue depicted in the book is food shortages. The author briefly mention that the soldiers were desperate for food. The confederate army lacked enough food because the union navy had blocked the southern ports. For that reason, there was no importation or exportation of goods.
In conclusion, the Killer Angel is a good novel that gives the reader more knowledge regarding the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg played an important role in the American civil war. Before this war, the confederacy had taken part in various wars which they won. However, Gettysburg was viewed as a pivot for the course of the civil war. The novel indicates that the union gained their first victory in the Gettysburg war. Consequently, they got momentum in the battle and won all the wars that followed. By writing this book, the author aims at bringing Gettysburg civil war to the history of America.
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War. New York: Random House Publishing, 2010.
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