Presented by Kaye Lavin 17 Feb 2011
The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War is a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The book tells the story of four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War: June 30, 1863, as the troops of both the Union and the Confederacy move into battle around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and July 1, July 2, and July 3, when the battle was fought. The story is character driven and told from the perspective of various protagonists. A film adaptation of the novel, titled Gettysburg, was released in 1993 ($4.99 dvd on Amazon).
Beginning with the famous section about Longstreet’s spy Harrison gathering information about the movements and positions of the Federals, each day is told primarily from the perspectives of commanders of the two armies, including Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. Most chapters describe the emotion-laden decisions of these officers as they went into battle. Maps depicting the positioning of the troops as they went to battle, as they advanced, add to the sense of authenticity as decisions are made to advance and retreat with the armies. The author also uses the story of Gettysburg, one of the largest battles in the history of North America, to relate the causes of the Civil War and the motivations that led old friends to face each other on the battlefield.
The novel is sometimes compared to Stephen Crane‘s The Red Badge of Courage for its depiction of the war, but Shaara emphasizes the decisions, motivations, and actions of generals and colonels in the battle more than the common soldiers. Shaara explained that he was aiming to produce an epic military study modeled after William Shakespeare‘s Henry V. His choice for a specific subject was inspired by a family vacation that Shaara took to the site of the battle in 1966. Shaara’s son Jeffrey Shaara expanded the story by adding a prequel, Gods and Generals and a sequel, The Last Full Measure.
- Robert Edward Lee (Commanding general, Army of Northern Virginia)
- James Longstreet (Lieutenant General)
- George Pickett (Major General)
- Lewis Addison Armistead (Brigadier General)
- John Bell Hood (Major General)
- Isaac Ridgeway Trimble (Major General)
- James Lawson Kemper (Brigadier General)
- Henry Heth (Major General)
- Jubal Anderson Early (Major General)
- James Ewell Brown Stuart (Major General)
- Richard Stoddart Ewell (Lieutenant General)
- Ambrose Powell Hill (Lieutenant General)
- Richard Brooke Garnett (Brigadier General)
- Moxley Sorrel (Lieutenant Colonel)
- Walter H. Taylor (Major)
- Arthur Fremantle (Lieutenant Colonel, British Coldstream Guards)
- Henry Thomas Harrison (Confederate spy)
- Joshua L. Chamberlain (Colonel)
- John Buford (Brigadier General)
- Thomas Chamberlain (Lieutenant)
- Winfield Scott Hancock (Major General)
- William Gamble (Colonel)
- John Fulton Reynolds (Major General)
- George Meade (Commanding general, Army of the Potomac)
- Ellis Spear (Captain)
- Buster Kilrain (Private, Former Sergeant)
Publication of The Killer Angels and release of the movie have had two significant influences on modern perceptions of the Civil War. First, the actions of Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Infantry on Little Round Top have achieved enormous public awareness. Visitors touring the Gettysburg Battlefield rank the 20th Maine monument as their most important stop. Second, since Shaara used the memoirs of General James Longstreet as a prime source for his history, the book has renewed the modern re-evaluation of Longstreet’s reputation, damaged since the 1870s by the Lost Cause writers, such as Jubal A. Early.
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described The Killer Angels as “the best and most realistic historical novel about war that I have ever read.” The filmmaker Ken Burns has mentioned the influence of the book in developing his interest in the Civil War and his subsequent production of the PBS series on the subject.
Information from wickipedia.org