The Killer Angels: Novel Summary: Chapter 1 - 6 Friday July 3, 1863
Friday July 3, 1863
Chapter 1: Chamberlain
At dawn, Chamberlain climbs a tree and watches the morning come, looking out over the campfires. He did not sleep that night. His injured foot bleeds, and the men are out of rations. Tom brings him some coffee. Tom confesses that the previous day, although he participated in the charge, he was unable to bring himself to use his bayonet. He says that most men won’t use it. Joshua says it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Chamberlain tells Tom that he expects the rebels will make another attempt that day; Tom points out that the regiment has only two hundred men left—but they are in a good position, says Chamberlain.
Then he sees that the battle has begun, to the north of them, on the opposite flank. He believes that if the rebels come again, he can hold his position as long as he receives some ammunition. He walks among his men, seeing what condition they are in. He is angry that they have no food. A lieutenant, an aide from Colonel Rice, arrives and tells Chamberlain he is relieved; Colonel Fisher’s brigade is to take over their position. Chamberlain does not want to fall back, but the lieutenant takes them to their new position, which is in the center of the Union line.
July 3, 1863: Chapter 2: Longstreet
At dawn, Longstreet and Lee ride together toward high ground where they survey the Union defenses. Longstreet says he has found a way south, and wants to move, but Lee is not interested. He explains his attacking strategy of splitting the Union line at the center while Ewell attacks the flank. Longstreet protests. He says his divisions are only at half strength. How can they possibly take the same high ground at half strength that they could not take at full strength the previous day? It will be a disaster, Longstreet says; they will be fighting uphill and on open ground. But Lee insists there is no alternative.
Word comes that unexpectedly, Union forces have started the fight, attacking Ewell. Lee and Longstreet ride back to the peach orchard, where General Wofford tells him his men cannot break the Union lines because the enemy has brought in reinforcements and his own forces took many casualties the previous day.
A little later, Lee explains to Longstreet the battle plan. Longstreet will have three divisions—Pickett, Heth, and Pender—who will attack the center. This will be preceded by a heavy artillery barrage on the center of the Union line. Lee says they are staking everything on this plan. Longstreet says he believes the attack will fail because they will be advancing for a mile over open ground under constant artillery fire. Lee will not listen, however, and cuts him off.
Longstreet conceals his doubts as he explains the battle strategy to the officers, including Pettigrew (in charge of Heth’s forces), Trimble (in charge of Pender’s) and Pickett. He says the fate of the country depends on what they do.
Longstreet waits for the action to start. He expects that the Confederate forces will suffer 50 percent casualties and be unable to take the wall. It is nearly noon, and soon 140 guns will begin firing, the greatest artillery barrage in the history of warfare.
Analysis, July 3, 1863: Chapters 1-2
Readers who come to this novel knowing nothing of General Lee’s career up to this point may find themselves puzzled about how Lee is being presented. He is a revered figure whom no one questions, and yet in this battle he is shown to be verging on the stubborn, too fixed in his ideas and ignoring alternatives. He ignored Longstreet’s advice for the second day of battle, with a bad outcome, and now he is ignoring Longstreet again, in spite of the fact that Longstreet, an experienced and astute general, puts his case with some force. Lee is simply not interested in hearing a contrary opinion.
This has to be put in the context of Lee’s success up to this point. Whatever Longstreet may think privately in The Killer Angels, military historians regard Lee as a fine tactician. Beginning in 1829, he served for thirty-two years in the U.S. Army, distinguishing himself in the Mexican War of 1846-48. As commander of the Confederate forces, before the ill-fated invasion of the North and the Battle of Gettysburg, Lee won important victories at the Battle of Fredericksburg (1862) and the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863). Although in chapter 2 here he gives the impression of being like a gambler throwing everything into one last throw of the dice, his sterling reputation had been well earned.
It should also be borne in mind that Longstreet’s point of view in the novel is based on Longstreet’s own memoirs. Many people after the war blamed not Lee but Longstreet for the debacle at Gettysburg. It was alleged that Longstreet was too slow to put Lee’s orders into operation.
July 3, 1863: Chapter 3: Chamberlain
As Lieutenant Pitzer guides Chamberlain and his men to their position, he says that Meade wanted to withdraw the whole army, but none of his corps commanders agreed with him. Chamberlain’s regiment is to be held in reserve, within sight of Meade’s headquarters.
Chamberlain is summoned by General Sykes, who is impressed by what he has heard of the Twentieth Maine’s bayonet charge. Sykes promises he will get rations to Chamberlain’s men. Chamberlain walks back to his men limping because of the wound in his foot. As he wraps the foot, Tom reports from the hospital that Kilrain has died, not from his wounds but of a heart attack.
The artillery fire begins and shells fall close to Chamberlain and Tom. It is intense, and Chamberlain has never experienced anything quite like it. The Union guns return the fire. Chamberlain sleeps intermittently while he waits for action
July 3, 1863: Chapter 4: Armistead
Brigadier General Lewis Armistead watches the Confederate artillery barrage begin just after one o’clock, and the Union reply. The men, exposed to the enemy fire, lie down in the fields. Armistead sees Pickett writing to his sweetheart and gives him a ring from his finger to send to her. Pickett is looking forward to the battle, but Armistead is weighed down by the knowledge that his old friend Hancock awaits him on the Union side, at the top of the hill.
Garnett rides up and says he will ride into the battle, even though that is against Pickett’s orders. His leg is injured and he cannot walk. Armistead tries to persuade him not to, since he will make an easy target.
Armistead tries to get Pickett to order Garnett not to take part in the charge, but Pickett refuses.
The artillery barrage dies down on both sides and Longstreet gives the order to advance. The Confederates begin their charge, first moving through the woods and then into the open fields beyond, as yet out of sight of Union lines. Armistead encounters Garnett still on horseback and tries without success to get him to dismount; he knows Garnett will die.
The Union artillery opens up once more on the advancing men who form a line, which stretches for a mile. Many men fall, and the gaps in the line are closed up. Armistead is beginning to think they may succeed. They face musket fire and then massive canister fire that produces millions of small metal balls hurtling their way. The line on the right begins to break. Armistead sees Kemper still mounted but wounded in the arm. Kemper appeals to him for help as their line is breaking. Armistead yells encouragement to Kemper, who cannot hear him for the noise of battle.
Armistead takes off his hat, puts it on the tip of his sword and raises his sword high in the air as he leads his men, now walking faster. The Confederate lines are being broken, and Armistead sees Pettigrew’s men running. Armistead expects to die but he is not hit, and he keeps moving forward to the wall. He is wounded in the leg but still moves forward. He sees Garnett’s riderless, mortally wounded horse. There is no sign of Garnett.
Finally, although knowing the cause is lost, and still urging his men on, he manages to reach the stone wall. He is hit in the side and knows he is dying. Dead men are all around him, most of them from his own side. He asks a Union officer if he can send a message to Hancock. He is told that Hancock is wounded; he prays that Hancock may survive, then sinks into unconsciousness.
Analysis, July 3, 1863: Chapters 3-4
The chapter told from Armistead’s point of view captures the unmitigated disaster of what became known in history as Pickett’s Charge. Armistead himself comes across as a valiant warrior, with his hat on the tip of his raised sword—a historically accurate detail—heroically urging his men on. The bravery of it recalls Chamberlain and the bayonet charge of the Twentieth Maine on the second day of battle, but there is a contrast: Chamberlain’s charge was born of necessity, was a great act of leadership, and succeeded in its purpose. In contrast—at least how it is presented in this novel—Pickett’s Charge was not necessary (Longstreet had advised a better course), and was a terrible failure, whatever valor was shown by individuals and the Confederates as a whole.
Shaara slightly alters the facts of Armistead’s death. In the novel it appears that he dies at the scene, but in fact his wounds were at the time not thought to be life-threatening. He was taken to a Union field hospital but died two days later from fever. Obviously, Shaara’s account of his death makes for more dramatic reading.
July 3, 1863: Chapter 5: Longstreet
Longstreet sits on a fence watching the battle turn into a nightmare for his army. He watches as his men retreat. An aide of Pickett’s arrives, requesting support, but Longstreet has none to give, and he orders Pickett to retreat. Longstreet is angry and disgusted; he thinks that all his men have died for nothing and he was responsible for sending them out there.
Lee rides up. Longstreet thinks he will never forgive him. Lee is saying that the defeat was all his fault, and he tells his men to maintain good order in the retreat. He tells Longstreet that he expects a counterattack, and he orders Pickett to reform his division at the rear of a hill. Pickett laments that he has no division. All his colonels are gone, and most of his men, too. Longstreet also expects a counterattack, and a brief flurry of fire is directed at them, but then the Union troops pull back.
As evening comes, Longstreet rides back to camp. He learns that of the thirteen colonels in Pickett’s division, seven are dead and six wounded. Longstreet thinks the army will not recover from the defeat. Lee tells Longstreet they must withdraw that night. He says the spirit of the army remains good and they will do better next time, but Longstreet disagrees. He doubts whether they can win the war now, and he also doubts whether he can go on leading the army. Lee admits he was wrong in his battle tactics and that Longstreet was right.
July 3, 1863: Chapter 6: Chamberlain
In the evening, Chamberlain goes off on his own. He looks over the battlefield, knowing he has been present at one of the most momentous times in history and that he will never forget it. Tom joins him in the rain and remarks on the courage the rebels showed in coming at them up the hill. Tom does not understand how they could fight so courageously in the cause of slavery. Chamberlain pities the dead men whose corpses are bring laid out on a nearby field, but he feels privileged to have taken part in the battle, and he also feels a thrill at the thought of battles still to come, because he knows the war is not over.
Analysis, July 3, 1863: Chapters 5-6
The focus in chapter 5 is on the bitter feelings of Longstreet as he witnesses the scale of the disaster, and his difficult relationship with Lee. He blames Lee for the defeat, and he would continue to do so after the war and after Lee’s death in 1870. This led to Longstreet facing much hostility in the South, where Lee remained a revered figure.
The words Shaara gives to Pickett when he encounters Lee after the battle (“I have no Division”) are historically accurate. Pickett lost nearly 3,000 men that day, more than half of his troops. Although it is not apparent from the novel, Pickett blamed Lee for the disaster. In 1870, five years after the war ended, Pickett and a Confederate leader named John Mosby called on Lee in Richmond. As he left, Pickett said, “That old man had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg.” However, the ill-fated charge gave luster to Pickett’s name.
The chapter from Chamberlain’s point of view brings the novel to a quiet close. Notable are Chamberlain’s feelings of exhilaration. In spite of all he has been through, he remains attached to the romance of war. As he thinks back to the sight of the advancing rebel army, he feels “it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. No book or music would have that beauty” (p. 362).
Chamberlain went on to fight in more battles and was wounded a total of six times. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.