The Killer Angels: Novel Summary: Chapter 1 - 4
Monday, June 29, 1863
Chapter 1: The Spy
Form a position high in the woods, Harrison, a spy who has been sent to locate the Union Army, spots two Union Corps in the valley, probably twenty thousand men, moving fast. Harrison rides away downhill with the intention of reaching the Confederate Army at its Southern headquarters, which he thinks is near Chambersburg, before nightfall. Harrison at this moment is the only man who knows the locations of both armies. He rides on in the rain, reciting Shakespeare to himself.
He is stopped at the picket line. Harrison mentions Longstreet, the man who sent him on this mission, and he is sent on to Longstreet’s headquarters. Harrison is warned that if no one there recognizes him, he will be hanged.
Longstreet is informed that Harrison has returned. Harrison tells him he knows the position of the Union Army. He points out their position on a map, and says there are at least eighty thousand men. Harrison gives him more details and is pleased with his work. He knows it is all news to Longstreet, who has heard nothing of Union movement and does not know the Union Army is close, less than four hours away. He has heard nothing from Lieutenant General J. E. B. Stuart, who went out several days earlier to report on Union Army movement. So Longstreet is skeptical of Harrison’s information. However, he is also aware that if the spy is correct, his army is in great danger. He takes Harrison to see Lee, who does not care for spies. Lee interviews Harrison briefly and then sends him away. Lee tells Longstreet he is reluctant to make a move on the basis of information supplied by a spy. Nonetheless, he decides to move quickly, with the aim of getting behind the Union forces and cutting them off from Washington. Lee gives the order to move at dawn eastward, in the direction of the small town of Gettysburg, where all the roads converge.
June 29, 1863: Chapter 2: Chamberlain
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine regiment, is roused from sleep by his aide Buster Kilrain. Kilrain informs him that they are being sent 120 mutineers. These men were part of a disbanded Maine regiment, the Second, who had served two years but had enlisted for three. They expected to be sent home since they believed they had only signed up for that particular regiment. When they found they were not being dismissed, they mutinied. However, they are being sent to the Twentieth Maine, and the orders from General Meade are that these men must fight or be shot.
Chamberlain has no idea of what to do with these men. He cannot possibly shoot other Maine men, he thinks.
The tired mutineers arrive, guarded by soldiers from a Pennsylvania regiment. Chamberlain’s younger brother, Lieutenant Tom Chamberlain, does not know how they will guard so many men, since the regiment itself has only 250 men. The elder Chamberlain ponders the paradox he must deal with: “How do you force a man to fight—for freedom?” (p. 22).
Chamberlain arranges for the hungry men to eat and allows their leader, Joseph Bucklin, to present their grievances. Bucklin complains that he and his men have been badly used by their superiors in the chain of command.
After Chamberlain receives orders that the regiment is to move west into Pennsylvania, he walks across to the mutineers and gives them an inspirational speech. He starts by saying he needs them because the regiment is under strength, but he will not shoot them if they refuse. Chamberlain, who believes passionately in the Union cause, then tries to explain to the men that they are fighting for freedom. He is not sure how his speech is received, but as the regiment begins its twenty-mile march in the direction of Gettysburg, Chamberlain hears from his brother Tom that all but six of the mutineers have agreed to fight.
Analysis, June 29, 1863, Chapters 1-2
Shaara is writing a novel about a famous historical event, and this imposes certain restraints on him. He must stick to the historical facts of the battle of Gettysburg, and he writes in his note “To the Reader,” that he has not knowingly changed any fact. However, he also acknowledges that the interpretation of each character is his own. Obviously, all the dialogue is fictional. Shaara has no way of knowing what Longstreet said to Lee or what Chamberlain said to his brother or the mutineers. It is this part of the novel that is fictional. However, Shaara has done his best to interpret his characters’ beliefs and motivations as accurately as he can, based on historical documents such as letters. He tells the story of the epic battle from a number of different points of view, including that of the three main characters introduced in these two opening chapters: Longstreet, Lee, and Chamberlain. In the novel as a whole, Shaara presents the Northern cause in a more favorable light than the Southern, and this is suggested in the first two chapters. While Lee and Longstreet discuss tactics, Chamberlain is allowed a speech in which he explains the high ideals of the Union side. They are fighting for freedom, and it is a kind of fight not seen in the world before—not for country but for mankind, not for land but for the people. Chamberlain is also presented in a very favorable light. Unlike the dour, inarticulate Longstreet, Chamberlain is bright and brilliant, loved by his men, capable, and fair-minded. His treatment of the mutineers is humane and just, as reflected in the willingness of almost all of them to join in the fight.
June 29, 1863: Chapter 3: Buford
From a hill just outside Gettysburg, Union Major General John Buford observes rebel troops streaming into the town. Buford and one of his brigade commanders, Bill Gamble, estimate rebel strength at one brigade. They see infantry but no cavalry. Buford has two brigades at his disposal; the main Union infantry is a day’s march away. Buford watches as the rebels unexpectedly withdraw from the town; he assume they have orders not to fight because they do not know the strength of the Union forces.
Buford orders his brigades into the town. When he rides in himself, he is convinced that Lee’s forces will return and converge on the city the following morning. Buford will then move his own forces back to the hills because he knows that Major General John Reynolds and the Union infantry will not have arrived by then. He sends scouts to gather information about rebel movements and sends a message to Reynolds and General Meade saying that he expects Lee’s army to be there in force in the morning.
Buford is concerned that by the following day the rebels will occupy the hills, putting them in a very strong position and the arriving Union forces at a disadvantage. He does not know whether his two brigades, good though they are, can hold the town long enough against Lee’s army until Reynolds arrives. He gives orders to dig in along the crest of a ridge west of the town; they would then be facing the advancing rebel army the next day.
That evening, Buford’s scouts report that the entire rebel army is on its way to Gettysburg. He writes a message to Reynolds. He thinks he can hold the ground but only if Reynolds arrives early. Later, at nearly midnight, Buford receives a note from Reynolds, who promises to come in the morning as early as possible. Buford believes the rebels will attack at dawn, and he resolves to hold his position; he thinks he can do it for two hours.
June 29, 1863: Chapter 4: Longstreet
In Longstreet’s camp, thirty miles from Gettysburg, Longstreet is anxious because he does not know the movements of the Union army. He has still heard nothing from Stuart, and nor has he heard back from Harrison after he had sent the spy to Gettysburg.
G. Moxley Sorrel, Longstreet’s chief of staff, reports that General Hill does not believe reports made by his own troops that there are Union cavalry in Gettysburg, and Lee accepts Hill’s judgment. Longstreet is not convinced, however.
After Longstreet has given the Englishman Fremantle some advice about poker, General George Pickett arrives at the camp on horseback with three of his brigade commanders: Armistead, Garnett, and Kemper. They are all friends of Longstreet, who has known them for more than twenty years. There is some socializing for a few minutes, and Longstreet introduces Fremantle to the new arrivals. After this, Longstreet and Pickett talk in private.
Pickett laments that he and his division have missed two major battles because they were directed to go elsewhere, and now his forces are bringing up the rear. He wants to see some action and asks Longstreet if his men can be moved up the line. Longstreet has no power to alter the existing arrangements but tells Pickett that if the army has to turn, which is possible, he will be first in line.
After Pickett goes to play poker, Longstreet talks to Armistead, who inquires about his old friend Hancock, who is fighting on the Union side. Longstreet tells him Hancock is headed for Gettysburg. Armistead hopes he will get the chance to see Hancock again. He also tells Longstreet that the morale of his men is high and he is confident they will prevail. They discuss military strategy. Longstreet favors a defensive war but Armistead points out that Lee prefers to take the offensive. Longstreet knows this is true but he points out to Armistead that Lee had promised to seek out a good defensive position and let the Union army come at them. The two men go to join the other officers, who are explaining to Fremantle why the war is being fought. It is not just about slavery, as Fremantle believed.
Harrison returns, bringing word of Union cavalry at Gettysburg.
At dawn, Confederate skirmishers approach Buford’s pickets, one of whom fires the first shot of the battle.
Analysis, June 29, 1863: chapters 3-4
Shaara builds the excitement and tension here as the great battle looms and possible strategies emerge. He is able to do this in part because he focuses each chapter narrowly on the point of view of a single character, the one named in the chapter title. By means of this device he captures what it must have been like for the men who had to make decisions based on limited information. Buford, for example, does not know when Reynolds will arrive, and he does not know for sure what Lee’s intentions are. The Confederate command also has to make decisions based on limited information. Shaara is not like a historian looking back, knowing all the facts, but more like a mouthpiece for a series of individuals on the ground, interpreting what they know, making plans, subject to error and miscalculation.
The narrative method gets the reader involved and wondering: How will Buford and his two brigades fare if they do have to face the full force of Lee’s army. And will Reynolds arrive in time? Certainly, Buford has no confidence in General Meade, and in this he echoes the sentiments of the leader of the mutineers that Chamberlain dealt with in the previous chapter. Buford thinks that Meade is too slow and bureaucratic but will be pressured by Washington to attack. Meade with then do so unwisely, charging up the hillside in the open to attack Lee’s well-defended position, leading to disaster. Buford knows what it is like to need assistance and not receive any. He is loved by his men for his legendary exploits at Thorofare Gap, when he had held off Longstreet, who outnumbered him by more than eight to one, for six hours, appealing for help that did not come.
In Longstreet’s chapter, the confederate cause is given brief exposition by the officers who believe in it, such as Kemper and Pickett. Their exposition does not match the prominence given to Chamberlain’s stirring speech on the Union side presented in chapter 2. Also, it is emphasized again that what he refers to as the Cause does not interest Longstreet. He is a military man who is concerned only with victory, not with causes or ideals.
Wednesday, July 1, 1863
The First Day
Chapter 1: Lee
Lee rises in the morning and goes outside his tent into the rain. He does not feel very well, and he knows he has heart disease. He learns from Major Walter Taylor that there is still no word from Stuart and suggests that is because he has nothing to report. Taylor also tells Lee that General Hill discounts reports of Union cavalry at Gettysburg. Hill thinks there is only a militia in the town. Lee knows that if cavalry is present, infantry will be close, too, and he tells Taylor that he does not want to fight until his entire army is assembled.
Lee deals with some issues involving civilians and meets with his aides. Marshall wants to court-martial Stuart for his continued absence, but Lee does not respond. Longstreet arrives, and Lee tells him that in the approaching battle he must stay in the rear, since he cannot afford to lose him. Longstreet is the only veteran commander available. The others are new. Like Marshall, Longstreet wants Stuart to be court-martialed, but Lee disagrees, saying that Stuart should just be reproached for letting them down. Court-martialing him will not make him a better soldier.
They discuss tactics; as usual, Longstreet favors a defensive strategy, but Lee, believing that Meade’s army will be tired after a long march, wants to attack. The army gets on the move, and Lee and Longstreet ride several miles together. At about ten in the morning, they hear the sound of artillery in the distance.
July 1, 1863: Chapter 2: Buford
At dawn, Buford’s men repel the first rebel attack, but Buford expects a second, more organized one to follow quickly. His forces are dug in and he is confident, thinking he is being attacked by only one brigade. He writes to Reynolds that he is holding west of Gettysburg and expects relief. His forces beat off another rebel attack and take prisoners. They find out that the prisoners are under the command of Major General Henry (Harry) Heth, whose forces number ten thousand men, with thousands more behind him. Buford knows the rebels will be back and that his own position is weak against such numbers, but he still hopes he can hold on until Reynolds arrives.
The big attack comes, and Union lines are severely tested. Buford thinks they can only hold for another half an hour, and he considers pulling out. Then Reynolds arrives from the south with two corps of fresh infantry, and their prospects against Heth’s forces are good. Buford feels a sense of relief. He and Reynolds ride out together, placing their troops, but then Reynolds, out in the open, is shot and killed. The battle continues without a commander. The rebels continue to attack, and the Union line holds.
Analysis, July 1, 1863: chapters 1-2
The fourth chapter of the previous section showed Lee from Longstreet’s point of view; chapter 1 in this section shows the opposite: Longstreet from Lee’s point of view. True to the positions established earlier, Longstreet disagrees with Lee on what their strategy should be, but he cannot oppose his commander. Lee is shown to be a man of dignity, deeply respected by his men; his treatment of civilians shows his humane approach to the war (“we must be charitable with these people,” p. 82). He treats people fairly, and he knows how to resist pressure from his officers to court-martial Stuart. He is shown to be steady, not impulsive in his reactions to events. He is also shown to have a feeling of guilt over the fact that as a military man he once swore to defend the very ground he is now invading.
As he promised in his note to the reader, Shaara sticks to the exact facts of the battle. Historically, Buford had 2,748 men, and the advancing Heth had 7,461. The Union forces held for an hour at Willoughby Run before Reynolds arrived, having ridden twelve miles up from his southwest camp at Emmitsburg. Reynolds was indeed highly thought of by all who knew him, as Buford’s description shows.
July 1, 1863: Chapter 3: Lee
Lee enters Cashtown, about ten miles northwest of Gettysburg, and talks to Lieutenant Colonel Ambrose Powell Hill, who is at a crossroads watching the troops move forward. Lee establishes his headquarters at a brick house, where Hill tells him that, Heth, ahead of them, has orders not to force a major engagement. Lee wants to know what is happening, and Hill says he will go ahead and find out for himself.
Lee worries to Major Taylor about not having heard from Stuart and therefore not knowing what Union forces lie ahead of him. He rides in the direction of Gettysburg and soon realizes that Heth’s forces have been repulsed. Heth arrives and explains that the situation is confused. First he thought he was attacking only a militia, then realized there was cavalry, then further realized that Union infantry was coming up in support from the south. He apologizes to Lee but does not know how they could have acted differently. Lee is angry at the lack of information about exactly what strength the Union forces are. He is informed that Rodes is continuing the attack on the Union flank, and Early has joined him. Heth requests permission to resume the attack. Lee is undecided at first but then tells Heth to go ahead and tells Pender to do the same.
The battle continues. Hill brings Lee news that Heth has been wounded; a courier from Early informs Lee that the enemy is falling back. A rider from General Pender reports the same. Lee rides up to the crest of Willoughby Run. He instructs Ewell that unless he is faced with a superior force, he must take Cemetery Hill, since he does not want Union forces established on high ground.
Longstreet arrives and Lee is delighted to see him. The smell of victory is in the air, but Lee and Longstreet disagree over what to do next. Longstreet wants to swing the army round and secure a defensive position on high ground between the Union army and Washington, so the Union forces will have no option but to attack. Lee, however, wants to press the attack. An aide from Ewell arrives, saying that Ewell has requested more support before trying to take Cemetery Hill. Lee replies that he has no forces in a position to help, and he reiterates that he wants Ewell to take the hill. He is worried that he sees no sign of an assault on the hill. Longstreet says it was a mistake to attack, and again tries to persuade Lee that they should withdraw; by the morning they will be outnumbered. But Lee is not persuaded. He has had enough to defensive war and says if Meade is there the next day he will attack.
July 1, 1863: Chapter 4: Chamberlain
Chamberlain and the Twentieth Maine make their way north across the state border to Hanover, Pennsylvania, which is about twenty miles east of Gettysburg. Tom Chamberlain, Joshua’s brother, teaches one of the new men from Second Maine (the former mutineers) the regiment’s bugle call. Chamberlain reflects on the battle of Fredericksburg, in which he participated; the characteristics of the climate in Maine; his mother and father; his home, and how he always feels at home, wherever he is.
When they reach Hanover, the townspeople are pleased to see them. They find out that there has been fighting at Gettysburg. After dark, they rest; they have marched a hundred miles in five days. But soon their hear the bugle call and are ordered to march immediately and with all speed to Gettysburg; they hear rumors about the battle that has just taken place, and a staff officer tells Chamberlain that the popular General McClellan is back in charge of the Union army. Chamberlain does not believe it but the men do. They reach Gettysburg at midnight.
Analysis, July 1, 1863: chapters 3-4
After chapters 1 and 2 describe the first stages of the battle, these chapters focus on Confederate and then Union forces converging on Gettysburg. The first-person narrations continue to develop the character portrayals. General Lee reveals a streak of fatalism in his nature as he reflects on how little control he has over events. The battle is underway but without any orders or decisions from him. He feels an inevitability in the coming conflict, as if it is God’s will that it happens. He gives a few instructions and allows his generals to get on with it: “With that word it was out of his hands. It had never really been in his hands at all” (p. 111). Lee also comes across as world-weary; a man in his sixth decade who is not in good health and knows his own mortality.
The austere, dignified Lee is contrasted sharply with the younger, energetic Joshua Chamberlain, to whom the author gives a very warm, human voice, which is conveyed in this chapter in his affectionate reflections on his family and some of his boyhood memories. Chamberlain is also emerging as an ideal, inspiring leader. This was shown earlier in how he managed to persuade the mutineers to take up arms again; it is shown in this chapter by the concern he has for his men.