The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels June 29, 2012

I am not a Civil War buff. I’m a history buff, but not a Civil War buff. I know the general outlines of the war, and how the Union generals in the East were a sorry bunch for much of the war, and like that; but I confess I haven’t studied it. Consequently, I’d never seriously considered reading The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, until Julie and Scott picked it for their A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. I’ve not listened to the podcast, mind you; but I thought, well, it sounds like an interesting book; I’ll give it a try.

And frankly, it’s nothing short of amazing.

The Killer Angels is simply the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the entire war. Shaara’s primary viewpoint characters are General Longstreet, Robert E. Lee’s right-hand man after the death of Stonewall Jackson, and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, an infantry commander from Maine. There are also scattered chapters from the points of view of Lee himself and a few others. Shaara digs deep into these characters; they, and their companions in arms, are as well and finely drawn as any I can think of. And, I gather, Shaara is exceedingly accurate. Gettysburg, and the Civil War in general, is one of the best documented wars in history. All the well-known survivors wrote about it, and many of the less well-known, and I can’t help thinking that Shaara picked his viewpoint characters based entirely on the material available. (Signficantly, I don’t believe anyone who died in the battle is used as a viewpoint character.)

I was especially impressed by Joshua Chamberlain. A college professor from Bowdoin University, he somehow ended up a Colonel…and to his surprise, found that he was remarkably good at it. He ended the war a Major General, and because of his accomplishments was honored by being chosen to receive Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Later he became Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin University.

Anyway. Highly recommended.


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