Book Review: The Killer Angels

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, are you looking for a good book with which to curl up and be cozy?  if so, Sohailah, an ACTS Education Program Leader recommends The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.  Here is her review:

This book was the first book I read by a member of the Shaara Family. It was actually given to me by an organizer the first time I lead her group in 1998. It had such a huge impact on me that I immediately recommended it to my mom, who read it, and subsequently bought and read all of Shaara’s son’s books (As have I – supplemented by those I borrowed from the library…)Gettysburg 5 2014

I love the Shaara style of writing, which is choosing a few main characters, and telling the story from their angles throughout the book. The Killer Angels is actually the second in a trilogy following the Civil War, although it was the first book written. Although I still have not been able to fully satisfy my curiosity, it is my understanding, that Michael Shaara died a rather untimely death, and his son, Jeff, picked up the family legacy of writing. Gods and Generals is the first in the completed trilogy, and the third is The Last Full Measure. The very famous movie, Gettysburg is based upon The Killer Angels. Gods and Generals has also been made into a movie. The Last Full Measure has had plans to be made into a motion picture, but has yet to come to the screen. (There is a movie by this title, but it is set in the Vietnam War era.)

The Killer Angels picks up right after the death of Stonewall Jackson. Up to this point in the war, the South had been winning most every major battle, albeit at a terrible cost. If a battle is fought in your town, then your town is the one destroyed by bullets and cannons. Your farms are trampled, your crops eaten, your animals slaughtered – in essence the cost is much more than the lives of men lost. General Lee decides to take the war out of Virginia, for a couple of reasons. First to get the war off of his land, and also to hopefully win a battle on Northern soil and end the war.

The four main characters in this book are Brigadier General John Buford and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain from the Union side, and General Lee and Lieutenant General Longstreet, on the Confederate side.

The battle in Gettysburg was not a planned battle, but as General Lee has marched his men for two weeks into Pennsylvania, President Lincoln has gotten wind of the move, and sent his newly appointed General George Meade up to investigate, as he thought that General Lee planned on marching South into the Capital. As Gettysburg is the town where ten major roads intersect, it is where the battle happens.

The story is told in the past tense, although the foreword is told in the present tense. He ends the book with an afterword, telling what happened to the four main characters in the book.

The book gives detailed accounts of every day of the battle, including several key events; the 20th Maine holding Little Round Top on the second day (led by Joshua Chamberlain), and Pickett’s Charge on the third day being two of those events.

Although some historians claim this book to be merely historical fiction, Michael Shaara has tried to stay true to the events, using maps, diaries, journals, newspaper clippings of the day, and every other historical artifact he could find to tell the story. He, (and his son after him), did (do) say that although they use conversation throughout their books, they try to make it as accurate as possible, using actual words from diaries when they can, and using the language of the day when they needed.

The Killer Angels brought the Battle of Gettysburg to life for me.  As with any war, it is the emotional appeal that brings the hearts of men into war. For the North it was to defend a nation, and eventually a people. For the South it was to defend their way of life and what they believed were decisions states should make for themselves. Reading books like The Killer Angels brings the facts of the Battle to life with personal accounts – whether it be from Longstreet’s perspective that Pickett’s Charge would fail before it began, or other smaller storylines told from Armistead’s side (Confederate Commander under Pickett). Gettysburg snow 2014 b

The main reason I recommended this book to my mother was that I knew she knew very little of American History. She grew up in English Boarding Schools and was an Iranian Citizen until 1964, so there was very little of American History that had any influence or bearing on her immediate life. She and my father came to visit me in Washington DC and I took them to Gettysburg in June 1999. It was then that her interest was piqued, and I recommended the book to her. It also brought our history to life for her, and gave her a much broader and clearer understanding of why America was founded as it was, and how and why our country was shaped.


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