Friday, July 28, 2006

Book Review - "The Killer Angels"

Michael Shaara wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel, The Killer Angels, in 1974. Stephen B. Oates said it was "The best Civil War novel ever written, even better than The Red Badge of Courage."

The book tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg in early July, 1863 through the eyes, thoughts, words and actions of Robert E. Lee (the Confederate Commanding General), James Longstreet (a Confederate General), and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (a Union Colonel from Maine), with a few chapters for John Buford and a British author, Fremantle. Each chapter deals with a specific part of each of the three days of battle - from the night before when the Confederates were supremely confident to the day after the scathing defeat of the Confederate Army.

I learned so much history (that I had never learned before or have forgotten) about this area - I wish I had read this book before we visited Gettysburg in 1999. The battle movements, the topography, the key moments are all described in detail. The horror of battle is described, especially Joshua Chamberlain's regiment's ordeal defending Little Round Top on the second day preventing a Union defeat. Longstreet's agony of disagreeing with Lee's war plans, but carrying out his orders, is also discussed at length as are the politics behind the actions on both sides.

Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, wrote a prequel called "Gods and Generals" to this book, and a sequel to this book, "The Last Full Measure," in the 1990's. I posted about the prequel about a week ago, and will post about the sequel after I have read it (it's on my reading table now - I read during the Padres baseball games on TV).

My overall reaction to this series so far is that Abraham Lincoln and the Union was very lucky - he had terrible military leadership up to Gettysburg, and the Confederates were winning, until Lee made the horrible mistake of sending Pickett to attack Cemetery Hill, and was decimated. If the Confederates had won this war, this country almost certainly would not be the way it is today.

1 comment:

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