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In the opening section, “To the Reader,” author Michael
Shaara states that he wrote the book because he wanted to know “what
it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what the men’s
faces looked like.” He adds that since there were so many different
historical interpretations of what went on at the Battle of Gettysburg,
he based The Killer Angels primarily on the letters,
journal entries, and memoirs of the men who were there.
In the Foreword, Shaara gives a brief description of
the situation in late June 1863. General
Robert E. Lee, after a string of victories, has led the Confederate
army into an invasion of Union territory, mainly in Pennsylvania.
His intention is to destroy the Union army once and for all and
then offer peace to the President of the Union, Abraham Lincoln—with
the understanding that the Confederacy be recognized as an independent
Shaara then describes the main
characters and gives a little of each man’s background and personal
history. The most important are General Robert E. Lee, Confederate
General James Longstreet, Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,
and Major General George Meade, commanding general of the Union
In “To the Reader,” Shaara says
that his desire to understand the war from the perspective of someone
who participated in it is the same as that of Stephen Crane, the
author of another famous Civil War novel, The Red Badge
of Courage. Crane’s novel, written only a decade or so
after the Civil War, is an important precursor to The Killer
Angels, since it was the first fictionalization of the
Shaara’s list of characters provides some necessary information about
the key players, but the character traits and background history
we are given here are also included in the novel itself. Some of the
novel’s perspectives and biases are hinted at here. For instance, Shaara
introduces nine Confederate characters, but only five Union characters.
In fact, with the exception of a few early chapters about John Buford,
Joshua Chamberlain is the only Union voice we encounter in the novel.
By contrast, there are chapters centering around five different
Confederate characters, including a spy and a military observer
from England who is visiting the Confederates, and the novel contains
many more chapters from the viewpoint of the Confederates than it
does from the Unionists.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Killer Angels!