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The Killer Angels

  • Study Guide

July 3, 1863: Chapter 1–2

Summary July 3, 1863: Chapter 1–2

Summary—Chapter 1: Chamberlain

Early morning, Big Round Top. From the hill’s summit, Chamberlain watches the sun rise. Chamberlain’s foot is still bleeding, and he has to keep moving to ignore the pain. His men are low on rations and hungry. Tom appears and offers Chamberlain some coffee. Chamberlain accepts it gratefully and remembers that he used his own brother to plug a hole in the front line the previous day. He misses Kilrain, who is absent because of his injury, and Chamberlain wishes he could talk to him. Tom reveals that he did not use his bayonet the previous day, as he could not bring himself to stab anyone. He points out that Chamberlain was never scared.

Chamberlain notices some artillery begin to fire in the north. He thinks they might be attacked again, but now the men have dug in deep and have plenty of ammunition. An aide arrives and says that Chamberlain’s regiment has been relieved. The relief brigade quickly arrives, and the aide leads Chamberlain’s men away and toward a “safe place” to rest, “right smack dab in the center of the line.”

Summary—Chapter 2: Longstreet

Morning, Confederate camp. Longstreet is preparing for the assault he knows is coming. There is still an opportunity to move southeast, but Union cavalry is quickly closing in on his army’s flank. Lee arrives and the two ride out to survey the battlefield. Longstreet makes one last attempt to persuade Lee to move south, but Lee responds, “The enemy is there . . . and there’s where I’m going to strike him.” Lee wants Longstreet to move, with Pickett’s fresh division in front, and split the Union line in the middle. Longstreet objects—he has lost half of his men, and one of his best officers, Hood, is injured. If he moves forward, the entire rear of the army is exposed. He informs Lee that it is his military opinion that a frontal assault will be a disaster.

But Lee is certain that the Union lines will break, and he sees no alternative. Before Longstreet can say anything, there is the sound of gunfire to the north. Apparently, Ewell has engaged the enemy without orders. But Lee and Longstreet soon discover that Union soldiers have actually attacked Ewell while he was getting ready, and their action surprises the Confederate officers. Ewell’s battle begins to mount, and Lee makes his firm decision to charge the Union center. He tells Longstreet that he must reach a clump of trees on Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet replies, one last time, that he thinks the attack will fail, but Lee dismisses his concerns. Longstreet becomes despondent. He knows Lee will not relieve him and give the attack to someone else, because there is no one else capable of leading the charge. Yet he also knows that it is doomed to fail. Longstreet’s depressed mood comes close to despair.

But Longstreet forces himself to move on, knowing that he cannot reveal his doubts to his officers. He orders the artillery commander, Alexander, to fire at the hill with as much ammunition as he has. Once Alexander thinks enough damage has been dealt, he is to let Longstreet know so the attack can begin.

Longstreet meets with his generals and describes the plan. They are all inspired and moved by the heroic plan, and they do not realize how hopeless it is. Longstreet is certain there will be terrible casualties. Longstreet knows there is nothing he can do but watch.