Analysis—July 3, 1863: Chapter 1–2

In Chapter 1, Shaara makes his biggest departure from historical fact. He moves the Twentieth Maine from Big Round Top to a position in the center of the Union line, right where the Confederates attack the next day. But in fact, Chamberlain’s regiment was moved to a ridge just north of Little Round Top, three quarters of a mile south of the line’s center. Shaara makes this significant departure from history to show the Union perspective on Pickett’s Charge. Moving Chamberlain also heightens the novel’s drama by putting the Twentieth Maine once again in harm’s way.

Chapter 2 focuses again on the struggle between Lee and Longstreet. It may seem frustrating that Longstreet, despite his vocal objections, never tries actively to prevent Lee from making the charge. Longstreet struggles with Lee in private, and when Lee proves obstinate, Longstreet backs down. Yet Longstreet does not seem like a weak-willed man—he is himself quite stubborn. One reason for the conflict may be that Shaara’s allegiance to historical fact abbreviates his poetic license. Dramatically, it would make sense for Longstreet to persevere with Lee until Lee agreed, but since this is not actually what happened in the Civil War, Shaara’s own rules about his novel’s adherence to historical fact prevent him from portraying such an event. Longstreet follows Lee’s orders in The Killer Angels because of his great respect for the man, and his knowledge that the Confederate troops think of Lee almost as a demigod. For Longstreet to go against Lee would be to make himself unpopular. Historically, however, Longstreet is responsible for his own share of personal mistakes in the battle. Furthermore, when Lee goes to see Longstreet on the morning of July 3, Longstreet is actually drawing up orders to move his men south and flank the Union right—he is ready take action despite Lee’s opposition. Lee does not let Longstreet move the troops, and is also annoyed that Longstreet is unprepared to attack the Union’s left flank, as Lee had originally planned. The plan, known as Pickett’s Charge, was actually conceived then, in the morning. Shaara captures the gloominess of Longstreet that morning—he knew many men would die and that the plan would very likely fail.