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The Killer of Angels is a book by Michael Shaara that fictionally illustrates the historical facts of the battle of Gettysburg. The book illustrates the armies and individuals, the events leading to the battle, as well as day by day actions of the battle. From the men involved, one sees the problems they faced and the decisions they made an also the personal and individual reactions to those decisions. In addition, the book communicates the reality of the war, losses and tragedies, and motivations and deep emotions of the men involved. The primary characters are Robert E. Lee and George Mead though Generals Buford, Longstreet, Chamberlain and Pickett also play a key role.
Michael Shaara presents Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the book a very courageous heroic combatant with exceptional reliability. Besides, he portrays him to have tremendous leadership skills in many several situations. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain seems to understand the importance of the battle at Gettysburg long before he is even near the battlefield (Shaara, 1996, p. 33). Moreover, his faith in the "dignity of man" and America was stronger than that of "his faith in God" (Shaara, 1996, p. 29). He was the main Union voice as depicted in the novel. He has a different viewpoint of the war rather than that of Lee or Longstreet although he was just a colonel, an extensively lower rank than them.
It is without doubt that he was the most interesting Union soldiers of the civil war and above all the most famous. At the time of war, he was a professor at Bowdoin College but left college to go and fight and by the end of the war; he had shown his exemplary skills as a soldier. Compared to most of the other soldiers, he was well educated and thoughtful. He was a citizen-turned-soldier and despite his education he was in a lower rank. He decides to forsake his prestigious job for the love of his country and lives to become a renowned soldier.
Chamberlain's real desire to go to fight was due to slavery that was the main cause of the war. He came face to face with an escaped slave and knowing that this was the main cause of the war, he finds himself troubled. "I was really thinking of killing him... then I realized for the first time that if it was necessary to kill them, then I would kill them, and something at the same time said: you cannot be utterly right (July 2, Chapter 2). Many of the soldiers from both sides, the Confederate and the Union, felt that the war was being fought over the issues of states' rights and the preservation of the union rather than slavery. His deep contemplation of slavery and how he reacts to it shows how he understood that one of the fundamental causes of the war was slavery. This is after the reaction of his associate professor from the south tried to convince him that blacks were not really "humans."
The novel first introduces Chamberlain giving a motivational speech to over one hundred starved and irritated soldiers. Through his passionate and honest request he managed to break through their barriers of hatred and betrayal and ultimately inspired them to fight for a course they would relate to. Chamberlain is a character that makes the novel very fascinating. For instance, as he rides the horse, he daydreams and realizes that he has started loving the life of a soldier;
[A]wake all night in front of Fredericksburg. We attacked in the afternoon, just at dusk, and the stone wall was aflame from one end to the other, too much smoke, couldn't see, the attack failed, couldn't withdraw, lay there all night in the dark, in the cold among the wounded and dying. Piled-up bodies in front of you to catch the bullets, using the dead for a shield; remember the sound? Of bullets in dead bodies? . . . Remember the flap of a torn curtain in a blasted window, fragment-whispering in that awful breeze: never, forever, never, forever (July 1, Chapter 4).
After every confrontation where his side had casualties, he made sure that he visited each individual soldier or perhaps a group of soldiers to be sure that they did not require the attention of a doctor. In addition, he took time to know his fellow men and build relationships with them. As a result, he gained more respect even than generals like Lee because his soldiers knew who they were fighting for and also they knew that if they died fighting, they would die in honor under the command of a considerate and passionate Colonel. He also did very well during the battle on Little Round Top. When he realized his troops were in trouble, he ordered his brother, Tom, to fill a spot thereby risking his life. "
To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order death of the thing you love. This is the hard thing to do" (Shaara, 1996, p. 191). They had run out of ammunitions at the Twentieth Maine down Little Round Top where the regiment soldiers had held the Confederate soldier trying to climb the hill for over one hour. They were hiding behind tree and rocks but when the ammunitions are over and the Confederates are still charging he sees only one chance: to charge down the hill, bayonets and swords up, and try to get the Confederates to flee. The plan worked since the Confederates fled to the screaming of the Union soldiers.
It is very important that the battle of Gettysburg happens on the American soil because it also encompasses its ideology too. The Killer Angel represents the American culture and its long-lasting "dream of independence" (Shaara, 1996, p. 117). The cultures and values admired by those in the Gettysburg battle are still interlocked into the modern American society. This is because this is a book written out of fiction of a historic event that is relevant today.