The Killer Angels Read-along Check-in #3: Day 2, July 2, 1863

The Killer Angels Read-along

In this section I continue to be intrigued by some of the reasons given for why the war is being waged and why some men chose to fight.

The Southerners “called themselves Americans, but they were transplanted Englishmen” (158).

I am fascinated by the idea that the war was fought not because of slavery, but over the resulting class structure that the system maintained. The South was thought by some (many?) to be replicating the aristocracy of Europe. As one foreign observer thinks to himself in this novel, “They haven’t left Europe. They’ve merely transplanted it. And that’s what the war is about” (165).

Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant of Engineers, U. S. Army 1838, by William Edward West (1788-1857).
In Robert E. Lee: An Album by Emory M. Thomas. New York: WW. Norton & Company, 1999]

As for why some of the individual men fought, I was most surprised by General Lee. He was a graduate of West Point (1829) and a career US Army soldier (32 years in service) who didn’t want the war and didn’t approve of slavery, yet chose to fight for the Confederacy because his people were from Virginia. Lee, at least according to this novel, didn’t think the ideas or land was worth the war, but he couldn’t fight against his own kin. However, he does end up fighting against old friends. As Longstreet says and Lee agrees, “They’re never quite the enemy, those boys in blue” (191).

Robert E. Lee in 1863

[UnattributedHeritage Auction Archives]

Some of the battle scene descriptions completely captiviated me, particularly the bayonet charge that Chamberlain’s troops made to defend Little Round Top. After reading this section, I read more about that action, including this informative article by James R. Brann that explains how Chamberlain didn’t win this skirmish by himself, of course, and how he contributed to his own legend in the post-war years. Once again the enlisted men, (like Sergeant Andrew Tozier) who create the circumstances for which officers take credit, are, for the most part, ignored.

Talk about class issues.

All snarkiness aside, as a writer myself it is interesting to see how Shaara uses historic figures and the historic record in a way that intensify and streamlines his story.

What stands out for you in this section of the novel?

What do you think? Leave a comment and let's talk!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.