An Analysis of the Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Michael Shaara was an American writer of historical fiction, science fiction, and sports fiction. He has written five novels and four short stories. Of them all, The Killer Angels being one of his more well known and earning him a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is also a national best seller among other things. He received his viewpoints and information behind the Killer Angels from his family.

Shaara was born in Jersey City, New Jersey to Michael Joseph Sr., an Italian immigrant, and Alleene Maxwell Shaara, a southerner.

Having such diverse parents allowed him to come into touch with different cultures, one from the north and one from the south. This probably helped him to understand the Civil War from both perspectives. Shaara did well in school, having won more awards in high school than any other student in the history of that high school. As well as being intelligent, he was also quite athletic.

He received letters for track and baseball and excelled as a baseball pitcher.

He also knew how to box having learned from his father. His Win/Loss ratio is 17/1 and the one loss serving as a basis for a short story he wrote later in his life, Come to My Party. He did well after graduating from high school.

Shaara’s work experiences resembled those of Ernest Hemingway, one of his favorite authors. He served in the army as a paratrooper, was a merchant seaman, a police officer, and also taught literature next to being a writer.

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In the entirety of his life, he wrote 75 short stories that were published in a variety of magazines, some of them being Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook. His short stories covered a variety of genres, science fiction being the predominant genre.

His second novel, being The Killer Angels, is the one that brought him recognition. The causes behind the book are letters and a vacation. The letters were from an his great-grandfather who fought and was injured at Gettysburg. He took a trip to Gettysburg seeking to learn more about his great-grandfather’s experience. His health worsened later in life.

He was constantly stricken with health problems later in his life. He was in a motorcycle accident in 1972 in Italy and remained in a coma for several weeks. He was unable to concentrate and his ability to write became impaired due to pain and symptoms like that of a stroke. Things only seemed to get worse after this accident. In 1980, he divorced his life and cut all ties with his son for some reason. For the remaining years of his life, he was unable to do the things he enjoyed because of the condition of his health. He ended up becoming bitter and withdrawn being unable to enjoy a lot of things that had given him joy. He died on May 5, 1988, at the age of 59.

“I wrote only what came to mind, with no goal and little income, always for the joy of it, and it has been a great joy.” A great story, carefully crafted, to Michael Shaara, meant more than a pulling in a huge audience or a great sum of money. He was hooked on the fun of the story waiting to be told. He had done a great deal with his life. He had visited many places and done a lot of things.

The Killer Angels is a historical fiction novel by Michael Shaara. It was published in 1974 and a year later, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The topic of the book is the Civil War. It takes on multiple perspectives, so is considered to be a third person omniscient viewpoint. The perspective changes with every chapter, going from person to person, Union to Confederate. It is considered by many to be the best Civil War novel ever written, it was a national bestseller, won a Pulitzer prize, and was the basis for the popular film Gettysburg despite the trouble it went through in the beginning.

The Inspiration behind The Killer Angels were letters written by Shaara’s great-grandfather during the Civil War and a vacation he and his family took to Gettysburg. His great-grandfather was a member of the 4th Georgia infantry and was wounded at Gettysburg. He and his family visited Gettysburg twice: one in 1966 and another in 1970. After the first trip, he worked on the manuscript for seven years, teaching during the day and writing at night. This with some other actions led to a major heart attack in 1965, which he recovered from. But, finally, it was published in 1974.

Shaara had trouble finding a publisher to publish his book. To Shaara’s disappointment, The Killer Angels was rejected by the first fifteen publishers who looked at the manuscript. But in 1973, he found a publisher. It was bought by The David McKay Company, a small, independent publisher, later bought by another company, Random House. His second novel was not a big success having only received little attention and mixed reviews. This was a cause for Shaara and the literary community’s shock when The Killer Angels was awarded the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The disappointment only continued.

To his dismay, The Killer Angels never enjoyed commercial success and it seemed that there was a very small audience that seemed interested in or enjoyed reading a personalized story of the US’s most horrible chapter. Later along the line, the book became a basis for a movie. Sadly, at that point Shaara was no longer alive. 5 years after his death, his son saw to it that the screenplay Shaara had written before he had died. The movie was named Gettysburg and was finished in 1993. Later on, Jeff, Michael Shaara’s son, included The Killer Angels in a trilogy with his Michael’s book as the centerpiece. It went Gods and Generals, set before The Killer Angels, and The Last Full Measure, set right after.

The Killer Angels was a third person omniscient, historical fiction novel. It wasn’t as popular when Shaara was alive than when Shaara was not on this Earth. The making of and recognition of the book had its ups and downs. It was small and unrecognized in the beginning and grew to be a national best seller, a basis for the movie Gettysburg, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, and considered by many to be the best Civil War novel ever written. It is Michael Shaara’s best piece.

The Killer Angels is a 337 page book. The book is separated into 6 different sections all but two of them being different days of the Civil War. The sections are as followed: The Foreword/Introduction, June 29,1863, July 1, 1863, July 2, 1863, July 3, 1863, and the afterword. In the Foreword/Introduction, Michael Shaara gives a brief description of what’s happening in June 1863 and also a list of the main characters giving information and personal history of those characters. In the Afterword, Michael Shaara gives information on what the main characters did after the book stopped. The story actually begins on the first day.

The first day of the book is June 29, 1863. This section contains 4 chapters. The first chapter follows the perspective of Confederate spy, Harrison. The book starts of with Harrison learning some important information and he has cavalry out.. The chapter ends with both Generals agreeing to move the army. The next chapter switches viewpoint to that of Colonel Chamberlain. It starts off with a soldier informing Chamberlain that they are receiving 120 mutineers from the 2nd Maine.

When they arrive, Chamberlain lets them rest and eat and asks for the leader of the group. The leader of the group and Chamberlain converse on why they mutinied. The chapter comes to an end with Chamberlain giving a speech to try and get them to continue fighting, ending with all but six men agreeing to fight. The next chapter goes to General Buford, commander of the Union Cavalry. Buford enters Gettysburg with his two brigades. He notices enemy troops and sends a message back to infantry commander, General Reynolds. He surveys the land and notices great defensive positions.

The chapter ends with Buford trying to hold their position from the enemy. The next chapter switches to General Longstreet. The chapter starts with confederate officers trying to teach foreign Lieutenant, Arthur Fremantle, poker. One of Longstreet’s aides, Sorrel, tells him that there has been sightings of the enemy in the town. General Pickett arrives, asking for his division to be moved forward. Pickett leaves and Armistead chats with Longstreet about defensive tactics and friends in the Union. This marks the end of the chapter and of the first section.

The second day of the book skips to July 1, 1863. The first chapter of the second day goes to General Lee. It starts off with Lee discussing the military situation with his aide, Taylor. Longstreet appears and they talk about Stuart, Longstreet’s value, the new Union Commander, and a plan of attack. The chapter ends with artillery fire off in the distance. The next chapter goes back to Buford. It opens up with the beginning of the Confederate attack.

After the initial attack, Buford sends word to General Reynolds. The battle rages on and when things start to look bad, Reynolds arrives with backup. The chapter ends with Reynolds getting shot. The third chapter of this section is from Lee’s perspective. It starts with Lee discovering a battle. He sees General Heth’s forces being pushed back. Heth appears and tells Lee what happened while Lee receives a report from General Rodes informing him that his division has been engaged and that Early’s division will be joining within an hour.

Lee tells Heth to attack with General Pender’s division. Word of Heth’s injury and the Unions fighting power reaches Lee. Eventually, the Confederate forces push back The Union army and Lee wants Ewell to pursue. Longstreet arrives and gives his opinion on what they should do next. The chapter ends with Lee receiving a message from Ewell informing him that he has not taken their position due to the fear of an attack from the south. The fourth chapter takes on the viewpoint of Chamberlain. It starts with Chamberlain marching his men towards Gettysburg.

As he is riding, Chamberlain daydreams and realizes that he is starting the love the soldier life. But he also recalls the tragedies that happen during war and that anyone can die at any moment and he wonders if he’s grown to love this part of being a soldier as well. The chapter ends with word of battle and marching towards Gettysburg. The next chapter, the perspective shifts to Longstreet. It opens up with Longstreet riding aimlessly on his horse as he thinks about the significance of the enemy’s position and Lee’s stubbornness.

Fremantle stumbles into Longstreet and they talk about the battle, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Garnett. The chapter comes to an end with Longstreet thinking about Lee and his stubbornness. Chapter six of the second section goes back to Lee. Lee meets with his generals and discusses battle strategies. This is mainly all this chapter is about. The last chapter of this section starts with Buford surveying the fortifications the Union is building. A falling out between generals happens and Reynolds death reaches Buford. The chapter and section ends with General Meade arriving.

The 3rd section is on July 2, 1863. The first chapter is from Fremantle’s viewpoint. It starts with him thinking of the incoming battle. He rides to get a good view of the field laid out before him. He thinks of politics between the Confederacy and England. It goes on explaining his faith in the south. Cannons fire and Fremantle and Longstreet discuss tactics for incoming battle. The chapter ends with Fremantle thinking on the “failure of America”. The second chapter is Chamberlain’s.

It starts with Chamberlain waiting for orders and his soldiers come across an escaped slave. Chamberlain thinks on his opinion of black men. His regiment moves towards another defensive position, and Chamberlain goes back to thinking of the black man. The chapter ends with Kilrain calling Chamberlain an idealist. The third chapter goes to Longstreet. It starts off with Lee and Longsteet discussing the plan of attack. More people arrive and they discuss tactics and orders for what to do.

The discussion ends and the officers leave. The march begins. The road they take has complications and Longstreet orders a counter-march. They get close to where they started and discover enemy units. The chapter ends with Longstreet ordering a frontal assault expecting heavy losses. The next chapter is about Chamberlain’s battle. The whole chapter just goes into detail of what happened. The important thing is that they run out of ammunition and use alternative tactics, eventually pushing back the enemy. The chapter ends with Chamberlain being told that there would be no more fighting for the day.

The fifth chapter is from Longstreet’s perspective. The chapter starts with Longstreet surveying the casualties. Longstreet is blamed for the failure. He later hears the number of casualties. Longstreet loses hope for another frontal assault and Lee sends Sorrel to get an amount of casualties, ammunition, and weapons. Stuart finally arrives. Lee and Longstreet talk and a general appears asking for a court-martial of Stuart. Longstreet leaves and him and Fremantle meet up and talk about the battle.

Lee moves on and runs into Pickett and other officers and they start to talk. The chapter ends with them trying to forget their troubles for a few hours. Chapter six goes to Lee. It starts with Lee considering his options for the following day. Stuart appears and Lee gently but firmly chastises him for his absence. The chapter and third section ends with Lee deciding on an option for the attack.

The fourth section is of the last day, July 3, 1863. Chapter 1 goes to Chamberlain. It starts off with the morning and a brief description of the troops moral. This chapter is mainly just an aftermath of the last battle and ends with Chamberlain’s men being moved to the center of the line, the “safe place to rest”.

The second chapter goes back to Longstreet. It starts with Longstreet preparing for the assault that is coming and thinking of his strategy he wants to happen. Lee arrives and they both go survey the battlefield and they argue over the battle plan. Battle breaks out and Lee tells Longstreet the plan of attack. Longstreet gives his opinion one last time but Lee dismisses it. The chapter ends with Longstreet meeting with his generals and describing the plan. The next chapter goes to Chamberlain.

It starts with Chamberlain being told news and predictions of what will happen. He places his regiment and meets with his general, talking about the attack yesterday. His brother finds him and tells him bad news and then enemy artillery opens up. Tired he falls asleep. The chapter ends with him waking up but falling asleep again. The fourth chapter goes to Armistead. It opens up with Armistead thinking about gloomy things. He meets various people and converses shortly with them.

The chapter ends with a description of the beginning of the battle. The next chapter goes to Longstreet. It starts with Longstreet watching the battle. After the battle is over, Lee comes riding in, apologizing. Longstreet rides towards the enemy battery, but the enemy falls back. The chapter ends with Lee and Longstreet talking about the outcome of the war. The last chapter of the third section goes to Chamberlain. He rides out to the edge of the battlefield, trying to forget the picture he has in his mind. He and his brother talk about how well the confederates fought. The chapter and section ends with them returning to their regiment, ready to continue fighting.

In total, The Killer Angels has 23 chapters, not including the Introduction and Afterword. It has a total of 337 pages. Most of the pages go to the actual story, not the Introduction or Afterword. The Introduction sets up the setting of the book and the Afterword continues what happened to the main characters briefly. This was a good read and I recommend it to those who like historical fiction and/or want to know how The Battle at Gettysburg was.

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An Analysis of the Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. (2023, May 05). Retrieved from

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