Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels is historical fiction about the battle of Gettysburg, told from the points of view of four or five different officers. I remember chapters from the perspectives of General Lee, Longstreet, and Armistead from the Confederate army, and Colonel Chamberlain from the Union army. There may have been one or two others too.

I have a brother-in-law who is a retired Army officer, and he told me that this book is basically required reading for the officer corps. Plus, I just visited Gettysburg for the first time last month. I wish I would have read it before I visited.

The book retells both the strategy and the happenstance of the battle. To me, one of the most interesting things was to learn about General Lee's many strategic blunders. I'd always heard he was a brilliant general, but the truth may be more that he was a beloved general. He sent thousands of men charging up a mile long hill to Cemetary Ridge (Pickett's Charge). The ridge was topped with a massive amount Union artillery. It was a killing field.

General Longstreet was Lee's chief aide, and although he deeply admired Lee, he knew Lee's strategy was destined to fail. The Union position was simply unassailable. He pleaded with Lee to retreat and pick a different place to fight, preferably a place where the Confederate army would have the high ground and be dug in.

In the end Lee believed the men's morale would suffer if they retreated, and that their bravery would somehow prevail. He ordered the attack and lost the battle. Of course at that point he had to retreat anyway.

Anyway, there are a lot of other really interesting and moving parts to this book. It's a fast read too. Recommended!