How do the characters in The Killer Angels deal with death, and what does this show you about the war and/or the time period?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Death is something that is constantly on the minds of the soldiers, although most of them have accepted that it is a part of their duty. The fear of being killed in battle is not outwardly expressed to a great degree in the novel, and most of the troops--particularly the professional soldiers--consider it an honorable way to die. Joshua Chamberlain, for example, worried more about the deaths of the men under his command--particularly his brother, Tom, and the trusty Kilrain--than for his own personal safety.

Truth is too personal... Strange thing. You would die for it without further question, but you had a hard time talking about it.

Chamberlain is fighting, and willing to die, for the freedom of the black man. He considers the war unique.

"... this hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free."

Kilrain, the veteran sergeant busted to private, worries about how he will die. He laments to Chamberlain:

"For the love of God. He died of his wounds. In the bloody bleedin' armpit. Ak."

Knowing he is going to die, Kilrain sends back his apologies to Chamberlain for letting him down.

Meanwhile, the Confederates are fighting for the opposite reason: They fight, and are willing to die, to preserve their way of life against the invading armies of the North. General Dick Garnett, a brigade commander under Pickett, saw death as a way to restore his lost honor following a charge of cowardism made by the late Stonewall Jackson. Garnett led his men in Pickett's charge from atop his horse, offering an easy target for Northern sharpshooters. Garnett knew the battle would be his last chance to mend the damage done to his name and reputation, even if it meant death. Garnett died during the charge, and his body was never recovered, but his name lives on for his valorous if foolhardy actions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

Posted on

Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial