The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara

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What are some key plot developments in The Killer Angels?

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Though Michael Shaara's novel is a fictional account of the events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, he does manage to combine fact and fabrication beautifully, especially in the real and imagined interaction between the main characters. There is the introduction of the surprise movements of the Union army provided by the mysterious spy (and former actor), Harrison, and General Robert E. Lee's decision whether to accept the information as fact. There is the character development of the seemingly minor officer, Joshua Chamberlain, and his rise to importance as the battle ensues. Chamberlain's hatred of slavery and his dedication to reuniting the Union and freeing the enslaved are covered in depth, as are the relationships between his men, including his brother, Tom, and the fictional Kilrain. Chamberlain becomes the greatest hero of the battle when he and his men manage to hold the key position on the battlefield from repeated Confederate attacks. There are the relationships of the general officers in the inexperienced division of Major General George Pickett--and particularly that of Brigadier General Lew Armistead and his pre-war friendship with the Union corps commander, Winfield Scott Hancock--and how Pickett soon becomes the leader of the greatest frontal assault in the Civil War. There is the doubt that consumes Lee's "Old War Horse," James Longstreet, who recognizes beforehand that Pickett's Charge will be a forlorn and bloody debacle. And there is the step-by-step narrative of the charge, in which more than half of the attackers--including Armistead--become casualties in what becomes the worst decision of Lee's otherwise glorious career.

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