The Killer Angels

by Michael Shaara

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Differences between The Killer Angels, the movie Gettysburg, and the actual Battle of Gettysburg


The Killer Angels, the movie Gettysburg, and the actual Battle of Gettysburg differ in several ways. The novel focuses on the internal thoughts and motivations of key figures, while the movie emphasizes visual storytelling and dramatization. Historical accuracy varies, with both adaptations taking creative liberties for narrative effect, such as dialogue and character interactions not documented in historical records.

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How does the movie Gettysburg differ from the novel The Killer Angels?

There is little documentation to the thoughts of the main characters  during the days leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, so author Michael Shaara fictionalized this aspect of his Pulitzer Prize-winnning novel. As for the film version of Gettysburg, the screenplay actually maintains most of the characters, dialogue and scenes found in The Killer Angels. Much of the dialogue, particularly several of Chamberlain's speeches, are word-for-word from the book. Though the end result of the movie was a far cry from the outstanding novel from which it originated, the film did maintain the general tone and feel of Shaara's book. My biggest complaint about the film was the casting of Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee and the terrible, fake beards worn by many of the characters, particularly that of Tom Berenger, who played James Longstreet. 

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What are the differences between The Killer Angels and the actual Battle of Gettysburg?

Since author Michael Shaara went to great lengths to make his 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels as accurate as possible, coming up with actual differences between the book and the real Battle of Gettysburg are hard to come by. The novel is considered a work of fiction, and there are some examples that cannot be verified. Shaara creates much of the dialogue and mental introspection of the real characters from his own imagination since little of their actual thoughts and actions can be documented. For example, no one knows exactly what Robert E. Lee was thinking when he prepared his thoughts for the upcoming campaign.

However, Shaara did create one fictional character that he included among the real participants: Buster Kilrain. Kilrain was a former sergeant who was demoted to private and later died at the action on Little Round Top. Kilrain is supposedly based on another real figure, Sgt. George Buck of the 20th Maine. Singer Steve Earle also wrote a song based on the character of Kilrain, which was an abbreviation of Kil-ler An-gels. 

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