Killer Angels the Union Army Article Review

Excerpt from Article Review :

Clearly General Lee is fed up with the lack of intelligence; "I know nothing," he is thinking; Lee believed he could depend on the troops but "…can you count on the generals?" (173). On July 1, when all this activity began Lee ordered General Ewell to "take" the Powell Hill. Lee did say in the novel that Ewell should take the hill if it is "practicable" to do so (181). Lee was committed to taking the two "rounded hills" above Gettysburg, but it was not to be.

Ewell's excuse to Lee (as to why he didn't take the hill) was that it wasn't "practical" to do so and that Ewell's forces were "…waiting, ah, for many reasons" (226). Ewell went on to admit that he was perhaps too cautious, too careful (236). And it turned out to be a big mistake that Ewell was too cautious, and failed to follow his orders. It should also be noted that General Lee, an aging, somewhat feeble but very intelligent leader, made a mistake in terms of engaging the Union army out in the open, hoping to overpower the north. The Civil War was a time when long-distance artillery and rifles that shot longer distances than previous weaponry were used; this advantage of the Union army helped defeat Lee's tactics.

The ill-timed strategy that General Pickett followed was another enormous reason that the Confederate army lost the battle of Gettysburg. Pickett had been ordered to advance and take Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, although General Longstreet was uncertain that this was the best strategy. As Pickett raised his sword and hollered that his men should charge this hill for their wives, their girlfriends, and for Virginia, the disaster was about to unfold. It is worthy at this point to quote Shaara (532-33) in describing the vicious attack that Pickett's men were forced to face. "…Millions of metal balls whirring through the air like startled quail, murderous quail… eyes [were] sick with fear…" as a "long blue line of Union boys" were "firing from the right." There was no yell by the rebels during this battle and the rebels were "falling here and there like trees before an invisible ax" (536).

Does it matter that Shaara's novel was fiction based on fact?

It does matter indeed that the book is basically fiction drawn from factual accounts. On the one hand, the novel reads very well and the descriptions that Shaara employs are very effective at creating a tone, a mood, a setting that a reader can relate to. This is not considered a work of history because facts have been used to create a fictional narrative. For young readers especially, and for students of American history, this is an enjoyable novel and it portrays the Civil War in realistic ways. In fact this book of fiction could (and probably has) inspire a young student to delve deeper into the actual battles of the Civil War, and the generals who led those battles.

On the other hand, when reading all the dialogue in this novel, a person has to confront the fact every now and then that these words are made up by the author, that Lee didn't really say the things Shaara attributes to him and Longstreet's dialogue is a guess. Does it matter? In one sense it does matter, because a conflict so pivotal to history and to the Civil War must be believable to be of great historic value. This novel is believable to a point because a student of history already knows about Pickett's charge, and about the fact that Lee was very frail yet courageous. Readers of history know and that there were hills around Gettysburg and those hills were strategically important, hence there is believability built into the narrative.

In conclusion, the author has done great work in recreating the Gettysburg battle with as many known facts as possible, and since any reader delving into the book knows it is fiction, it does serve a useful purpose in literature and in…

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