The Killer Angels

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Overview

A gripping portrayal of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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The Killer Angels

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Overview

A gripping portrayal of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson

“Remarkable . . . a book that changed my life . . . I had never visited Gettysburg, knew almost nothing about that battle before I read the book, but here it all came alive.”—Ken Burns
 
“Shaara carries [the reader] swiftly and dramatically to a climax as exciting as if it were being heard for the first time.”—The Seattle Times
 
“Utterly absorbing.”—Forbes

From Barnes & Noble
In the four most courageous days of our nation's history, two armies fought for two dreams: one dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. This novel of the Civil War tells the story of the bloody Battle of Gettysburg. "Remarkable...A book that changed my life." -- Ken Burns.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812420494
  • Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1987
  • Sales rank: 1,422,332
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Shaara was born in Jersey City in 1929 and graduated from Rutgers University in 1951. His early science fiction short stories were published in Galaxy magazine in 1952. He later began writing other works of fiction and published more than seventy short stories in many magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook. His first novel, The Broken Place, was published in 1968. But it was a simple family vacation to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1966 that gave him the inspiration for his greatest achievement, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels, published in 1974. Michael Shaara went on to write two more novels, The Noah Conspiracy and For Love of the Game, which was published posthumously after his death in 1988.

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Read an Excerpt

1. THE SPY

He rode into the dark of the woods and dismounted. He crawled upward on his belly over cool rocks out into the sunlight, and suddenly he was in the open and he could see for miles, and there was the whole vast army below him, filling the valley like a smoking river. It came out of a blue rainstorm in the east and overflowed the narrow valley road, coiling along a stream, narrowing and choking at a white bridge, fading out into the yellowish dust of June but still visible on the farther road beyond the blue hills, spiked with flags and guidons like a great chopped bristly snake, the snake ending headless in a blue wall of summer rain.

The spy tucked himself behind a boulder and began counting flags. Must be twenty thousand men, visible all at once. Two whole Union Corps. He could make out the familiar black hats of the Iron Brigade, troops belonging to John Reynold’s First Corps. He looked at his watch, noted the time. They were coming very fast. The Army of the Potomac had never moved this fast. The day was murderously hot and there was no wind and the dust hung above the army like a yellow veil. He thought: there’ll be some of them die of the heat today. But they are coming faster than they ever came before.

He slipped back down into the cool dark and rode slowly downhill toward the silent empty country to the north. With luck he could make the Southern line before nightfall. After nightfall it would be dangerous. But he must not seem to hurry. The horse was already tired. And yet there was the pressure of that great blue army behind him, building like water behind a cracking dam. He rode out into the open, into the land between the armies.

There were fat Dutch barns, prim German orchards. But there were no cattle in the fields and no horses, and houses everywhere were empty and dark. He was alone in the heat and the silence, and then it began to rain and he rode head down into monstrous lightning. All his life he had been afraid of lightning but he kept riding. He did not know where the Southern headquarters was but he knew it had to be somewhere near Chambersburg. He had smelled out the shape of Lee’s army in all the rumors and bar talk and newspapers and hysteria he had drifted through all over eastern Pennsylvania, and on that day he was perhaps the only man alive who knew the positions of both armies. He carried the knowledge with a hot and lovely pride. Lee would be near Chambersburg, and wherever Lee was Longstreet would not be far away. So finding the headquarters was not the problem. The problem was riding through a picket line in the dark.

The rain grew worse. He could not even move in under a tree because of the lightning. He had to take care not to get lost. He rode quoting Shakespeare from memory, thinking of the picket line ahead somewhere in the dark. The sky opened and poured down on him and he rode on: It will be rain tonight: Let it come down. That was a speech of murderers. He had been an actor once. He had no stature and a small voice and there were no big parts for him until the war came, and now he was the only one who knew how good he was. If only they could see him work, old cold Longstreet and the rest. But everyone hated spies. I come a single spy. Wet single spy. But they come in whole battalions. The rain began to ease off and he spurred the horse to a trot. My kingdom for a horse. Jolly good line. He went on, reciting Henry the Fifth aloud: “Once more into the breech . . .”

Late that afternoon he came to a crossroad and the sign of much cavalry having passed this way a few hours ago. His own way led north to Chambersburg, but he knew that Longstreet would have to know who these people were so close to his line. He debated a moment at the crossroads, knowing there was no time. A delay would cost him daylight. Yet he was a man of pride and the tracks drew him. Perhaps it was only Jeb Stuart. The spy thought hopefully, wistfully: If it’s Stuart I can ask for an armed escort all the way home. He turned and followed the tracks. After a while he saw a farmhouse and a man standing out in a field, in a peach orchard, and he spurred that way. The man was small and bald with huge round arms and spoke very bad English. The spy went into his act: a simple-minded farmer seeking a runaway wife, terrified of soldiers. The bald man regarded him sweatily, disgustedly, told him the soldiers just gone by were “plu” soldiers, Yankees. The spy asked: What town lies yonder? and the farmer told him Gettysburg, but the name meant nothing. The spy turned and spurred back to the crossroads. Yankee cavalry meant John Buford’s column. Moving lickety-split. Where was Stuart? No escort now. He rode back again toward the blue hills. But the horse could not be pushed. He had to dismount and walk.

That was the last sign of Yankees. He was moving up across South Mountain; he was almost home. Beyond South Mountain was Lee and, of course, Longstreet. A strange friendship: grim and gambling Longstreet, formal and pious old Bobby Lee. The spy wondered at it, and then the rain began again, bringing more lightning but at least some cooler air, and he tucked himself in under his hat and went back to Hamlet. Old Jackson was dead. Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest . . .

He rode into darkness. No longer any need to hurry. He left the roadway at last and moved out in to a field away from the lightning and the trees and sat in the rain to eat a lonely supper, trying to make up his mind whether it was worth the risk of going on. He was very close; he could begin to feel them up ahead. There was no way of knowing when or where, but suddenly they would be there in the road, stepping phantomlike out of the trees wearing those sick eerie smiles, and other men with guns would suddenly appear all around him, prodding him in the back with hard steel barrels, as you prod an animal, and he would have to be lucky, because few men rode out at night on good and honest business, not now, this night, in this invaded country.

He rode slowly up the road, not really thinking, just moving, reluctant to stop. He was weary. Fragments of Hamlet flickered in his brain: If it be not now, yet it will come. Ripeness is all. Now there’s a good part. A town ahead. A few lights. And then he struck the picket line.

There was a presence in the road, a liquid Southern voice. He saw them outlined in lightning, black ragged figures rising around him. A sudden lantern poured yellow light. He saw one bleak hawkish grinning face; hurriedly he mentioned Longstreet’s name. With some you postured and with some you groveled and with some you were imperious. But you could do that only by daylight, when you could see the faces and gauge the reaction. And now he was too tired and cold. He sat and shuddered: an insignificant man on a pale and muddy horse. He turned out to be lucky. There was a patient sergeant with a long gray beard who put him under guard and sent him along up the dark road to Longstreet’s headquarters.

He was not safe even now, but he could begin to relax. He rode up the long road between picket fires, and he could hear them singing in the rain, chasing each other in the dark of the trees. A fat and happy army, roasting meat and fresh bread, telling stories in the dark. He began to fall asleep on the horse; he was home. But they did not like to see him sleep, and one of them woke him up to remind him, cheerily, that if there was no one up there who knew him, why, then, unfortunately, they’d have to hang him, and the soldier said it just to see the look on his face, and the spy shivered, wondering, Why do there have to be men like that, men who enjoy another man’s dying?

Longstreet was not asleep. He lay on the cot watching the lightning flare in the door of the tent. It was very quiet in the grove and there was the sound of the raindrops continuing to fall from the trees although the rain had ended. When Sorrel touched him on the arm he was glad of it; he was thinking of his dead children.

“Sir? You asked to be awakened if Harrison came back.”

“Yes.” Longstreet got up quickly and put on the old blue robe and the carpet slippers. He was a very big man and he was full-bearded and wild-haired. He thought of the last time he’d seen the spy, back in Virginia, tiny man with a face like a weasel: “And where will your headquarters be, General, up there in Pennsylvania? ’Tis a big state indeed.” Him standing there with cold gold clutched in a dirty hand. And Longstreet had said icily, cheerily, “It will be where it will be. If you cannot find the headquarters of this whole army you cannot be much of a spy.” And the spy had said stiffly, “Scout, sir. I am a scout. And I am a patriot, sir.” Longstreet had grinned. We are all patriots. He stepped out into the light. He did not know what to expect. He had not really expected the spy to come back at all.

The little man was there: a soggy spectacle on a pale and spattered horse. He sat grinning wanly from under the floppy brim of a soaked and dripping hat. Lightning flared behind him; he touched his cap.

“Your servant, General. May I come down?”

Longstreet nodded. The guard backed off. Longstreet told Sorrel to get some coffee. The spy slithered down from the horse and stood grinning foolishly, shivering, mouth slack with fatigue.

“Well, sir”—the spy chuckled, teeth chattering—“you see, I was able to find you after all.”

Longstreet sat at the camp table on a wet seat, extracted a cigar, lighted it. The spy sat floppily, mouth still open, breathing deeply.

“It has been a long day. I’ve ridden hard all this day.”

“What have you got?”

“I came through the pickets at night, you know. That can be very touchy.”

Longstreet nodded. He watched, he waited. Sorrel came with steaming coffee; the cup burned Longstreet’s fingers. Sorrel sat, gazing curiously, distastefully at the spy.

The spy guzzled, then sniffed Longstreet’s fragrant smoke. Wistfully: “I say, General, I don’t suppose you’ve got another of those? Good Southern tobacco?”

“Directly,” Longstreet said. “What have you got?”

“I’ve got the position of the Union Army.”

Longstreet nodded, showing nothing. He had not known the Union Army was on the move, was within two hundred miles, was even this side of the Potomac, but he nodded and said nothing. The spy asked for a map and began pointing out the positions of the corps.

“They’re coming in seven corps. I figure at least eighty thousand men, possibly as much as a hundred thousand. When they’re all together they’ll outnumber you, but they’re not as strong as they were; the two-year enlistments are running out. The First Corps is here. The Eleventh is right behind it. John Reynolds is in command of the lead elements. I saw him at Taneytown this morning.”

“Reynolds,” Longstreet said.

“Yes, sir.”

“You saw him yourself?”

The spy grinned, nodded, rubbed his nose, chuckled. “So close I could touch him. It was Reynolds all right.”

“This morning. At Taneytown.”

“Exactly. You didn’t know any of that, now did you, General?” The spy bobbed his head with delight. “You didn’t even know they was on the move, did ye? I thought not. You wouldn’t be spread out so thin if you knowed they was comin’.”

Longstreet looked at Sorrel. The aide shrugged silently. If this was true, there would have been some word. Longstreet’s mind moved over it slowly. He said: “How did you know we were spread out?”

“I smelled it out.” The spy grinned, foxlike, toothy. “Listen, General, I’m good at this business.”

“Tell me what you know of our position.”

“Well, now I can’t be too exact on this, ’cause I aint scouted you myself, but I gather that you’re spread from York up to Harrisburg and then back to Chambersburg, with the main body around Chambersburg and General Lee just ’round the bend.”

It was exact. Longstreet thought: if this one knows it, they will know it. He said slowly, “We’ve had no word of Union movement.”

The spy bobbed with joy. “I knew it. Thass why I hurried. Came through that picket line in the dark and all. I don’t know if you realize, General—”

Sorrel said coldly, “Sir, don’t you think, if this man’s story was true, that we would have heard something?”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 437 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(272)

4 Star

(88)

3 Star

(42)

2 Star

(21)

1 Star

(14)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 437 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 26, 2011

    Great book - Must read!

    The Killer Angels written by Michael Shaara, is a very interesting book that describes the Civil War in vivid detail, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg. If you are an individual who is enthusiastic about learning about our nation's history and past, then it will be a great choice to purchase this book. In addition, this book is, for the most part, historically accurate, and will create an image in your mind of the landscape and the various skirmishes it details. Ever since I visited Gettysburg myself, I have had a passion for understanding and learning more about the battle itself, and I feel that this book has enhanced my knowledge of it and given me a new perspective on the events leading up to, and after, the battle.
    I really enjoyed the way in which Shaara used the point of view of multiple characters throughout the story, on both sides of the war, to truly involve the reader in the feeling and emotions of both the Union and the Confederacy, and allow the reader to view their perspectives in terms of the reasoning behind their judgments and reasons for being involved in such a war. When detailing a major historical event such as the Battle of Gettysburg, numbers and statistics are not always the best way to involve a reader, which is why Shaara presented the story from the perspective of a single soldier or general on either side of the war, to allow the reader to experience what the individual had felt and thought. When a reader becomes emotionally involved in a book, they are more apt to have a greater understanding of the material within, and have a much better overall experience in reading the story. I enjoyed the book because I became somewhat emotionally involved, and I greatly enjoyed the presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg through several different perspectives and points of view.
    In the case of any historically significant book that has conflicting points of interest, there is bound to be some sort of bias or historical inaccuracy, and the latter of which is present in this book. One major historical inaccuracy in the book is that Shaara detailed that the 20th Maine brigade of the Union army was present to defend General Pickett's charge. According to several historians, the 20th Maine brigade was defending the Union's left flank, and could not have defended against Pickett's charge, which brings forth the presence of a historical discrepancy. I believe that Shaara portrayed the 20th Maine defending against Pickett's charge to add appeal and zest to the story. The presence of a historical discrepancy did not detract from the overall detail and meaning of the book, however it did slightly detract from the point in the plot detailing Pickett's charge.
    Overall, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who has a desire to learn about the Civil War, The Battle of Gettysburg, or any of the significant military leaders. The way in which Shaara presented the information about the logistics of the Battle of Gettysburg through various viewpoints and perspectives greatly interested me, and allowed me to become very involved with the book, which is why I finished it in two days.
    I would recommend this book to an audience of individuals who are mature enough to handle the violence and loss of life that the story entails, and are conscious enough to keep up with the multiple story lines.

    16 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2010

    What an amazing book!

    I didn't know what to expect from this book- probably got it for my nook based on the overall rating given by others. I have been to Gettysburg, but it has been years, and I was tired and hot when I went, so didn't get much of a feel for it.
    This book changed all that. The unique approach of looking at the war from the different soldiers/generals perspective was refreshing and thought-provoking. The conflicting emotions of the southern leaders of wanting to fight for their homes and lifestyle vs. the guilt of fighting against dear friends from earlier times was presented in a striking way.
    I found myself looking for times I could read this book over lunch at work, while waiting for my next appointment, etc. It kept me up late, and gave me things to think about throughout the day.
    All in all, I'd love to read this book again just before going to visit Gettysburg. I think it would be a profound experience.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Not just for war lovers.

    I'm not a war strategy enthusiast, but when I read this for school I loved it for its ability to make you rethink the Civil War from a new perspective, an idea this book focuses on.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    AP World History Review: An Excellant Insight into the Civil War

    At first, when I decided to read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, I was not extremely enthusiastic, thinking it would be just another history book concerning only the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. Yet I sincerely enjoyed reading this novel, and it definately helped expand my grasp of the perspectives and justifications of individuals in both the Union and the Confederacy. Shaara states that this novel's purpose was to help readers actually experience what it would be like to be at the Battle of Gettysburg (xiii). He completely accomplishes this goal. I actually felt like I was a part of the story, experiencing the victories and defeats along with each of the characters. This book made these characters, famous individuals like Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, feel like real human beings with varying personalities and morals, unlike pieces in a chess game as most history books or lessons make them out to be. I genuinely loved this book because it read more like a novel then a textbook or the listing of facts. It became personal, making the novel more enjoyable and educational. I highly recommend anyone to read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara if they are in search of a novel that provides insight into the Civil War, makes historical figures seem more like people you could meet today, and just gives readers an entertaining and educational story.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent!

    Great book. The author brought you into the battle. I couldn't put the book down. You got to know the generals, the officers and what they were thinking behind the scences of the most important battle of the civil war. Can't wait to read books from this author.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

    Anomyous

    The book is packed with Civil War facts. But it is not a good book for kids.
    I had to read this book for summer reading, and it took me forever to get through it. It is a good book, but not for kids.
    This book is aimed more for adults.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2012

    Must read

    Killer angels is a must read 4 anyone who likes the civil war. I knew the basics of the civil war but I didn't know that Pickett's Charge George Pickett wasn't supposed to do much this is a great read but it os a little bit confusing at first. ( you will not like this grandma)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2012

    AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    We tried reading this for a group that was making high A's in my history class and all I can say is, "AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH THIS MAKES MY HEAD WANT TO EXPLODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I guess if I was older I would underatand it more. I am just giving my personal opinion. As an American I have the freedom of speech to say what I feel (so long as it is not demeaning or bad...). Don't get me wrong at first it was okay, then, well AHHHHHHHHHHHH again.

    1 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2012

    Truely amazing. What courage.

    Highly recommend Killer Angels to all civil war buffs. To get a better flavor of the intensity of what these brave soldiers endured one must take the time to visit Gettysburg. Truely an amazing sight. Sent chills up my back to envision the thousands of men walking into death for what they believed in. No stronger convictions.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    The best novel on the American Civil War

    I don't think five stars are enough for The Killer Angels. The book is a work of art. Despite a few inaccuracies (such as a newly imported slave), and a bad characterization (Lee comes off as borderline senile when seen from Longstreet's POV), The Killer Angels is a modern Epic. Everything from Buford's Cavalry making its historic stand, to Chamberlain's charge on Little Round Top, and Pickett's Charge, the entirety of the Battle of Gettysburg is depicted here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2011

    Very boring

    I had to read this book for school... it took me the whole summer because it was so boring.

    1 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2005

    obviously forced to read this

    quite honestly, I was not impressed with this book. i had to read it for school, and wound of sparknoting and cliffsnoting the book instead of reading it. a huge let-down. and very confusing when the book switches point of views.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2014

    I think The Killer Angels Gets an ¿A¿ grade in fictional Civil W

    I think The Killer Angels Gets an “A” grade in fictional Civil War Memorabilia. The time frame of the book is in July of 1863.The book was based on the thoughts and actions of the major people in the Battle of Gettysburg. The way he wrote was very unique as well, he wrote in a third person omniscient POV. It showed what each person on each side of the war thought about the war. I liked this fact because I like civil war stuff and I like how it feels like you are there listening to the people talk. Not only did Shaara talk about the war though the people, he showed us what each side was fighting for, and that is the most important part.
    I think the author presents his purpose very well, even though it is a fictional book based on the civil war. He completely and thoroughly explains what these people in the war thought and said. This book does relate to my history class in the Time period of 1750 to 1900. The way he wrote the book, you could imagine that you are actually there and listening to the people such as Lawrence Chamberlain and Robert E. Lee.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2013

    Great book

    Fantastic read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    Below

    Why dont you take your stupid whiny face and not bither people who arent big babies huh?

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2013

    Pretty good

    Tells alot of history, in a first-person view.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2013

    Highly Recommended - you must check it out!!

    An absolutely great book -- a must read -- what more needs to be said?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2013

    DIE A FORTH TIME

    DIE A FORTH TIME IF YOU DON'T GIVE THIS BOOK FIVE STARS A QUADRILLION TIMES

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2013

    Great book

    Good account of the battle at Gettysberg.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Civil war freak.

    I Loved this book!!

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