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The Killer Angels

  • Study Guide

June 29, 1863: Chapters 3–4

Summary June 29, 1863: Chapters 3–4

Back at the poker game, several of the players, including a Southern politician, become upset at Fremantle for saying that the war is over slavery.

The next morning, skirmishes begin between Buford’s men and the Confederate infantry in Gettysburg.

Analysis—June 29, 1863: Chapters 3–4

The most important event in Chapter 3 is Buford’s decision to try and hold the “high ground.” The high ground consists of four hills: Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, Little Round Top, and Round Top. The hills are all connected by a long, crescent-shaped ridge called Cemetery Ridge. This high ground will be important throughout the entire novel. Control of the high ground gives an army several things: a good view of the entire battlefield; an excellent place from which to fire off artillery, meaning cannons; and a good defensive position. It is much more difficult to run uphill toward an enemy than it is to fire downhill at one. Little Round Top, in particular, has a lot of rocks that give good coverage against bullets and is so bare that it affords a view of several miles around. Civil War historians generally agree that the high ground was critical in the Battle of Gettysburg, and, therefore, Buford made an excellent move in realizing that fact and protecting it.

The chapter also reveals the difficult decisions a soldier must make, especially in the absence of his superior officers. Buford is unsure whether the Confederates are really coming, and he is particularly worried that if he decides to try and stop the Confederates from taking the hill, General Reynolds will not arrive in time to save Buford’s brigades from heavy casualties and help keep the Confederates off the hills.

By switching the narrative point of view between the story’s characters, Shaara is able to show how differently the various participants perceived the battle. Shaara establishes a pattern of choosing a single person on which to focus in each chapter, giving us only that person’s perspective on the situation. This kind of narration is known as third-person subjective. This is different from an omniscient narrator, who can dive into the thoughts of any character and can make comments and judgments external to the story. For instance, in Chapter 3, an omniscient narrator might tell us what Buford’s aide is thinking or comment in his own voice on how clever it was for Buford to secure the high ground. On the other hand, a subjective narrator never leaves the point of view of the character on which he is focused: we never read the thoughts of Buford’s aide, we only read Buford’s own thoughts. A subjective narrator does not interrupt the narration to make aside comments: the narrator might tell us what Buford’s personality or mood was like, but he would not remark on the importance of Buford’s decision to grab the high ground.

Also, this use of third-person subjective narration creates a sense of suspense in a story whose outcome we already know. Shaara’s use of this form of third-person subjective narration means we are not always getting all the information about what is happening. Buford only knows his own thoughts: he does not know what General Reynolds is doing at any given moment, and he does not know what his aide is thinking unless he asks him. This style gives a very realistic portrayal of what events might have looked like to a participant, and in a novel that uses real-life historical characters, it is important for Shaara to make the characters seem as realistic as possible. People have been reading about Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Joshua Chamberlain for more than a century. If Shaara wrote in the third-person omniscient point of view, the novel might have read like a very detailed history textbook. By using the subjective narration, Shaara draws us much deeper into the intricacies of characterization and mood, as opposed to merely the plot summary of the Gettysburg story.