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The Killer Angels

  • Study Guide

July 1, 1863: Chapters 3–4

Summary July 1, 1863: Chapters 3–4

Summary—Chapter 3: Lee

Of course, I do not know his situation, and I do not want him to engage a superior force, but I do want him to take that hill, if he thinks practicable.

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Morning, Gettysburg. Lee arrives in Gettysburg to discover a small battle in full fury. General Heth’s troops are engaged in battle against the Union infantry that has arrived to relieve Buford. Lee is annoyed because he has no information from General Stuart, the cavalry leader who has been assigned to report on the movements of the Union army. No one knows where Stuart is, and Longstreet thinks he is out joyriding. Lee surveys the field with binoculars and sees that Heth’s forces have been forced back by the Union troops. Heth appears and tells Lee the story: he moved in to Gettysburg, thinking he would be fighting a militia, and discovered he was fighting Buford’s dismounted cavalry. The cavalry put up a good fight, and just as Heth thought he might win, Union infantry—Reynolds’s men—appeared and repulsed the attack.

As Heth tells this story, Lee receives reports from one of his generals, General Rodes, who informs him that his division has arrived along the northern flank of the Union army and has already engaged the enemy. He also sends word that Jubal Early’s division will be joining his attack within an hour. It seems to Lee that everything is happening almost as if it were planned, and he tells Heth to attack again, along with General Pender’s division. The battle rages, and then General Hill reports that Heth has been wounded and that the Union forces are fighting better than he remembers them ever doing. Eventually, the Confederate army forces the Union army back, and the Union troops fall back to the hills on the northern end of Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill, and Culp’s Hill. Lee sends a message to General Ewell, telling him to pursue the Union troops and to take the hill “if possible.”

Longstreet arrives and surveys the scene. He suggests that the Confederate army should swing around behind the hills and position itself between the Union army and Washington, D.C. But Lee refuses to disengage—essentially to retreat and move the army—in the face of the enemy. A message arrives from Ewell—he has not yet taken Cemetery Hill because he fears a Union attack from the south of Gettysburg. Ewell never begins the attack, much to Lee’s consternation.

Summary—Chapter 4: Chamberlain

Piled-up bodies in front of you to catch the bullets, using the dead for a shield; remember the sound?

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Afternoon, south of Gettysburg. Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain marches his men toward Gettysburg. Tom, Chamberlain’s brother, explains the personalized brigade bugle call to a new recruit. As he rides his horse, Chamberlain broods and daydreams, realizing that he is starting to love the life of the soldier. But he also recalls piling corpses to block bullets and the constant awareness in battle that one can die at any instant. He wonders if he has grown to love that too.

He then remembers his boyhood home, reciting the “What a piece of work is man!” speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which includes the line, “[I]n action, how like an angel!” He recalls how his father replied, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” The young Chamberlain then gave a class speech entitled “Man, the Killer Angel.”

The regiment marches through the town of Hanover, whose residents are very glad to see Union troops. As they near Gettysburg, the soldiers receive word of the battle that day, and the regiment swiftly moves toward the town. They set up camp just outside the town and wait for morning.