The History Book Club discussion

AMERICAN CIVIL WAR > 8. KILLER ANGELS (HF) ~ SECTIONS - 3. LONGSTREET+ 4. CHAMBERLAIN - (191 - 250) (02/22/10 - 02/28/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44126 comments Mod
This is the reading assignment for week eight - (February 22, 2010 to February 28, 2010):

Thursday, July 2, 1863 — 3. Longstreet (26 pages) 191 - 216) - Week Eight
Thursday, July 2, 1863 — 4. Chamberlain (34 pages) 217 - 250 - Week Eight

Hello Everyone,

Today we are continuing our historical fiction discussion on Killer Angels. This is the first historical fiction group selected book. We hope that the membership will participate.

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers.

This book was kicked off on January 4th.

This discussion will be led by assisting moderator of historical fiction - Elizabeth S.

We look forward to your participation. Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, or on your Kindle.

Since we only started this book on January 4th, there is still time remaining to obtain the book and get started. This is a quick and fast paced book.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

This thread opens tomorrow February 22nd for discussion. This is a non spoiler thread.




The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara Michael Shaara

message 2: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This week we are with Longstreet for a lot of marching and frustration. And with Chamberlain in the heat of battle.

We begin with Longstreet looking at maps of the enemy’s positions, the now-famous fishhook. (See map page 192.) Lee and Longstreet discuss the options. Lee asks Longstreet to attack up the Emmitsburg Road to take Cemetery Hill from the back. Longstreet’s men are still coming up, many having marched most of the night. Longstreet muses that Stuart should have been there to scout the field and thinks Stuart should be court-martialed for not being where he is needed. Longstreet marches his men towards the intended position, only to discover that they would be seen from Little Round Top. So his men must march back and take a much longer path. And at the end, the enemy is in the Peach Orchard, rather than on the ridge. They attack, but things are not set-up the way it had been planned.

Chamberlain’s chapter begins with his men still resting and waiting. They hear cannons and fighting. Vincent comes to position them and comments that Sickles, down in the Peach Orchard, is in the wrong place. The 20th Maine is positioned on Little Round Top and told they are the flank, the end of the line. They must defend the position to the death, or the enemy will take the top of the hill and attack the rest of the army in the rear. We are with Chamberlain as the fight comes to him and the Rebs attack in waves. During the battle, Chamberlain thinks, positions and repositions his men, and acts. Finally, they are running out of ammunition and the Rebs are coming again, so Chamberlain orders a bayonet charge into the enemy. And it works. When things quiet down, they are asked to move their position to occupy the wooded hill, Big Round Top.

message 3: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I think Chamberlain's chapter this week must be the most exciting of the book. (Of course comparisons with later chapters will have to wait.) What a fight.

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert | 29 comments It seems as if Longstreet's attack on the left flank of the Union lines (Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, etc.) is a version of his original flanking attack strategy. But, I'm not clear how closely this resembles his original flanking attack recommendation that Lee dismisses 24 hours earlier. Early in the chapter, Longstreet acknowledges that a flanking maneuver "just might work." He then becomes highly agitated while he discusses the attack with Hood. Is this just his overall preference preference for fighting from a defensive position? Is this because he feels they've lost the element of surprise from the day before? Does he dislike the ground he's facing on the second day or is there some other change that has him so rattled? The chapter also speaks to Longstreet waiting until he can catch the Union forces repositioning before he orders the attack. Did he have something else in mind on July 1 or just a more massive assault? Perhaps it's a combination of all these factors, and he feels Lee has been blinded by his need for an ambitious attack, regardless of the timing and positioning.
Any thoughts?

message 5: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Wow, those are all good questions, Robert. I'm going to have to re-read and think it through.

There are so many things that are difficult to visualize when merely described on paper. Even with maps (and I can imagine how much worse it would be without maps at all), it is hard to understand the levels of significance of a lot of what is described.

Another question to add to the list is, why is Longstreet upset that there are Union soldiers in the Peach Orchard, and yet the Union officer says it was a mistake for them to be there. It does say that the Peach Orchard Union soldiers upset Longstreet's plans. If the Union officer had known that, maybe he would have not been so critical of the move to the orchard?

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 24, 2010 02:42PM) (new)

Bentley | 44126 comments Mod
Elizabeth, have you re-read the pages and have had a chance to think it through, I would also be happy to hear your thoughts.

Also, we have the advantage of reading an historical fiction book to find out what both sides were thinking at once. The Peach Orchard scenario is one such case.

message 7: by James (new)

James | 34 comments Longstreet liked fighting best when he could get his men in a strong defensive position and get the Yankees to attack him. Then he was not at all worried about the numbers. In these types of battles it was believed to be numbers games. The more men you had above what the enemy had the better your chance of winning. It was rare that the Confederates had more men during a battle however.

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44126 comments Mod
Yes James the hand that Lee and Longstreet were dealt was not a good one for numbers and reserves. You had what you had. Was the Peach Orchard the strong defensive position that Longstreet wanted?

message 9: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Here's an interesting perspective on Longstreet's countermarch:

I recommend you read it with some maps in front of you. I used Longstreet's Countermarch and The Second Day - 4:00pm from the book (pages 207 and 212 in my copy). The article fleshes out some of the troop movements going on at the same time as events in this week's chapters.

According to this article, Captain Johnston did not do his job as far as reconnoitering and therefore is partly to blame for Lonstreet's costly countermarch and other decisions.

message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert | 29 comments No, Longstreet wants a wide flanking manuever. I reread the chapter on Longstreet and checked some other sources on Day 2. I come away from that with the understanding that Longstreet never deviates from his original strategic position before July 1. He wants a much bolder flanking manuever to the south of Little Round Top so that he can capture new, higher ground and fight from a "defensive" position. He wants to get behind Meade, between the Union army and D.C., and force Meade to attack. Once he sadly sees that he's lost this argument with Lee twice in two days, he executes Lee's orders. Under great distress, as a good soldier, he goes so far as to sternly reject Hood's pleas (which Hood makes three times), even though Hood and McLaws both see the same opening on the Union left. Lee, on the other hand, wants an "offensive" attack, whether it be left, right or center, and never deviates from that.
I think this strategy disagreement between Lee and Longstreet is at the heart of the entire battle. Jeffry Wert, in his fine book on Longstreet, argues that not only is Longtreet right, but that Lee violates the "ruling idea of the campaign" to which they both had agreed (i.e., a "tactical" defensive invasion). Wert adds that nowhere in the Eastern battles did the Union fight from such a "natural advantage." Therefore, he calls July 2nd the "pivotal day of Gettysburg." Whether Wert is right is the subject of endless historical debate.
Finally, we see this inability of the Confederates to get behind the Union army play out in Shaara's chapter on Chamberlain. Shaara's historical narrative is just magnificent.
General James Longstreet: The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier

message 11: by Robert (new)

Robert | 29 comments Elizabeth,
My response is to Bentley in message 8.

message 12: by Elizabeth S (last edited Feb 25, 2010 11:28AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Robert wrote: "Elizabeth,
My response is to Bentley in message 8."

I saw that pretty quickly. But thanks for clarifying anyway.

I haven't had as much time to reread as I hoped for the last few days. But the parts I've read, I think you have it right. Longstreet wants a new area to fight in. Basically, he wants to find something similar to what the Union ended up with at Gettysburg. Some "good ground" that he can dig into where the Union has to attack and they throw themselves at him. The trick is setting such a thing up, especially when most people want the glorified attack.

I like how you call Shaara's narrative "magnificent." As we've discussed, there are a few bits of history that he skips over or consolidates or misses a little, but the overall feel is well done.

Also, don't forget to include the cover to the book, and the author, thus:

General James Longstreet The Confederacy's Most Controversial Soldier by Jeffry D. Wert by Jeffry D. Wert

message 13: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I think a big error to many of Lee's plans lies in the information we are told about on the first page of Longstreet's chapter this week. We see Lee's map showing the infamous fishhook of the Union position--they are dug in at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill and along Cemetery Ridge. At the south of the ridge are two more hills, "one rocky and bare," i.e. Little Round Top, and "the other high and thickly wooded," i.e. Big Round Top. Here's the key, "There were no troops yet on the rocky hills."

Now, I don't remember if there is any mention in Killer Angels about when the Union put men on Little Round Top. (Anyone else know?) From the National Park Service website I linked in message #9, "according to Captain Lemuel B. Norton, Chief Signal Officer of the Army of the Potomac, a signal station was established on Little Round Top by 11 P.M. July 1, and remained open until July 6."

To some extent, this was false information that Lee had. When giving Longstreet his orders, Lee was operating on the information that the Union had ignored Little Round Top. But, firstly, they hadn't ignored it. There was a signal station there. And even if Lee's information was correct at the time it was collected, there is the issue that the Union managed to occupy Little Round Top before Lee's plans were in action. It seems to me that that occupation should have changed the plans.

message 14: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments After Lee gets Longstreet to reluctantly agree to carry out the plan of attack, Lee goes to the map to talk over the details. Lee says, "I am suspicious of written orders since that affair at Sharpsburg." (See page 195.)

What was that affair? Known as either the Battle of Antietam or the Battle of Sharpsburg, the battle was fought in September 1862. Lee was moving into Maryland for a number of reasons. The Northern army moved to intercept Lee. Two Union soldiers happened to find a copy of Lee's battle plans wrapped around three cigars. Whoops. Can see why Lee would be more careful about writing plans down in the future. (Info from wikipedia:

message 15: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Harking back to a discussion in an earlier thread, we talked a bit about Longstreet's vision versus Lee's decisions to attack. The issue comes up repeatedly in Killer Angels. This week we see Longstreet resigned that he has had his say, and now he just needs to support his commander.

I just finished watching a graphical overview of the entire Gettysburg battle. (It was part of the Gettysburg Expedition Guide from TravelBrains.) And I guess I can see Lee's reasoning much better now. At the end of Day 1, the South was winning, had pushed the Union back. The Southern red on the map was dominate. It looked, even to me, like a little push the next day would finish the North. Who would have guessed the North could bring up so many more men, and position them so well, in the next 18 hours?

I still think I'm a Longstreet thinker. I like the idea of finding a place to dig in deep and let the enemy throw themselves against me. It is taking some persuading to help me see the reasons for attacking. But looking at that map at the end of Day 1 gave me some pause.

message 16: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Lee again brings up the reasons for attacking on Day 2 on page 194. He says, "We must attack. ...every moment we delay the enemy uses to reinforce himself. We cannot support ourselves in this country. We cannot let him work around behind us and cut us off from home." And then the morale issues. They had won the day before, and the men on both sides will remember.

message 17: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Here is a great page about Lee's echelon attack:

It describes a lot of what happened during this week's chapters, but gives more detail. For example, it tells us that Meade planned to attack that morning from Culp's Hill, but he was told the hill we better for defense and not offense. So he held and waited for Lee's attack. Also explains a little better why Sickle's move into the Peach Orchard was foolish. Not just because he was exposed, but also because his commander didn't know he was doing it.

The site asks a good question:

"Did Sickles’s move from the Union line give Longstreet an advantage, or did it earn the Union army a precious hour by surprising Hoods and McLaws, giving time for the Sixth Corps to arrive?"

After reading both that website and this week's Killer Angels chapters, what do you think?

message 18: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Also, here is a good explanation about why an echelon attack was powerful in 19th century warfare:

message 19: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I'm going to post some pictures from my visit to Gettysburg 2 1/2 years ago. I wish now that I'd known we were going to Gettysburg, and that I'd read this book and had all this discussion before we went. Unfortunately, many of my pictures are of some great location or some great memorial that I can't place from the pictures. But here are some fun ones that I am sure about.

message 20: by Elizabeth S (last edited Feb 27, 2010 08:54AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This is the memorial to the 20th Maine. The memorial is near the top of Little Round Top where they did their charge. I tried to make it big enough so you can read the inscription.


message 21: by Elizabeth S (last edited Feb 27, 2010 08:58AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This is the monument to the 91st Pennsylvania. It is positioned where the 91st stood during the Little Round Top portion of the battle. You can see where that is on the map in the book on page 222 titled "The Second Day -- 5:00pm." I believe the southern end of Cemetery Ridge is a little to the right of the picture. I think the ground in the background of the picture is where Longstreet was supposed to come across in order to start his attack up the rear of Cemetery Ridge.

This picture really shows how valuable the position on Little Round Top was. You can see everything.


message 22: by Elizabeth S (last edited Feb 27, 2010 09:01AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This is the reverse of the last image. Looking up Little Round Top, you can see two memorials. The one on the right (almost behind the tree) is the 91st Pennsylvania one that was in the last picture.


message 23: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This shows Devil's Den, which is at the base of Little Round Top. There was a lot of fighting, and a lot of death, here on July 2, 1863.

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message 24: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This is a closer picture of the PA 91st monument where you can see the landscape lower than in the picture in comment #21. Devil's Den is right behind the monument.

width="400" height="300" alt="description"/>

message 25: by Robert (new)

Robert | 29 comments Elizabeth S wrote: "Harking back to a discussion in an earlier thread, we talked a bit about Longstreet's vision versus Lee's decisions to attack. The issue comes up repeatedly in Killer Angels. This week we see Lon..."

I agree with you about Longstreet, Elizabeth. As Shaara explains, Lee moves completely away from their overall startegy of finding the best ground and forcing Meade to attack. However, several things are important to note and provide a partial defense for Lee's decisions. One is that Lee still can't "see" the whole battlefield because he's lost his "eyes and ears" with Stuart's absence. Second, the logistics of retreating enough to execute a wide flanking maneuver south of Little Round Top on the July 2nd, as Longstreet wanted, may have been very difficult and could actually lose a full day. Finally, having engaged the enemy, Lee does not believe in "cleverness." Shaara writes, "He could not retreat now. It might be the clever thing to do, but cleverness does not win victories." But, seeing your great pictures, especially Devil's Den and Little Round Top, it's hard not to agree with Longstreet. Longstreet was trying to win with a solid strategy, not cleverness.

message 26: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments You make very good points, Robert. When I first read Killer Angels, Longstreet's opinions seemed so obvious to me. But the more I study it, the more I see that it was not clear-cut. Lack of information really does influence your options. It seems a lot of the problems Lee had with Day 2's plan was that his information was no longer accurate by the time the plan could be implemented. Having Union forces occupy Little Round Top really changed things.

message 27: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Elizabeth, although I'm not reading KA at the moment I did want to thank you for posting such great pictures of Gettysburg. I am sure that those that are reading the book really loved the images.

message 28: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Elizabeth, although I'm not reading KA at the moment I did want to thank you for posting such great pictures of Gettysburg. I am sure that those that are reading the book really loved the images."

You are welcome. And glad you liked them. Reading KA just makes me want to go back and see it all again, because now I'll understand it better. But I do want to go back without a couple of worn-out-from-too-much-trip-already kids in the backseat.

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