The History Book Club discussion

AMERICAN CIVIL WAR > 9. KILLER ANGELS (HF) ~ SECTIONS - 5. LONGSTREET+ 6. LEE - (251 - 290) (03/01/10 - 03/07/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 07, 2010 12:02PM) (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
This is the reading assignment for week nine - (March 1, 2010 to March 7, 2010)

Thursday, July 2, 1863 — 5. Longstreet (26 pages) 251 - 276 - Week Nine
Thursday, July 2, 1863 — 6. Lee (12 pages) 277 - 290 - Week Nine

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 today March 1st 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 finish up Day 2 of the fighting.

We start this week with a Longstreet chapter. He is in the hospital tent, observing doctors working on Hood’s arm. Hood murmurs, “Should have let me move... to the right.” Hood asks if his men were able to take the rocks, i.e. Devil’s Den, and Longstreet lies that they did. Longstreet discovers that Hood’s officers are blaming Longstreet for the poor attack, saying Lee would never have ordered it. Longstreet gets initial reports on his loses, probably more than a third. Pickett’s men finally arrive in the area, and they are spoiling for a fight. Longstreet returns to headquarters to talk to Lee and finds, finally, Stuart lounging outside. But there are too many people around to say what he really thinks. Longstreet is amazed that everyone continues to celebrate victory. Lee wants one more push, and Longstreet still wants to move to the right. Marshall asks Longstreet to talk to Lee about signing court-martial papers for Stuart. Longstreet and Fremantle talk about the war. Longstreet returns to his men and has a chat with Armistead about why the South is fighting and Armistead’s close friendship with Hancock, who is fighting for the North.

And we end Day 2 with a Lee chapter. He is working through the night, through his pain, and thinking through plans for the next day. Lee thinks, “Two alternatives. We move away to better ground, as Longstreet suggests. Or we stay. To the end” (page 279). Lee thinks back to the beginning of the war for him, when he heard the official news of succession. He talks with Stuart, explains his displeasure, but his reluctance to sign the court-martial. Lee gets more reports of what happened on Day 2, that Ewell didn’t position his men fast enough and some never attacked at all. And then Lee sits alone and makes his decision for the next day. To attack once more.

message 3: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Finally we get a chance to talk about something I've been waiting for. Should Stuart have been court-martialed? Would you have pushed for it if you were there July 2, 1863?

I think Shaara really writes the book with lots of reasons for court-martial. But how many of the events at Gettysburg were really Stuart's fault for not being there? We've discussed a little bit earlier about Lee's ambiguous orders to Stuart. Would ambiguous orders be a good shield against a court-martial?

message 4: by Elizabeth S (last edited Mar 01, 2010 08:20AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments By the way, here's the picture of Devil's Den again, to help you see why Hood refers to it as "those rocks."

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The whole den is actually bigger than what you see in the picture, but it all looks like that. A bunch of big rocks.

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
You have taken some great that your family on top of the rocks in the far distance?

message 6: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Bentley wrote: "You have taken some great that your family on top of the rocks in the far distance?"

Nope, just random people up there. I do like having people in that picture, it gives a much better idea of the size of those rocks. For some reason, Devil's Den affected me the most. It was the place where the death felt the most real and vivid.

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
That is so true the size of the rocks is stupendous.

message 8: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments So, am I the only one who thought it was weird how "People come up from home to see how the army was doing" (paage 258)? Like it was a field day, in carriages, just coming up to join the party. I think this is another sign of just how much war has changed since the 19th century. I think the Civil War was part of that change.

message 9: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I also found it interesting what Longstreet says about "the secret of General Lee" when he talks with Fremantle. Longstreet says "men love him and follow him with faith in him." And then that "General lee makes a decision and he moves."

And then Longstreet talks for a while about how faith and determination can take you far, even without military tactics. And then he wanders into, I think, wishing that they had the tactics as well as the faith. Wouldn't that be unstoppable?

I think this is a very amazing discourse on the value of faith, especially coming from a man who values tactics as much as Longstreet does.

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 04, 2010 08:25PM) (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Sometimes Elizabeth I think it is just like the Romans watching the gladiators. I also find it offensive to have the war coming into everybody's living room. But there are others who love the reality of hurt and of dangerous situations and those are the ones who showed up in their carriages.

message 11: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments That's a good point to compare it to having the war in our living rooms. It isn't so much that people were more fascinated with war back then. It is more that we are able to be lazy about such fascinations since we can "enjoy" the war at home. Ouch.

Although I do think it is a little different than the gladiators. The "visitors" in Killer Angels mostly weren't there to watch the battle itself (that was what Fremantle was trying for). And I think there is a line between keeping up with the news and getting too fascinated with war. I think it is dangerous when people cross that line.

message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Yes, I agree and I do not want to go off topic..but I think the line has been crossed.

message 13: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Bentley wrote: "Yes, I agree and I do not want to go off topic..but I think the line has been crossed."

Right. :)

message 14: by Frank (new)

Frank | 5 comments Elizabeth S wrote: "...Longstreet is amazed that everyone continues to celebrate victory..."

As I was reading through this section, I kept thinking that from Longstreet's perspective, any victory was certainly Pyrrhic. In 280-279 BCE, the army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus had defeated the Romans, however at terrible costs. Legend holds that Pyrrhus, upon receiving congratulations for his victory, replied that one more such victory would utterly undo him.

message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Longstreet was correct in his thinking, I do not believe that Lee was. It is almost like the band continuing to play as the Titanic was sinking.

message 16: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments The SparkNotes adds an interesting paragraph about Longstreet in the Killer Angels.

"Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is probably overly sympathetic. In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Americans—soldiers and historians alike—began to blame Longstreet for the failure at Gettysburg, especially after Longstreet wrote a book blaming Lee. The book gave Longstreet a negative reputation all through the early twentieth century, until some historians began to see Longstreet in a more positive light—particularly in what they believed was his anticipation of modern warfare. Shaara perhaps portrays Longstreet as knowing more about how to correctly conduct the war than he actually did. Longstreet proposes the swing to the southeast over and over to Lee, who stubbornly refuses. In the true history, Longstreet was probably not so persistent in pushing for defensive tactics, and Lee was probably not so obtuse in his decision not to follow them."

What do you think of this paragraph? Does that change your opinions of Longstreet or Lee at all?

It sounds to me that Longstreet's character in Killer Angels has a bit of hindsight that was probably not there at Gettysburg. But I remind myself that Lee did depend on Longstreet. Especially after Stonewall's death, Longstreet was Lee's right-hand man, his trusted and experienced Corps commander. I think as a people we like to distance ourselves from those who are critical of others, hence we inherently dislike Longstreet for writing the book that says Gettysburg was Lee's fault.

Longstreet's Memoirs: From Manassas To Appomattox by James Longstreet by James Longstreet James Longstreet

I'm starting to overlap with some spoiler stuff, so I'll put the rest in the glossary. (Including the online version of Longstreet's memoirs.)

message 17: by Frank (new)

Frank | 5 comments Elizabeth quotes SparkNotes:
Shaara’s characterization of Longstreet is probably overly sympathetic.

This may indeed be a question for the ages.

It is clear that our esteemed author has purposely chosen a specific perspective for each character in the story he wishes to tell. It certainly makes for a more interesting story to read, but it definitely also makes it more difficult to know where the historical and the fiction are divided.

Longstreet's official report (warning: may contain spoilers) only reports his orders and what happened:

I received instructions from the commanding general to move, with the portion of my command that was up, around to gain the Emmitsburg road, on the enemy's left.

Hindsight does indeed sound like an explanation for both his memoirs (From Manassas To Appomattox by James Longstreet James Longstreet) and his portrayal here in Killer Angels. In his official report, he may have been more realistic:

[the enemy was:] upon a commanding hill, which is so precipitous and rough as to render it difficult of ascent. Numerous stone fences about its base added greatly to its strength. The enemy, taking shelter behind these, held them, one after another, with great pertinacity. He was driven from point to point, however, until nearly night, when a strong force met the brigades of Major-General [R. H.:] Anderson's division, which were co-operating upon my left, drove one of them back, and, checking the support of the other, caused my left to be somewhat exposed and outflanked. Wofford's brigade, of McLaws' division, was driven back at the same time. I thought it prudent not to push farther until my other troops came up.

If Longstreet had managed to convince Lee that moving to the right was best, and had managed to execute the plan well, would he have been able to take the hill? If so would he have had the force necessary to hold the ground? It was indeed "lovely ground" to defend.

message 18: by Frank (new)

Frank | 5 comments Near the very end of Lee's chapter, when he's making his battle plan for the next day, he thinks:
... if you hit him there with everything you had, all the artillery firing to prepare the way in a pont au feu, if you sent Pickett's fresh Virginians straight up the center ... you would drive a split in the center and cut Meade's army in two...

Since I was listening to it, I had to wait until I got home and could borrow Elizabeth's book to look up the term pont au feu (my ear for French is not great). Unfortunately, my French-to-English dictionary is also missing (okay, so I never had one).

At any rate, according to WikiAnswers, pont au feu is literally "bridge of fire" (or in some cases "burning bridge"). In this case, it's a military tactic (so Lee did know at least a few) meaning a preliminary artillery bombardment to soften and demoralize the enemy's forces before sending your troops to charge the enemy.

message 19: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Thanks for looking that up, Frank. That was one of the terms I was wondering about.

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Frank you are funny. This has the potential to be like George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Yes, Lee was no rookie..he was an excellent General who was dealt a bad hand which he did a great deal with. I think he would have developed a defensive position; but probably knew that he could not stay and wait in a defensive position to win; but had to invade the North and/or to strike first. Something that I still feel at some level he was not entirely comfortable with. He also was uncomfortable with Longstreet's take on matters too; he did not want to retreat but that is pretty much what happened.

If Longstreet had managed to convince Lee; that could have made all of the difference in the world but I wonder whether Lee's troop strength would have been sustainable. Not being a military strategist I am not one to judge.

Remember Longstreet's thoughts: “Honor without intelligence . . . could lose the war. But Lee, Longstreet thinks, “would rather lose the war than his dignity.”

message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Elizabeth, I did put some posts in the Glossary which relate to the July 1863 encounters (Iron Brigade) and some interesting posts about another Wisconsin Brigade and their mascot.

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