The History Book Club discussion

AMERICAN CIVIL WAR > 11. KILLER ANGELS (HF) ~ SECTIONS - 3. CHAMBERLAIN + 4. ARMISTEAD - (319 - 350) (03/15/10 - 03/21/10) ~ No spoilers, please

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 10, 2010 08:09PM) (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
This is the reading assignment for week eleven - (March 15, 2010 to March 21, 2010)

Friday, July 3, 1863 — 3. Chamberlain (12 pages) 319 - 330 - Week Eleven
Friday, July 3, 1863 — 4. Armistead (20 pages) 331 - 350 - Week Eleven

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 Monday, March 15th for discussion. This is a non spoiler thread. These threads are being set up in advance as I will be out of the country and access may not always be timely. To avoid any situations where the threads may not be opened; I am opening them in advance; however this thread will not be opened "for discussion" by the moderator Elizabeth S until March 15th.




The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara Michael Shaara

message 2: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments We begin this week's reading with Chamberlain's men on their way to their new position. They are placed "in reserve behind the crest" (page 321). Chamberlain is asked to meet with General Sykes who praises him and tells him nothing will happen that day. Chamberlain limps back to his men and does his best to tend to his wounded foot. He gets word from Tom that Kilrain died in the army hospital. While reflecting on death, Chamberlain hears a cannon. And shells start falling all around them. There is nothing to do but flatten to the ground behind whatever rock seems available. They see the Union guns returning the barrage. As Chamberlain drifts in and out of sleep we get an amazing description of what it would be like to be surrounded by explosions, death, and carnage.

Our second chapter this week brings us a new viewpoint character. Armistead commands one of Pickett's brigades and is the best friend of Major General Hancock of the Union II Corps. Armistead's chapter begins as he and his men observe the barrage of guns from the Confederate side. He looks to his men, who must simply lie flat on the ground as the Union shells hit them. Armistead observes Pickett, who is writing poetry to describe the majesty (to him) of the moment. Armistead grieves for the possibility that he may, and that Hancock may, die. The orders are that no one rides in the coming charge, but Garnett must ride in order to participate. Pickett lets out a whoop when Longstreet says they can begin their attack. And Longstreet cries. The men are formed for Pickett's Last Charge. "A mile of men, armed and coming" (page 343). They march forward as the Union shells explode amongst them. As they reach the road the musket fire hits them. There is death, explosions, and confusion. Armistead tries to rally his men and keep the charge moving up the hill. And then he is hit. Armistead is captured, but believes he is dying. He asks for Hancock and is told he was hit as well. Then Armistead is gone.

This week's thread is now open for discussion.

message 3: by Elizabeth S (last edited Mar 15, 2010 07:19AM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Now I finally get to talk about my own home state's honors at Gettysburg. I'm from Minnesota. When I was very young I learned the story of the Minnesota First in school. We were taught that when war broke out and President Lincoln called for volunteer units, Governor Ramsey (the first governor of Minnesota) happened to be in Washington, D.C. Ramsey rushed to be the first to volunteer a unit from his state. Hence the Minnesota First. Keep in mind that we were one of the newer states, being only three years since statehood in 1858.

On the first page of Chamberlain's chapter, he hears of Minnesota's charge on Day Two of the battle. The Confederates had broken through Sickle's line and were about to take the ridge. Here's how Hancock later described what happened next:

“I had no alternative but to order the regiment in. We had no force on hand to meet the sudden emergency. Troops had been ordered up and were coming on the run, but I saw that in some way five minutes must be gained or we were lost. It was fortunate that I found there so grand a body of men as the First Minnesota. I knew they must lose heavily and it caused me pain to give the order for them to advance, but I would have done it (even) if I had known every man would be killed. It was a sacrifice that must be made. The superb gallantry of those men saved our line from being broken. No soldiers on any field, in this or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism.”

According to wikipedia:

The fateful charge bought the time needed while other forces were brought up. During the charge, 215 members of the 262 men who were present at the time became casualties, including the regimental commander, Col. William Colvill, and all but three of his officers. The unit's flag fell five times and rose again each time. The 47 survivors rallied back to General Hancock under the senior surviving officer, Captain Henry C. Coates. The 83 percent casualty rate stands to this day as the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during any single engagement.

Here's a picture of the flag after Gettysburg:

And a picture I took of the Minnesota monument while we were at Gettysburg:

This is a great example of how Shaara had to pick and choose which stories to tell, and in how much depth. I think that is part of the attraction of the Civil War--there are so many stories of courage like this.


message 4: by 'Aussie Rick' (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) Hi Elizabeth, great information, links and photo's. Pretty horrendous casualty rate from the charge of the First Minnesota but I suppose that was almost the norm in the Civil War. I am sure many of the group reading KA really appreciate the extra effort you are putting into the discussions, I am and I’m not even reading the book!

message 5: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments 'Aussie Rick' wrote: "Hi Elizabeth, great information, links and photo's. Pretty horrendous casualty rate from the charge of the First Minnesota but I suppose that was almost the norm in the Civil War. I am sure many of..."

Awe, thanks. :) As Bentley said in one of the earlier Killer Angels discussions, you gotta be proud of your home state. When I read Killer Angels for the first time, I kept thinking, "They've gotta mention the Minnesota 1st charge!" And then it finally did. Yea!

message 6: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments So what do you all think of Chamberlain falling asleep with explosions going on all around him?

My first thought was how crazy, how could anyone sleep through that? But at the point of exhaustion he was in, and having to lie down, why not?

message 7: by Erick (new)

Erick Burnham | 244 comments Elizabeth S wrote: "So what do you all think of Chamberlain falling asleep with explosions going on all around him?

My first thought was how crazy, how could anyone sleep through that? But at the point of exhaustion..."

Suffering through an artillery bombardment is considered to be very stressful. The loud noises as well as the shock waves transmitted through the ground as well as the air can cause a great deal of discomfort. Add to that the fear of death or dismemberment and you have conditions that don't lend well to relaxation.

On the other hand, it is amazing what a person can get used to under the right circumstances. I am also amazed by what a person will do for comfort even when those actions place them in grave danger.

message 8: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Great points, Erick. And exhaustion can take over the body no matter what the circumstances. Exhausted people can fall asleep (or, rather, unconscious) while walking, for example. Normally all the noise and fear would put one's adrenalin at a peak, but if you've already used up your adrenalin, and you are bone-tired, what's to keep you awake?

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44200 comments Mod
Great information and discussion here Elizabeth about the Minnesota First.

Sorry with the international travel...have not had the time to be on line.

message 10: by Elizabeth S (last edited Mar 17, 2010 07:46PM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments We've spent a lot of time during our Killer Angels discussions talking about whether or not the Confederates should have retreated or withdrawn from the battle. And guessing what might have happened differently in the course of the war.

Near the beginning of Chamberlain's chapter this week, we are told that Meade wanted to withdraw, but was outvoted by all the other generals. Was there any rational for Meade's withdrawl? In what ways do you think a Union retreat on July 3, 1863 would have changed history?

It seems from everything we've read, and everything we know about what happened after Gettysburg, a Union retreat would have been disaster for the North. It seems to have been clear-cut even at the time, since ALL the other generals voted against Meade. If you were one of those generals, how could you continue to follow someone who proposed such a (foolish) scheme?

message 11: by Elizabeth S (last edited Mar 18, 2010 06:49PM) (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments The first time I read Killer Angels, I realized during this Chamberlain chapter how much Shaara was adjusting his writing to reflect the moods and perspectives of his characters. Doesn't it read like a bone-tired man? Short sentences, somewhat wandering thoughts, keep coming back to the same things. "Could sure use some food. Felt incredibly lonesome, no one to talk to anymore. Sat by himself." (See page 321.) And later when the bombardment starts, "He thought: must tell the men to keep down, but of course that's stupid, they're down, any fool knows that" (page 328).

Compare the descriptions of the bombardment in the Chamberlain chapter with the Armistead chapter. I think it is intentionally written differently for the different perspectives.

Some of the phrases make me laugh. For example, when the hungry, tired Chamberlain finds himself watching generals eat their food (and surely they are oblivious to how hungry and injured he is), Shaara writes that the "Generals went on eating mercilessly." And later, with nothing else to do, Shaara says Chamberlain "went on smelling chicken" (page 323). It cracked me up.

message 12: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments For anyone interested, the Shakespeare quotation on page 324, "the bubble reputation in the cannon's mouth" should actually read, "Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth."

It is from As You Like It. It is part of a speech by Jacques who goes through the seven stages of man's life. The "bubble reputation" is part of the soldier section. Here's the whole speech in wikipedia:

As You Like It  by William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare

Ironically, I just saw As You Like It for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and didn't connect that reference in Killer Angels until I found it online. (I guess perfect recall is something I have yet to achieve.)

back to top