The History Book Club discussion

AMERICAN CIVIL WAR > 12. KILLER ANGELS (HF) ~ SECTIONS - 5. LONGSTREET + 6. CHAMBERLAIN - (350 - 365) (03/22/10 - 03/28/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the reading assignment for week twelve - (March 22, 2010 to March 28, 2010)

Friday, July 3, 1863 — 5. Longstreet (11 pages) 350 -361 - Week Twelve
Friday, July 3, 1863 — 6. Chamberlain (6 pages) 361 - 365) - Week Twelve

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 22nd 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 22nd.




The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara Michael Shaara

message 2: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments This week we finish the main body of the text. Next week we will wrap up with the Afterward, including what happens to surviving characters, About the Author, and general themes of the book.

In the Longstreet chapter, Longstreet watches the “nightmare” of Pickett’s Charge. And then “the retreat began to flood by him” (page 351). Longstreet thinks, “They had all died for nothing and he had sent them” (page 352). And then he sees Lee riding among the men running in retreat. Lee takes the blame, lifts the spirits of the men, teaches them to “Never let them see you run” (paage 353). For a while they think the Union will attack, but they don’t. Lee and Longstreet talk. Lee says they will withdraw in the night. Lee says they will win next time, and Longstreet says he doesn’t think so. Not anymore.

Chamberlain’s chapter, the last chapter of the book, occurs in the evening of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He remembers what it was like to see Pickett’s Charge, the long line of gray forming and then marching forward bringing death. Chamberlain sits and ponders, and his brother comes to sit with him. They talk again about what the war is for. We are left with the weather, that it rained all that night. And the next day was “the Fourth of July” (page 365).

message 3: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments It is interesting to me to read this summation of Pickett's Charge the same week we are reading about the fruitless trench fighting in The First World War.

The First World War by John Keegan by John Keegan see

Shaara's descriptions of the Charge from both Longstreet's and Chamberlain's perspectives really wrenches me. When Longstreet thinks, "They had all died for nothing and he had sent them" (page 352), I wrote in the margin, "What horror." It is bad enough to see such death. Even worse to feel responsibility for it.

And yet Pickett's Charge is still often remembered as a glorious thing, like the Charge of the Light Brigade. Was there any glory in it? Any point? If you had been a part of it, would you go and re-enact it with other veterans?

Click here to see a picture of surviving members of Pickett's Charge reenacting the charge during the grand reunion of 1913.

message 4: by Frank (new)

Frank | 5 comments Now that it's not a spoiler anymore...

Am I the only one annoyed by the whole "move Chamberlain and the Maine boys from the far left flank to the center of the line for storytelling continuity and climactic effect, then entirely fail to include them in the storyline" bit?

If it was so important to move known characters to the thick of the battle, why did our key character basically sleep through the entire attack? Why was there no actual relevant storyline from their perspective?

Seems to me that the effect of continuing to tell the story from the 20th Maine's perspective on Big Round Top would have still been powerful. Big Round Top is heavily wooded and relatively steep in places, so a clear view of the battlefield is somewhat shielded, but it is easy to believe that a vantage point high in a tree would provide some amazing perspectives over a large portion of the battlefield.

It's not as if they saw no action on Big Round Top, and just think how powerful it would have been to tell the story where Chamberlain is locked in battle of his own, yet catches glimpses of an oncoming tide and an even more desperate struggle in the distance. He knows he has to defend the flank, yet feels powerless to help protect against the massive attack force which can be seen in the distance out of reach. He catches glimpses (and perhaps a few second hand reports) of the massive charge, and knows it will be a key fight, but can do nothing.

To me, that would have been a more powerful story to tell than "oh's a nice stone wall...I think I'll have a lie down here...I'll be nearly as well protected as if I were encased in carbonite...nap time!"

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

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Well Frank you always have a friend in a person born in Maine themselves like me. It does seem strange to emphasize poor Chamberlain's sleeping now that you mention it.

I did love the book as a whole; and the Maine boys and Chamberlain did do a lot to sustain and help out the Civil War effort so that helps me deal with the historical fiction part of it. I am not sure what were the author's motives?

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 24, 2010 12:48AM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Elizabeth S wrote: "It is interesting to me to read this summation of Pickett's Charge the same week we are reading about the fruitless trench fighting in The First World War.

The First World War by John Keegan by ..."

Probably not Elizabeth...but for some reason after the fact the situation always becomes glorified in many cases...not all of the time but in many situations in military engagements this becomes the reality.

"They had all died for nothing and he had sent them" says it all. But maybe the survivors wanted it to mean something...the fact that they had lived and the fact that those who died had died doing an honorable and worthwhile deed. I guess that if these were my friends who had died..I would hate to live with the fact that they perished in vain. Maybe that is why they do the re-enactment - in the honor of those who perished so that they will not be forgotten.

message 7: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments I think I agree with you, Frank. I think I can handle a few changes to history to increase dramatic effect. From what Bentley describes, it sounds like that was done well in the Gettysburg movie based on Killer Angels. But in the book, the only advantageous effect was the moment of foreboding when we hear Chamberlain's men will be placed at the "safest" spot of line--right where we know the South will attack next.

But to have the only view of Pickett's Charge from Chamberlain's perspective be this quick, retrospective, view in this week's chapter... agreed that it isn't worth the adjustment of history. I like the alternate proposal to view Pickett's Charge from Big Round Top. I think Frank should have been there as a consultant when Shaara was writing the book. :)

message 8: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments What do you all think of Hancock as a character in the book? As a person? We never get events from his viewpoint, although he does converse with viewpoint characters at times. In many ways I see him as the Union version of Longstreet. Both Hancock and Longstreet were not the top man in their army, they both commanded Corps, they both had a better vision of how to conduct the battle than their respective commanders did, they were both seen with awe and respect by others around them... Any other similarities you see?

Of course, there are also significant differences. Hancock was able to get things changed to suit his vision, while Longstreet argued to no avail. Longstreet is a primary viewpoint character and Hancock isn't.

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

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Elizabeth S wrote: "I think I agree with you, Frank. I think I can handle a few changes to history to increase dramatic effect. From what Bentley describes, it sounds like that was done well in the Gettysburg movie ..."

Absolutely...I totally agree with you. Frank is on target as well. I wonder what Shaara's motivations were for doing this since the book was so well researched and so accurate in so many places for historical fiction.

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 26, 2010 02:10AM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Elizabeth S wrote: "What do you all think of Hancock as a character in the book? As a person? We never get events from his viewpoint, although he does converse with viewpoint characters at times. In many ways I see..."

I think that Longstreet had a more pivotal role in the book than Hancock (at least from Shaara's pen that is)...I am not sure about Hancock in real life. I have not been an American Civil War enthusiast; but have enjoyed this book tremendously.

Hancock and Longstreet were the ones who had to execute the general's orders (good or bad)...and with them one can understand the psyche of the fighting men and what it felt like in the thick of battle whereas the character of Lee does not seem to me to be as fully developed by Shaara. On the other hand I never got a handle on Hancock from Shaara's book either so not being a Civil War enthusiast, I guess I cannot adequately answer that question.

I am sure that some of the other posters would be able to add more about Hancock who would be interesting to discuss more in depth.

message 11: by James (last edited Mar 26, 2010 02:08AM) (new)

James I believe that Longstreet was the Confederacy's most, maybe only, modern general, one who really understood industrialized and total war, i.e. war against the enemy's entire society. He appreciated the transformations in traditional tactics, operational art, strategy, and grand strategy that were imposed by the railroad, the telegraph, and weapons firing Minié bullets through rifled barrels which had five times the effective range of the smoothbores and round ball projectiles used until then.

His only real counterparts on the Union side, I think, were Sherman, also brilliant in his ability to see the implications of changing technology and adjust his plans to exploit them, and Emory Upton, who radically changed infantry tactics to make it possible to successfully attack a dug-in enemy force using those rifled muskets and Minié balls. Those three would have been in their element in World War I; I suspect that they wouldn't have been fazed by the introduction of quick-firing artillery, machine guns, rifles using box magazines, aircraft, tanks, and submarines. They'd probably have been a lot more effective than most of the generals in 1914-1918, but the rest of the Civil War generals were more suited to the War of 1812 or the Mexican-American War.

The Prussians studied the American Civil War and learned its lessons about the impact of railroads on logistics and troop movements, the telegraph on command and control, and the rifle on tactics, far better than the other European powers did, and so they easily beat Austria and then France in the wars they fought shortly after the American Civil War.

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

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Very interesting post James and you are absolutely right about these guys being in their element during World War I.

message 13: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Excellent post, James. It also helps me with some of the perspectives we are seeing in the WWI Keegan book. In wars it seems there are effective/popluar generals and innovative generals. Sometimes they overlap, but not always. And sometimes an innovative general should be viewed as effective and popular, but isn't. Perhaps because the innovations aren't understood and respected at the time. For Longstreet, it helped to have someone like Shaara write him up in an accessible-to-the-masses book like Killer Angels. I would imagine that most people who know about Longstreet have either read Killer Angels or are major Civil War/history buffs and therefore know everyone.

The First World War by John Keegan by John Keegan

message 14: by James (new)

James The baffling thing for me is trying to understand how most senior officers in the Civil War could see the much-greater killing power of the new rifles and ammunition demonstrated over and over, in events like the Union attack on Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg and for the Confederates, Pickett's Charge, and still just keep ordering their troops to march forward in line against dug-in defenders... in WWI, many of the senior generals who did the same thing never saw the results because they never bothered to visit the front lines; but in the Civil War, it was right in front of them.

The Marine Corps drummed into me that there are two imperatives for a military leader - accomplish the mission, and take care of your people. It is unavoidable that accomplishing the mission will sometimes lead to some of your people being killed and wounded, and any good leader is torn by that; so it always seemed to me that it's a moral duty to find new ways to accomplish the mission that don't get your people slaughtered wholesale.

message 15: by 'Aussie Rick' (last edited Mar 26, 2010 03:21PM) (new)

'Aussie Rick' (aussierick) You raised a very valid point James about how the senior officers failed to see the results of new technology and its impact on their strategy and tactics. It reminds me of the book by Norman Dixon; "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence".

On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon by Norman Dixon

message 16: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Aussie Rick, just the title of that book makes me smile.

James, it is kind of baffling when we look at the past and see things so clearly. And it is hard to come up with any logical reason why historical figures did things the way they did. The only thing I can think is that they were raised and taught military tactics in a different world, where the Murat Charges and Charge of the Light Brigade type things are where the glory lies. In Killer Angels, Lee seems under the belief that sheer will power and faith will make Pickett's charge work. And as Longstreet ruminates throughout the book, that kind of will power and faith has been a lot of the reason the South has won so many of their battles previously.

I guess if it is stuck in your mind that one method is the approved and glorious way to win, it takes an awful lot to overcome that rooted mental fixation. Looking back now, it does make me pound my head in frustration that it took so long for people to get it. I'm sure it is more frustrating for someone with the military background you have.

message 17: by James (new)

James You're right, Elizabeth, a lot of people can't seem to unlearn what they were once taught even when it's obviously not working anymore. We had a real reformer and innovator as Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991, General Al Gray, and one of the most critical truths he tried to drive home to people was that to succeed in combat you have to keep coming up with new ways of doing things, because once you use a tactic and your enemy sees it, he will develop a way to counter it and if you just keep using it you'll start getting a lot of your people killed fast. I think the fundamental mistake of a lot of strategic/ tactical thinkers is that they forget that they're trying to overcome not a static or inanimate obstacle, but a smart, thinking, proactive adversary who's trying just as hard to overcome them.

I'm not sure what it says about human nature, but the histories always seem to gauge the importance, gloriousness, or level of accomplishment (by the winner) of a battle based mainly on how many people were killed or wounded, rather than on the quality of the thinking and preparation that produced the victory. A relatively bloodless battle will get a lot less press than a bloodbath.

I cast my vote with Sun Tzu, who wrote that the greatest achievement is to put your enemy in a situation where they have to surrender without fighting the battle in the first place.

When I was in the service, we used to shake our heads at the leaders whose imaginations couldn't seem to get much past frontal assaults - "Hi diddle diddle, straight up the middle," was the term we applied to that.

message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Mar 26, 2010 10:15PM) (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
It is funny Elizabeth, but isn't it strange that by the time World War I rolled around we see the same kind of leadership styles. Will power and faith are what the French commanders believed in.

The Battle of Loos, in strategic terms was pointless as were the efforts of Petain's Second Army and de Langle in the offensive of Champagne that opened on the same day.

"There twenty divisions attacked side by side on a front of twenty miles, supported by a thousand heavy guns and behind a gas cloud similar to that launched at Loos. Some French regiments attacked with colours unfurled and the brass and drums of their bands in the front trench. Others, when the advance faltered, found senior officers urging them forward."

The above could have been a description of an American Civil War battle with the only thing missing being the bald eagle named Old Abe from the 8th Wisconsin.

It is amazing how some of these tactics never changed. Will power and faith are important I think but mainly when you are defending your home turf; it becomes real important when it is about your town, your community, your home and your family. I think that might have propeled the South and the Confederacy to more of their victories which they had closer to home and in the South.

Just some ruminations of my own..(smile).

message 19: by James (last edited Mar 26, 2010 09:44PM) (new)

James Yes, I remember from the Ken Burns series a point when Shelby Foote cited a conversation he said took place between a Northern soldier and a Confederate counterpart - the Yankee asked the Rebel why they were fighting, since the Southern man was far too poor to own any slaves, and the reply was along the lines of "We're fighting because y'all are down here."

It didn't hurt the South that they started with a lot more trained and capable officers than the North, either.

As for the French, from the vantage point of our own time, it's hard to understand how they could possibly have thought that courage and elan would be a match for machine gun bullets and high explosives, which are not known for being deflected by strength of character or morale. But they swore it would work that way and when it didn't, some of the generals accused their troops of cowardice - for not being bulletproof!

Then after that war they did a total 180 and decided that since the spirit of the offensive didn't sweep everything before it, the defensive must be the invincible thing instead, and built the Maginot Line - to which the Germans very sensibly responded by just going around it.

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

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Excellent post James...I had to smile to myself about the Rebel's answer..he had a point!

Yes, the South had some very capable officers who could not turn their back on their community.

How true about the French and their inspirational eclat. Their soldiers showed a lot of courage in impossible situations. And of course how true in all things (not simply the French); that the pendulum often swings totally in the opposite direction.

message 21: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments One of the things that hit me the most about this week's Longstreet chapter is Lee. Here is where I first saw something admirable in Killer Angels about Lee. I like how he is out among the men, strengthening them, teaching them how to retreat with honor. Here's a part that really struck me: Longstreet "thought of Lee as he had looked riding that hill, his hat off so that the retreating men could see him and recognize him. When they saw him they actually stopped running. From Death itself." (See page 356.) Now that shows the mark of a man respected, honored, loved, and cherished by his men. A leader that the men would really do anything for, even stop running "from Death itself."

When I read this the first time, I thought to myself, "What kind of a man must Lee have been for his men to think so highly of him, and of what he thought of them. What does a man do to deserve such respect?" And I really wished I'd read a bio of Lee before I read Killer Angels. Everywhere else in Killer Angels he seems weak and doddering, way over the hill. I wish I'd gotten to know Lee as a great man first.

Ironically for me, later in this chapter we see Lee doubting himself and regretting a decision. In the earlier chapters he seemed committed to his decisions with his own faith. And yet I still admire the Lee in this chapter more than the Lee in earlier chapters.

Does anyone else see a difference in Lee? What do you like or dislike about how he is portrayed in this chapter?

message 22: by James (new)

James I'd agree, this is the first time in the book that we see Lee agonizing about a decision he has made, because of its appalling impact on the soldiers he loved. He responds with total integrity, telling them not to blame themselves, that it is entirely his fault. His troops loved him the way they did because they knew he felt the same way about them. That's the leadership style still being taught to USMC NCOs and commissioned officers when I was in, under the name 'inspirational leadership' - the idea is to demonstrate to your people that you respect and care deeply about them, so that they follow you because they look up to you and don't want to let you down rather than because they're afraid of you. Leadership by fear breaks down as soon as the job gets scarier than the boss; people don't charge machine gun nests for leaders they fear but don't respect.

Lee's actions after Pickett's Charge remind me of General Eisenhower writing a memo just before the Normandy landing, to be published if the invasion failed, taking full responsibility for that failure and all its consequences. So different from a lot of what we've seen in more recent times.

Lee also demonstrated, after the war, his regret for having decided to serve the Confederacy and thereby prolonging a war that would probably have ended in months rather than years had he accepted command of the Union army as President Lincoln hoped he would. He served as the president of Washington and Lee University for the rest of his life. It wasn't unusual for the student body to be marched around like soldiers for various events, but Lee always refused to march in step.

Lee had dedicated his life from his youth on to the principle of always doing the right and responsible thing; part of the reason was his shame and sadness about his father, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, who had been a hero in the Revolutionary War, but later had been bankrupted because he'd made high-risk investments that became worthless and left his family broke when he died in 1818. Robert E. Lee was 11 at the time, and spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence moving with his mother from the house of one relative to another, dependent on their charity.

So Robert E. Lee grew up with an intense sense of duty and conscience, and became a man whose integrity was famous. He also had a ferocious temper which he had spent his first decades taming, and his extreme gentility even when provoked, as with Jeb Stuart in particular.

message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Great write-up on Lee James...thanks for that. I don't think Lee was really given his due in Shaara's book but then again...Gettysburg was not one of Lee's stellar successes either.

message 24: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments Oh, thank you, James. (Now I've really got to get a good bio of Lee to read.) I appreciate your points about leaders, and how leadership by just fear doesn't last when "the job gets scarier than the boss." Makes a lot of sense, and I like how you explain it.

You made a good point that part of the appeal of Lee in this chapter is the accepting of responsibility. That is an admirable quality to me. (Hey, I've got little kids. We are constantly working on accepting responsibility.)

message 25: by James (new)

James Lee is one of the historical figures that I would love to have a chance to meet and get to know, but when I think about it there's a part of me that's intimidated by the idea (even though it's a total fantasy) and afraid I wouldn't measure up to his standards well enough to earn his respect.

I think Lee and Lincoln would have made a great team if he had acceded to Lincoln's request that he take command of the Union army; then, if his heart had held out long enough, Lee might have followed Lincoln in the presidency - maybe with someone else in between - rather than Ulysses Grant (also a man I find fascinating and admire deeply, and also a man of tremendous integrity; the corruption of his administration as president was due to his being too trusting of crooked friends rather than being crooked himself.)
A number of people tried to talk Sherman into running for office, too, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He had a brother who was a politician and used to tell him that the war was mostly the politicians' fault, that they made the mess and the soldiers had to clean it up.
A short war with Lee in command of the Union army, and then President Lee in the White House... That would actually be a good basis for another extended alternate history novel, or series, like the ones Harry Turtledove wrote about a world in which the Confederacy had won the Civil War. Maybe I should start thinking about what-ifs for a story line! First I need to finish writing the book I'm already under contract to get done by the end of May, though.

I understand what you mean about your kids, Elizabeth - I spent a lot of energy on that with mine. They're adults now, but my wife and I were working on that with our grandsons (ages 6 and 9 now) when they and my daughter were living with us for a couple of years. One thing about taking responsibility, it makes it possible to change the outcome next time by doing something different - we tried to get the boys to understand how blaming things on other people leaves a person seeing him/herself as powerless, at the mercy of other people's actions or fate, while taking responsibility is taking power over one's own outcomes. Don't know if they got that, but we did at least have the older grandson to where he had the Golden Rule memorized and could talk about what it meant in a given concrete situation. Not that he always acts according to it, of course.

message 26: by Elizabeth S (new)

Elizabeth S (esorenson) | 2011 comments James wrote: "Lee is one of the historical figures that I would love to have a chance to meet and get to know, but when I think about it there's a part of me that's intimidated by the idea (even though it's a to..."

Thanks for all your comments, James. That is an interesting alternative history. It is the kind of thing where it is fun to come up with ideas, but I need someone else to write them. I'm no writer! Maybe when you are done with your current project. :)

I'm grateful to all of you who tell me more about Lee. It helps me have a more accurate picture of him than the one given in Killer Angels.

And I think it is funny that all parents (and involved grandparents) tend to be working on similar things with kids. Yes, each child is different and often needs different techniques. But there are broad issues that everyone deals with, and needs to teach the kids to deal with.

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