The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

Infobox Book
name = The Killer Angels
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption ="The Killer Angels" softcover edition
author = Michael Shaara
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Historical novel
publisher =
release_date = 1974
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn =
preceded_by = Gods and Generals
followed_by = The Last Full Measure

"The Killer Angels" (1974) is a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The book tells the story of four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War: June 29, 1863, as the troops of both the Union and the Confederacy move into battle around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and July 1, July 2, and July 3, when the battle was fought. A film adaption of the novel, titled "Gettysburg", was released in 1993.

Plot introduction

Layout of the book

Beginning with the famous section about Longstreet's spy Harrison gathering information about the movements and positions of the Federals, each day is told primarily from the perspectives of commanders of the two armies, including Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. Most chapters describe the emotion-laden decisions of these officers as they went into battle. Maps depicting the positioning of the troops as they went to battle, as they advanced, add to the sense of authenticity as decisions are made to advance and retreat with the armies. The author also uses the story of Gettysburg, the largest battle in the history of North America, to relate the causes of the Civil War and the motivations that led old friends to face each other on the battlefield.


The novel is sometimes compared to Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" for its depiction of the war, but Shaara emphasizes the decisions, motivations, and actions of generals and colonels in the battle more than the common soldiers. Shaara explained that he was aiming to produce an epic military study modeled after William Shakespeare's "Henry V". His choice for a specific subject was inspired by a family vacation that Shaara took to the site of the battle in 1966. Shaara's son Jeffrey Shaara expanded the story by adding a prequel, "Gods and Generals" and a sequel, "The Last Full Measure".


**Robert Edward Lee (Commander, Army of Northern Virginia)
**James Longstreet (Lieutenant General)
**George E. Pickett (Major General)
**Richard Stoddart Ewell (Lieutenant General)
**Ambrose Powell Hill (Lieutenant General)
**Richard Brooke Garnett (Brigadier General)
**James Ewell Brown Stuart (Chief of Cavalry)
**Jubal Anderson Early (Major General)
**Lewis Addison Armistead (Brigadier General)
**James L. Kemper (Brigadier General)
**John Bell Hood (Major General)
**Henry Heth (Major General)
**Arthur Lyons Fremantle (Lieutenant Colonel, British Coldstream Guards)
**Henry Thomas Harrison (Confederate spy)

**Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Colonel)
**Thomas Davee Chamberlain (Lieutenant)
**Ellis Spear (Captain)
**John Buford (Brigadier General)
**John F. Reynolds (Major General)
**George Gordon Meade (Commanding general, Army of the Potomac)
**Winfield Scott Hancock (Major General)
**Buster Kilrain (Sergeant)


Publication of "The Killer Angels" and release of the movie have had two significant influences on modern perceptions of the Civil War. First, the actions of Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Infantry on Little Round Top have achieved enormous public awareness. Visitors touring the Gettysburg Battlefield rank the 20th Maine monument as their most important stop. Second, since Shaara used the memoirs of General James Longstreet as a prime source for his history, the book has renewed the modern re-evaluation of Longstreet's reputation, damaged since the 1870s by the Lost Cause writers, such as Jubal A. Early.

Literary significance and criticism

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described "The Killer Angels" as "the best and most realistic historical novel about war that I have ever read." The filmmaker Ken Burns has mentioned the influence of the book in developing his interest in the Civil War and his subsequent production of the PBS series on the subject. The book has also been cited by Joss Whedon as the original inspiration for his science fiction/Western hybrid series "Firefly".

Awards and nominations

"The Killer Angels" received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

"The Killer Angels" has been required reading, at various times, at the US Army Officer Candidate School, The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army War College, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It is one of only two novels (the other being "Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer) on the U.S. Army's recommended reading list for Officer Professional Development.

Other media

"The Killer Angels" was a source for the screenplay for the 1993 movie, "Gettysburg".

The "Firefly" science fiction television series was developed by Joss Whedon after reading "The Killer Angels". Homage to Shaara's novel was paid in the series' final episode, "Objects in Space". Singer-songwriter Steve Earle included a song on his 1999 bluegrass album, "The Mountain", called "Dixieland", sung from the point of view of the character Buster Kilrain.

A stage adaptation by Karen Tarjan was originally produced at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago in 2004. The adaptation was subsequently produced at Anchorage Community Theatre, the Wayside Theatre in Virginia, and the Heritage Theatre in Maryland.

Further reading

*Eishen, Thomas, "Courage on Little Round Top", Skyward Publishing, 2005, ISBN 1-881554-38-4.
*Hartwig, D. Scott, "A Killer Angels Companion" Thomas Publications, 1996, ISBN 0-939631-95-4.
*Smithpeters, Jeff, [ "To the Latest Generation: Post Cold War Civil War Novels in Their Contemporary Contexts,"] doctoral dissertation, Louisiana State University, 2005. The dissertation argues that "The Killer Angels" is a response to the Vietnam War and to a longing for the leadership of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.

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