The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Michael Shaara

Michael Shaara was born to an Italian immigrant and World War I POW father and a mother descended from Revolutionary War patriots. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1951 and served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. A decorated amateur boxer, Shaara also worked as a police officer in St. Petersburg, Florida, before becoming a professor of creative writing at Florida State University. Over the course of his career, he published more than 70 short stories, many of them science fiction, and several novels, including For Love of the Game, a story about a baseball legend. He suffered a serious Vespa accident while teaching in Florence, Italy, which left him unconscious for five weeks and dealing with health repercussions for many years. Shaara based The Killer Angels on the recollections of generals and ordinary soldiers instead of on scholarly interpretations of the Civil War. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Killer Angels in 1975. He died of a heart attack at age 59. After Shaara’s death, his son, Jeff Shaara, wrote a prequel to The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals (1996) as well as a sequel, The Last Full Measure (1998).
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Historical Context of The Killer Angels

The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, between eleven secessionist states (the Confederacy) and those states that remained loyal to the United States Constitution (the Union). While various factors contributed to the outbreak of war, it was centrally fought over the seceding states’ support for the institution of slavery within their borders. Well over 600,000 people died over the course of the war. Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the entire war and has often been regarded as its turning point. At the time Michael Shaara wrote The Killer Angels, the Civil Rights movement, which confronted some of the continuing legacies of slavery, was particularly fresh in American minds. Nonetheless, in the century since the Battle of Gettysburg took place, interest in the novel’s central characters and issues had never entirely waned in popular consciousness.

Other Books Related to The Killer Angels

The Red Badge of Courage (1895), written from the perspective of a Union soldier, is one of the earliest works of Civil War historical fiction. Probably the most popular such book is fellow Pulitzer prize winner Gone with the Wind (1936), by Margaret Mitchell, which portrays the devastations of the war from the perspective of one Georgia family. Another acclaimed work of historical fiction from the 1970s is Alex Haley’s Roots, which traces the experiences of one African-American family from west African origins to life in twentieth century America.
Key Facts about The Killer Angels
  • Full Title: The Killer Angels
  • When Published: 1974
  • Literary Period: Modern fiction
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Setting: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Climax: Pickett’s Charge, the third and final day of the battle
  • Antagonist: Both the Confederate and Union armies
  • Point of View: Alternating third person limited

Extra Credit for The Killer Angels

From Novel to Screen. The Killer Angels helped inspire Ken Burns’ highly regarded PBS miniseries The Civil War (1990) and was the source for the screenplay of the 1993 film Gettysburg. Together these works stirred renewed popular interest in the Civil War, including Gettysburg tourism, in the 1990s.

Family Connection. Shaara first visited Gettysburg out of interest in his own family history—his great-grandfather, a soldier from Georgia, was wounded in battle there. From his ancestor’s letters, Shaara became interested in Robert E. Lee’s letters, which finally inspired him to tell Lee’s story through fiction.