The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Character Analysis

The primary Union protagonist in the story, 34-year-old Chamberlain is Colonel of the Twentieth Maine regiment. He is not a career soldier; he took a leave of absence from his position as professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in order to enlist. He loves his younger brother, Tom, but he takes care to quash any appearance of over-familiarity or favoritism between the two of them. He is described as having “a grave, boyish dignity” as well as the “naïve look of the happy professor.” He relies on the assistance and advice of Private Kilrain, whom he loves as a paternal figure. In battle, he functions best on instinct, but he is a naturally contemplative man, his mind always working. An idealist, he holds a visceral belief in human equality—a conviction for which he is willing to kill. Yet, when he meets an escaped black slave in the fields of Pennsylvania, he is appalled to notice his discomfort at touching the man, forcing him to consider the relationship between his ideals and the realities he meets in the world. During the Battle of Little Round Top, Chamberlain discovers his capacity for leadership under pressure, coming up with the idea for a downhill bayonet charge after the regiment runs out of ammunition, and garnering admiration from his superiors for his ingenuity and courage. After the battle, Chamberlain feels pity and even a sense of brotherhood with the fallen Confederates; he cannot hate them, however incompatible their beliefs are with his own.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Quotes in The Killer Angels

The The Killer Angels quotes below are all either spoken by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain or refer to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Honor Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ballantine edition of The Killer Angels published in 1974.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 2 Quotes

The faith itself was simple: he believed in the dignity of man. His ancestors were Huguenots, refugees of a chained and bloody Europe. He had learned their stories in the cradle. He had grown up believing in America and the individual and it was a stronger faith than his faith in God.

Related Characters: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 4 Quotes

Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel!” And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel.

Related Characters: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Related Symbols: Angels
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 2 Quotes

He felt a slow deep flow of sympathy. To be alien and alone, among white lords and glittering machines, uprooted by brute force and threat of death from the familiar earth of what he did not even know was Africa, to be shipped in black stinking darkness across an ocean he had not dreamed existed, forced then to work on alien soil, strange beyond belief, by men with guns whose words he could not even comprehend. What could the black man know of what was happening? Chamberlain tried to imagine it. He had seen ignorance, but this was more than that. What could this man know of borders and states’ rights and the Constitution and Dred Scott? What did he know of the war? And yet he was truly what it was all about. It simplified to that. Seen in the flesh, the cause of the war was brutally clear.

Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

What I’m fighting for is the right to prove I’m a better man than many. Where have you seen this divine spark in operation, Colonel? Where have you noted this magnificent equality? … There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters is justice.

Related Characters: Buster Kilrain (speaker), Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 6 Quotes

Tom said, “When you ask them prisoners, they never talk about slavery. But, Lawrence, how do you explain that? What else is the war about?”

Chamberlain shook his head.

“If it weren’t for the slaves, there’d never have been no war, now would there?”

“No,” Chamberlain said.

“Well then, I don’t care how much political fast-talking you hear, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what them fellers died for, and I tell you, Lawrence, I don’t understand it at all.”

Related Characters: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (speaker), Tom Chamberlain (speaker)
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Character Timeline in The Killer Angels

The timeline below shows where the character Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain appears in The Killer Angels. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 2: Chamberlain
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Chamberlain is awakened from a dream about Maine by Buster Kilrain. The former is recovering from... (full context)
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Meade’s message authorizes Chamberlain to shoot any man who refuses to fight. Chamberlain marvels at the “crazy” expectation that... (full context)
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Chamberlain’s younger brother, Tom, newly a lieutenant, greets him and asks him why he doesn’t ride... (full context)
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...despite yelling and prodding by the guards. The captain, contemptuous, hands the prisoners over to Chamberlain and loudly reminds him that he is welcome to shoot them. Chamberlain dismisses the captain... (full context)
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The prisoners look hungry, exhausted, and occasionally hateful. Chamberlain introduces himself as the Colonel of the Twentieth Maine. The first thing he asks the... (full context)
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Chamberlain is relieved when the prisoners move toward the food instead of resisting his authority. A... (full context)
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The scarred prisoner, a stubborn, watchful man, tells Chamberlain his regiment’s story. He talks about his men’s long history of engagements and shows Chamberlain... (full context)
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Chamberlain grants the man’s point and excuses himself to speak to a courier. He is instructed... (full context)
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Chamberlain continues to ponder his next steps, knowing he won’t shoot anyone. He would die for... (full context)
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Continuing to reflect, Chamberlain contemplates his simple belief in the dignity of man, passed down from his persecuted Huguenot... (full context)
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Chamberlain believes that his views constitute no mere patriotism but a new faith, that while “the... (full context)
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As the rest of the regiment begins to form, Chamberlain gathers the prisoners around him. He begins his speech softly so that the grumbling prisoners... (full context)
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Chamberlain continues to explain that the Union army is something unique within history. They aren’t fighting... (full context)
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Chamberlain concludes by promising to do what he can to ensure fair treatment for the men... (full context)
Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 4: Chamberlain
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Chamberlain and his men march past glum and silent Maryland crowds. As they cross the Pennsylvania... (full context)
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Chamberlain’s thoughts shift to Maine and to his father, a noble but distant man. He recalls... (full context)
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Chamberlain tries to stop himself from thinking too much, since he functions best when he falls... (full context)
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One of Chamberlain’s sergeants urges him to get back on his horse, since they cannot spare another commanding... (full context)
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...spirits, since he was the only general the Union men had ever loved. But soon Chamberlain knows that it cannot be true and that Meade, an unknown quantity, will lead them.... (full context)
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 2: Chamberlain
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As Chamberlain walks among his men, he thinks that “all his life he had been a detached... (full context)
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Chamberlain daydreams about his wife and the South she loves: “Strange hot land of courtly manners... (full context)
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...large, dark-skinned, well-muscled, and raggedly dressed. He has a bullet wound just under his ribs. Chamberlain has not seen many black people before and is “fascinated.” He realizes there is nothing... (full context)
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As the black man eats and waits for a doctor, Chamberlain is shocked by his own hesitation to touch him— “a flutter of unmistakable revulsion” he... (full context)
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Chamberlain feels “a slow deep flow of sympathy” for the black man and wonders how much... (full context)
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Chamberlain wishes he had time to think, but they will soon be moving into battle. As... (full context)
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...heat of the day. When they stop to rest, Meade sends back a message which Chamberlain is to read to the troops. The order mentions that any man who fails to... (full context)
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As they wait, Chamberlain asks Kilrain what he thinks of “Negroes.” Kilrain broods and finally says that one cannot... (full context)
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Chamberlain recalls some visitors from the South whom he had met before the war, a minister... (full context)
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The professor had apologized to Chamberlain for offending him in his own home, though he could not apologize for his views,... (full context)
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...says that he sees a great difference between them, which he can’t help but admire: Chamberlain is an idealist. Kilrain does not believe that there is any such thing as a... (full context)
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Kilrain tells Chamberlain that the “strange and beautiful” thing about him is that he actually believes in humanity,... (full context)
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...country if the Union loses the war. They continue to wait for orders to move. Chamberlain takes comfort in knowing that he is not wrong, that he is fighting for the... (full context)
Thursday, July 2, 1863: Chapter 4: Chamberlain
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Chamberlain hears the cannon begin. He is instructed to form his regiment. They begin to move... (full context)
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Chamberlain learns that General Sickles has left his hill uncovered because he didn’t like the ground,... (full context)
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Chamberlain thinks it is a strange place to fight. He watches his regiment form along the... (full context)
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Chamberlain walks among his men, wondering what “to the last” really means. He is unsettled by... (full context)
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Chamberlain checks on the six remaining holdouts from the Second Maine mutineers. He promises that any... (full context)
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...chaos of noise and smoke, but the initial Rebel attack seems to be repelled. As Chamberlain checks on the dead and injured, he comes upon Kilrain, shot in the armpit. He... (full context)
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Chamberlain sees masses of Rebels coming up the hill, moving from tree to tree. He is... (full context)
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...is almost out of ammunition and has lost many men. They are stretched thin, and Chamberlain is briefly horrified when Tom jumps up to plug a hole in the line. Chamberlain... (full context)
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Chamberlain knows that if they pull out, the entire flank will cave in. The burden of... (full context)
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The entire Regiment runs screaming down the slope, bayonets in the air. Chamberlain watches as Rebels stop, freeze, and then turn to flee. He stumbles downhill toward an... (full context)
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Chamberlain goes back to check on Kilrain, who has been shot twice. There is a silently... (full context)
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Chamberlain walks among wounded and dying soldiers, shares a drink with one of his men, and... (full context)
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Rice tells Chamberlain that the hill they’ve defended is called Little Round Top. Promising to resupply them with... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 1: Chamberlain
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Chamberlain sits in a tree overlooking Gettysburg after a sleepless night, hungry and exhausted. Tom brings... (full context)
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Chamberlain gets down from the tree and hears battle to the north, on the army’s opposite... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 3: Chamberlain
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After their lone stand on Little Round Top, Chamberlain and his men are now in the very middle of the army. The lieutenant guiding... (full context)
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Chamberlain is hungry and lonely. A messenger comes from General Sykes, requesting Chamberlain’s company. The messenger... (full context)
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Sykes commends Chamberlain’s actions and tells him that the army needs more fighting men like him, whether Regular... (full context)
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When Chamberlain passes the generals again, Meade has joined them. Chamberlain can “feel the massed power …... (full context)
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Tom’s expression shows that something is wrong. Tom tells Chamberlain that the hospital is a mess, with amputations being done out in the open. Chamberlain... (full context)
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...filled with relentless explosions and smoke. As the Union guns reply, the thunderous noise lulls Chamberlain to sleep. He wakes up once, amazed to see Hancock riding calmly along the crest... (full context)
Friday, July 3, 1863: Chapter 6: Chamberlain
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At dusk, Chamberlain sits on a rock overlooking the battlefield. It looks like “the gray floor of hell.”... (full context)
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Chamberlain closes his eyes and pictures the battle again, thinking that it was the most beautiful... (full context)
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Rain begins to fall lightly around Chamberlain, washing the dust and dirt from his face. Soon Tom finds him and sits with... (full context)
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Chamberlain realizes he had forgotten all about the Cause when the guns began firing. It now... (full context)
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Tom points out that the Rebel prisoners never talk about slavery. He asks Chamberlain how Chamberlain explains this: “what else is the war about?” Chamberlain just shakes his head.... (full context)
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Chamberlain is thinking of Kilrain: “no divine spark.” He also thinks, “Animal meat: the Killer Angels.”... (full context)
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...up, urging his brother to move, too, since there’s a big rain coming. He asks Chamberlain if he thinks the rebels will attack again. Chamberlain nods, knowing they’re not done. He... (full context)
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As the rain begins to pour, Chamberlain thanks God for the privilege of having been there that day. He returns to his... (full context)