The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Killer Angels can help.

The Killer Angels: Monday, June 29, 1863: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In Longstreet’s camp, the men are teaching Colonel Fremantle, an English war observer, to play poker. Longstreet sits under a tree nearby, watching and resting. He is bothered by the army’s blindness, thanks to Jeb Stuart’s failure to return. Longstreet’s chief of staff, Sorrel, informs him that union cavalry were sighted in Gettysburg that day, but that General A. P. Hill believes this report must have been mistaken. Lee defers to Hill’s judgment, to the chagrin of Longstreet.
While his men relax, Longstreet broods about the army’s lack of information and Lee’s reluctance to believe the cavalry sighting. His differences with Lee continue to simmer between the surface.
Themes
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Longstreet broods, instinctively sensing “an odor of trouble.” He is briefly diverted when Fremantle approaches him for advice on poker, after which Longstreet muses that the English are “a strange and lacey race.” There have long been rumors that England will support the Confederacy, but Longstreet doubts this will happen. Suddenly George Pickett arrives with his brigade commanders, Armistead, Garnett, and Kemper. Longstreet has known these men since they all served together in the Mexican War and reflects that they are “more a family than an army.”
The cheerful Fremantle serves throughout the story as a distraction and foil to the pessimistic Longstreet. The arrival of Pickett and his officers constitutes a reunion, emphasizing the familial nature of military service for career soldiers.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Garnett tells Longstreet, with formality, how much he appreciates Longstreet assigning him as a brigade commander under Pickett. Everyone knows that under Stonewall Jackson, Garnett had withdrawn his brigade without orders at Kernstown, and Jackson had accused him of cowardice. With Jackson now dead, “Garnett’s honor was compromised, and he had not recovered from the stain, and … there were many men who would never let him recover.” Yet Longstreet believes in the man and tells him how fortunate he considers himself that Garnett is available to him.
The arrival of Garnett, disgraced under Jackson and beholden to Longstreet, fully introduces the theme of honor that pervades the novel. Garnett can never fully live down his actions at Kernstown, even when men like Longstreet affirm his fitness for command.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Longstreet and Pickett introduce Pickett’s officers to Fremantle. Armistead jokes that the army is called “Lee’s Miserables,” after the currently popular novel Les Miserables. Armistead is jokingly introduced as an elderly “Lothario,” though he is actually a shy widower. Garnett is known for being sickly, and Kemper for being a politician (a former member of the Virginia legislature) and suspicious of foreigners. As the crowd begins to become more sentimental and to share drinks, Longstreet withdraws again.
The presence of Fremantle, an outsider, provides an opportunity for the introduction of various personalities in Longstreet’s camp.
Themes
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Get the entire The Killer Angels LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Killer Angels PDF
A little later, Pickett steps aside to speak to Longstreet. He complains that his division had not participated in the battles at Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg and now finds itself dead last in the line of march. Longstreet promises that Pickett’s time will come. Armistead then comes up, and Pickett returns to the poker game. As Armistead talks with Longstreet, he mentions his good friend, Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock, a Union general, is currently marching toward Gettysburg.
The youthful Pickett’s impatience for action foreshadows his pivotal role in the final offensive at Gettysburg. Meanwhile, Armistead’s nostalgia takes the conversation in a more tragic direction, as the men reflect on the disruption of friendships by war.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Longstreet and Armistead discuss the fact that the war has lasted longer than either of them had imagined it would. Longstreet tells Armistead that he believes the day of the one-battle war is over. “War has changed, Lewis,” he tells his friend. “They all expect one smashing victory. Waterloo and all that … We have trenches now … [T]o ask a man to fight from a trench, day after day…”
Longstreet knows that the expectations of modern generals have been created by the dramatic defeat of Napoleon’s army at Waterloo in 1815. Yet he understands that warfare is changing, and will increasingly be conducted less through dramatic actions than through long, drawn-out entrenchments—the latter exacting a greater toll on men’s morale.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Armistead, however, isn’t interested in talking tactics and returns to the subject of Hancock. Longstreet encourages him to see his friend should the opportunity arise—he can simply get a messenger and a flag of truce and pay a visit across enemy lines. Armistead then asks after Longstreet’s wife, which brings up painful thoughts of the dead children and the couple’s shared grief. Longstreet declines to speak about them, and the two share a companionable silence for a while.
Armistead finds the subject uninteresting, showing how isolated Longstreet is in his forward-looking concerns. Longstreet is a reasonable and caring general, however, and willingly encourages his preoccupied friend to visit Hancock, even though they are enemy combatants. Longstreet’s grief over his family’s loss is clearly still raw.
Themes
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Armistead talks about the unprecedented level of morale he sees in the army. “They’re off on a Holy War,” he claims. “The Crusades must have been a little like this.” Longstreet is skeptical, pointing out that the Crusaders never captured Jerusalem. Armistead is dismissive. Lee’s presence, he says, “is everywhere … like an angel of the Lord. You ever see anything like it?”
Armistead sees Confederate morale and Lee’s overpowering presence as confirmation of the rightness and eventual success of their cause. Longstreet, however, finds the historical parallel—like the memory of Waterloo, fundamentally backward-looking—suspect and doesn’t see how morale alone is relevant. Lee, meanwhile, is regarded by most of his men as something more than human.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Longstreet shakes his head at Armistead’s idealistic talk, as he “did not think much of the Cause. He was a professional: the Cause was Victory.” To him, the war has become a nightmare in which one must simply choose one’s side and then do one’s duty. He has no triumphalist illusions that the Confederates are vastly superior to the Yankees. But he warns himself not to speak his mind.
Longstreet does not share the idealism of so many Southerners. He wants to help his side win; that’s all. He knows that sharing his opinions on these matters could erode morale, though, and he chooses to stay silent.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Armistead changes the subject to Longstreet’s theories of defensive warfare. He allows that Longstreet is correct in his views, but that the Confederates are simply not the army for defensive war; neither is Lee the general for it, as he is too proud. He reminds Longstreet how hurt Lee was when the Richmond newspapers mocked Lee’s defensive efforts in previous battle. For an “old school” man like Lee, this was a “stain on the old honor,” which Lee can’t wait to remedy by going on the offensive.
Armistead shows that he has listened to Longstreet’s views and even finds them persuasive. However, they simply will not work, he feels, with the Confederate Army. Lee has tried defensive measures before and endured mockery for it, which he still hasn’t lived down. This seems to be more important, both to Lee and to Armistead, than whether the tactics were effective or not. Honor must be maintained at all costs.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Longstreet knows that Armistead is probably right about Lee, and it worries him. He thinks that “there was danger in [Lee’s attitude]; there was even something dangerous in Lee.” As their conversation comes to an end, the two find Sorrel and Kemper regaling Fremantle with arguments about “the Cause.” Kemper explains, “You must tell [England] … what we are fighting for is our freedom from the rule of what is to us a foreign government … [T]hat’s what this war is all about.”
Longstreet has a prophetic worry about Lee’s intransigence in the matter of defensive warfare. Then he hears two other officers trying to defend the Southern cause—and hence their own honor—to a puzzled foreigner. Sorrel and Kemper can’t bear that their stance be misunderstood. The same “honor-bound” stubbornness in the face of argument seems to be a common Confederate affliction. Ironically, too, the desire to preserve an old-style aristocracy must be defended to the country against which America ostensibly rebelled over such matters. But the Confederates portray this as a question of “freedom.”
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
Pickett explains to Longstreet that, according to Fremantle, the English find support of the Confederacy to be a touchy subject, due to the issue of slavery. This enrages Kemper and the other men, who try to explain that the war is not, in fact, about slavery. Pickett suggests that the analogy of a gentlemen’s club is apt—that it’s as if the South had voluntarily joined a club, resigned when other members stuck their noses into the Southern members’ private lives, and then the other members claimed the South did not have the right to resign.
Slavery is clearly not a touchy subject for the English alone, as Kemper’s anger shows. Pickett’s elaborate analogy demonstrates the lengths to which many Southerners will argue to defend the right to carry on their “private” way of life.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Longstreet stands in silence as the other men agree with one another that the war is really a question of the Constitution. As the men disperse for the night, Longstreet looks at the night sky and muses that, when it comes to the question of defensive vs. offensive warfare, one “might as well argue with stars.” As the chapter concludes, it is the following dawn, and a boy on Buford’s picket line sees rows of Confederate skirmishers approaching in the rain. He fires the first shot of the battle.
Longstreet’s silence renders a quiet judgment on the other men’s statements—yet he doesn’t attempt to dissuade them. Their intractability on this matter is just as strong as their stubbornness on battle strategy. The next morning, rain symbolizes impending violence as the first shots are fired.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon