The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels: Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lee gets up the next morning in the rain, feeling dizzy, “a breathless pain” in his chest. Since the spring, he has felt that he doesn’t have much time and must prepare himself for death. A messenger reports that there has been no rumor of Jeb Stuart. He also reports that there has been word of Union cavalry in Gettysburg, but that General A. P. Hill discounts it. Lee reminds the messenger that he doesn’t want any fight until the entire army is concentrated. He strongly feels the vacancy left behind by Stonewall Jackson; other than Longstreet, many of the generals are new to command.
The rain’s foreboding touches Lee’s weakening health, too. His insecurity about his heart is matched by his anxiety in the absence of the recently deceased Jackson. The continued lack of intelligence from Stuart and conflicted reports from Gettysburg lend an air of uncertainty to this first morning of the battle.
Themes
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
The messenger reports troubles involving civilians, such as the requisitioning of food and horses, and Lee sternly reminds him that the men will behave themselves, regardless of past Yankee behavior in the South. While talking with another aide, he reflects that he had once sworn to defend this very ground but dismisses the thought. He adds, “Napoleon once said, ‘The logical end to defensive warfare is surrender.’”
Lee is adamant that his men display honor regardless of their circumstances. At the same time, he’s troubled by the recollection that by invading the North, he is breaking his oath to defend this very land, a fact he avoids dwelling on. His approving quotation of Napoleon further suggests his preoccupation with outdated tactics.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
As the aide leaves, Lee feels “a deeper spasm, like a black stain. I swore to defend. Now I invade.” He thinks that he is a soldier, not a theologian. Still feeling guilty, he prays that the war will be over soon.
Lee’s gloomy musings seem to cause him deeper pangs. Lee reasons that it isn’t his job to ponder these matters, but the question of honor and his obligations to the United States clearly won’t go away.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Lee is heartened to see Longstreet and his staff appear, trailed by the foreign observers. After chatting a bit, Lee tells Longstreet that in the coming fight, he wants Longstreet to stay back from the main line, as he is the only veteran commander, and Lee cannot afford to lose him. As they discuss current intelligence, Longstreet suggests again that the Confederates dig in defensively between the Union army and Washington. But Lee argues that Meade is new to command and will move slowly. He thinks that “all the bright theories so rarely worked”; his instinct tells him that they should instead hit the enemy hard and quickly. As they ride forward together in the sun, they hear the sound of distant artillery.
Lee dismisses Longstreet’s suggestions of defensive tactics as mere “bright theories” that won’t accomplish much on the ground. He is eager to attack at the earliest opportunity. Yet as the generals ride toward Gettysburg, they can hear that fighting has broken out more rapidly than they anticipated.
Themes
Old World vs. New World Theme Icon
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