The Killer Angels

The Killer Angels

by

Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels: Wednesday, July 1, 1863: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chamberlain and his men march past glum and silent Maryland crowds. As they cross the Pennsylvania border, they hear more cheers and accept food from farmers. He overhears Tom describing the ways of the Second Maine to some of the new men, such as the brigade’s distinctive bugle call. Chamberlain half dozes and reflects on the strange love one develops for army life, despite its rigors. He also remembers the horrors of a sleepless night among dead soldiers at Fredericksburg.
The reception of the army changes noticeably as the army crosses the Mason-Dixon Line. Chamberlain reflects on both the horrors and the joys of his time as a soldier.
Themes
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Chamberlain’s thoughts shift to Maine and to his father, a noble but distant man. He recalls delivering a speech from Shakespeare, including the line, “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel!” To this his father had replied, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” Chamberlain had gone on to deliver an oration on the subject at school: “Man, the Killer Angel.”
In keeping with his reflections on the joys and terrors of war, Chamberlain recalls his youthful reflections on the dual “angelic” potential of humanity: to do great good and also great harm.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
Slavery and Freedom Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Chamberlain tries to stop himself from thinking too much, since he functions best when he falls back on instinct. But he continues dwelling on the subject of home. He thinks that one place is much like another— “truth is it’s just all rock and dirt and people are roughly the same.” He doesn’t consider himself to be patriotic, as he feels at home everywhere, whether in Maine, in the South, or in England.
In battle, Chamberlain functions most effectively on instinct, but the march toward Gettysburg continues to draw out his contemplative side. He is not wedded to any particular place, he finds; he believes that people are basically the same no matter where they live.
Themes
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
One of Chamberlain’s sergeants urges him to get back on his horse, since they cannot spare another commanding officer. The regiment marches past dead bodies where Stuart had skirmished with some Union soldiers. The weary men see a haze on the horizon, a sign of fighting in Gettysburg. As the day darkens, they look forward to rest, but are soon ordered forward, hearing news that two corps have been engaged at Gettysburg and that Reynolds has been killed.
The sight of corpses and news of nearby fighting summons Chamberlain back from his musings. He needs to refocus on his responsibility to his men. This refocusing represents a shift in Chamberlain’s wartime experience, from primarily contemplative to more active.
Themes
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon
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Briefly, misinformation spreads down the ranks that McClellan has assumed command of the army, which rouses 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. Chamberlain thinks about the requirements for an officer that Ames, his predecessor, had taught him: “You must care for your men’s welfare. You must show physical courage.” He reflects that he has cared for the men as best he can, and that tomorrow will reveal his courage. After the men make camp for the night, Chamberlain prays for a true leader.
Chamberlain’s reflections on true leadership foreshadow the challenges he will face in the coming days—though he does not fully realize that he might be the leader his men need the most.
Themes
Honor Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Disillusionment Theme Icon