You Are The Author, Episode I: The Killer Angels (1975)

Union_Buff

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Hello all :smile:

After reading The Killer Angels for what seems to be the millionth time (in my case), I began to have ideas about how the novel may have turned out if I had written it myself.

I then thought it would be interesting to put the same idea out to CivilWarTalk. What you would do if you had written it? Would you add in more details or would you take anything away?

~ James (Union_Buff)

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Pat Answer

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I would be greatly tempted to turn the thing into a Gettysburg docudrama, which M Shaara rightly avoided. My "improvements" would likely ruin the work as a novel.
That said, I would have used Buford's actual June 30 report to Reynolds (as the movie did) rather than the equivalent of "lotta Rebs coming this way" which just makes one question why such a good cavalry officer would waste the time and paper.
More importantly, I would have set up real arguments between Lee and Longstreet about conducting the battle: for instance that the lay of the land and available road network didn't necessarily make 'going around the right' the best option even if it was better than taking on the center proved to be.
Shaara portrayed Lee too much as a tired old man. Except when he chewed out Stuart... which didn't happen but was a good scene.
Rather than have Chamberlain "rest" by marching halfway across the battlefield to witness the July 3 attack, why not just give Hancock a chapter as was done with Armistead? These two men are an important theme throughout the book, so that would be fitting. Buford 'fades out' after the first; Chamberlain 'fades out' after the second day.

LOL. Love this book warts and all by the way. I wish I could read it 'for the first time' again. Don't like son Jeff's stuff half as much.

@Cavalier Your post came in as I was writing my own book here (LOL). I agree.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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Why so much on Lee and NO CHAPTER at ALL on Meade? This is an imbalance. Why not contrast a commander who has been in place for just over a year with one who takes over 3 days before the battle? One thinks he knows his army, and the other doesn't even know where all the parts of his army are.

Also why make up Sgt. Kilrain's character when Andrew Jackson Tozier, a real life Medal of Honor recipient, and part of the old 2d ME Inf. is on the scene, holding the flag in the bend of his elbow while firing a rifle at the enemy, and ultimately helping to inspire the bayonet charge?

Also, if it were up to me, Chamberlain's defense of the Union left on Day 2 would be compared with Col. David Ireland's 137th NY defending the right flank. Although there are key differences, the similarities are striking.

And then there is Longstreet at Lee's headquarters on the evening of the 2d day. In reality, Longstreet's failure to understand Lee's orders for the morning of July 3 is why the so called Pickett's Charge takes place at all.

For all the complaints that I have, it is a good novel. To be perfectly fair, Michael Shaara always said it was a novel, and not a history. His failing, if you can call it that, was that he is such a good writer that most who read his work believe it to be the actual, and complete, story of the battle.
 

rbortega

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Why so much on Lee and NO CHAPTER at ALL on Meade? This is an imbalance. Why not contrast a commander who has been in place for just over a year with one who takes over 3 days before the battle? One thinks he knows his army, and the other doesn't even know where all the parts of his army are.

Also why make up Sgt. Kilrain's character when Andrew Jackson Tozier, a real life Medal of Honor recipient, and part of the old 2d ME Inf. is on the scene, holding the flag in the bend of his elbow while firing a rifle at the enemy, and ultimately helping to inspire the bayonet charge?

Also, if it were up to me, Chamberlain's defense of the Union left on Day 2 would be compared with Col. David Ireland's 137th NY defending the right flank. Although there are key differences, the similarities are striking.

And then there is Longstreet at Lee's headquarters on the evening of the 2d day. In reality, Longstreet's failure to understand Lee's orders for the morning of July 3 is why the so called Pickett's Charge takes place at all.

For all the complaints that I have, it is a good novel. To be perfectly fair, Michael Shaara always said it was a novel, and not a history. His failing, if you can call it that, was that he is such a good writer that most who read his work believe it to be the actual, and complete, story of the battle.
The use of Meade as a major character was one major improvement that I thought Ralph Peters' novel Cain at Gettysburg made when depicting the battle.
 

51st Georgia

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It is perfect as it is for what it is: a novel about good men who make difficult choices in the face of duty and find themselves thrust into a vortex of events they find they have little control over. It certainly touched my heart as a 12 year old in a way that no other work has, as evidenced by my 54 year old self being here. Killer Angels is a tone and mood piece, not so much a docudrama. Just my two cents.
 

Belfoured

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Hello all :smile:

After reading The Killer Angels for what seems to be the millionth time (in my case), I began to have ideas about how the novel may have turned out if I had written it myself.

I then thought it would be interesting to put the same idea out to CivilWarTalk. What you would do if you had written it? Would you add in more details or would you take anything away?

~ James (Union_Buff)

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I'd plagiarize Ralph Peters' Cain at Gettysburg. :stomp: Better book by a better author - all FWIW IMHO, of course.
 

infomanpa

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I repeatedly see the misconception that the Killer Angels was supposed to be a historically balanced retelling of the battle. It's purpose was to primarily study the characters of Chamberlain, Lee and Longstreet and their role in the battle. The focus is relatively narrow. So of course, it's not going to cover other major battle figures such as Meade, Sickles or actions on Culp's Hill, the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, etc. The movie is based on the book. Therefore, I never understood much of the criticism of the book or movie. Thanks for reading my rant. 😁
 
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klongstreet

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I have to agree with the Infomanpa on the points made, however would add that the book and film has led to people wanting more and researching more into not only Gettysburg but the whole civil war. This can only be a good thing, i myself loved the Sharpe and Hornblower books which led me to study the battles mentioned in the books, " The killer Angels" has led me to visit Gettysburg 4 times now, not bad for a Brit....or an Australian as i was often called.
 

pamc153PA

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Former teacher here:

Our 9th grade honors history students read the book, then watch the movie, then take a bus trip to Gettysburg. It’s hard enough to get 14-and -15 year olds interested in history, but maybe a character or two their age or close to it that they could relate to. I know the book wasn’t written to spark the love of history in kids, but since it’s become somewhat a standard text in many junior high school history classes, that would’ve been a nice tie-in.
 

Cavalier

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Since the question, as I understand it, was what would we do if we wrote it ourselves, I didn't think any remarks made were necessarily criticism of the book. Personally, I wouldn't necessarily have made picked Chamberlain of Longstreet as main subjects of my study, but that's just me.

The book certainly helped popularize interest in the Civil War and was turned into a great movie, in my opinion anyway. I wish I had the talent to write a book like that, no matter what subjects I picked.

John
 

Valen

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The use of Meade as a major character was one major improvement that I thought Ralph Peters' novel Cain at Gettysburg made when depicting the battle.
Off topic, but have you read "Without Warning" by Terry Pierce? Meade is the main character of this historical fiction novel. I thought it was just as good as "Cain" (and that's saying a lot because I think Peters' ACW series is outstanding).
 

rbortega

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Off topic, but have you read "Without Warning" by Terry Pierce? Meade is the main character of this historical fiction novel. I thought it was just as good as "Cain" (and that's saying a lot because I think Peters' ACW series is outstanding).
No, I have not read or heard of that book before.
 

Gettysburg Guide #154

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Former teacher here:

Our 9th grade honors history students read the book, then watch the movie, then take a bus trip to Gettysburg. It’s hard enough to get 14-and -15 year olds interested in history, but maybe a character or two their age or close to it that they could relate to. I know the book wasn’t written to spark the love of history in kids, but since it’s become somewhat a standard text in many junior high school history classes, that would’ve been a nice tie-in.
If youngsters are reading "The Killer Angels" as part of a history class, perhaps they might also be encouraged to read "A Killer Angels Companion" by D. Scott Hartwig, which highlights some of the literary license in the novel. (It's a thin paperback of only about 50 pages.)
If you want a young soldier with whom the students can identify, one example at Gettysburg is Abraham Buckles, who enlisted at age 15 in what became Company E, 19th IN. He was apparently a good sized fellow for those days at 160+ pounds and told the recruiting officer that he was 17. During the initial attack on on Archer's Brigade on July 1, the flag bearer of the 19th went down and someone yelled for Abe to drop his gun and pick up the flag. He did so. At times Buckles would get our ahead of the attacking formation so that Lt. Col. Dudley would yell, "Come back with that flag!" Although Buckles was wounded at Gettysburg, he returned to continue his new role of flag bearer. He continued in spite of other wounds in other battles until he lost his leg late in the war, and received a Medal of Honor. I believe he may have been with the 20th IN at that point.
 

James N.

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I repeatedly see the misconception that the Killer Angels was supposed to be a historically balanced retelling of the battle. It's purpose was to primarily study the characters of Chamberlain, Lee and Longstreet and their role in the battle. The focus is relatively narrow. So course, it's not going to cover other major battle figures such as Meade, Sickles or actions on Culp's Hill, the Peach Orchard, Wheatfield, etc. The movie is based on the book. Therefore, I never understood much of the criticism of the book or movie. Thanks for reading my rant. 😁
One way I see it similarly is a study in command, with Lee representing Supreme Command; Longstreet, Corps level; Pickett AND Buford, divisional; Armistead, brigade; and Chamberlain, regimental. It demonstrates the degree and nature of each level's involvement in decision-making and interaction with the men under their command. Seen that way, others like Meade, Hancock, etc., etc. though certainly important to the battle are secondary to the story.
 

infomanpa

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One way I see it similarly is a study in command, with Lee representing Supreme Command; Longstreet, Corps level; Pickett AND Buford, divisional; Armistead, brigade; and Chamberlain, regimental. It demonstrates the degree and nature of each level's involvement in decision-making and interaction with the men under their command. Seen that way, others like Meade, Hancock, etc., etc. though certainly important to the battle are secondary to the story.
That's pretty cool. I never noticed that breakdown.
 
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