The Killer Angels By Michael Shaara Summary and Analysis Friday, July 3, 1863 - 1. Chamberlain

Summary

Chamberlain and his men have spent the night on Big Round Top. He has kept moving to keep the pain in his leg down. At dawn, Chamberlain climbs a tree on the crest where he can see the movements and campfires of both armies as they awaken. He smells coffee. But his camp has no coffee, no food, and no ammunition.

He has had men on guard all night. Joined by the 83rd Pennsylvania and the 44th New York, Chamberlain has changed the pickets every two hours and had them report to him every half hour.

He thinks of his wife again, and her red robe. He thinks of his children, how he was a teacher a year earlier, and how hard it will be to go back to normal life after yesterday's experience.

Tom joins him with some coffee taken off a dead soldier. They talk of the battle, of how proud Tom is of his older brother, of how good the attacking men were, and of winning the war. Tom mentions how he just couldn't use his bayonet on a man. He noticed that very few of the men could.

Cannons rumble on Cemetery Hill, and Chamberlain thinks it might be a diversion. He feels they can hold these rocks if they just have some food and ammunition. He sends Tom to alert the guards to be sharp and to send for ammunition. Chamberlain checks on his men, talks with them, and sends some of the wounded to the hospital.

He is starting to get anxious for food and supplies. Fatigue, pain, and hunger leave him feeling forgotten, unappreciated, and angry. Don't they know his men saved the whole line yesterday? His leg wound tears open, and he pulls off the boot wishing for something to clean the wound with. But the available water is dirty and bloody. Plum Run, the creek below is choked with yesterday's dead. He looks at his men and realizes they are almost gone. They started with 1,000 men. Now there are less 200. The Union Army fights a unit until it bleeds to death.

The battle at the north end of the ridge has increased in intensity. Finally, a courier from Rice tells Chamberlain and his men that Colonel Fisher's people will take over. Chamberlain doesn't want to go, but he gets the men ready. A lieutenant leads them to their new position to rest . . . right in the center of the Union line.

Analysis

This chapter gives more insight into Chamberlain's relationships with his wife, brother, and Buster Kilrain. Again, while Chamberlain misses his wife, he doesn't seem overly upset to be away from her and his children. The situation with Chamberlain's brother is requiring a resolution. And he feels the loss of Buster Kilrain, the man Chamberlain wants to talk to after a battle.

Chamberlain experiences a feeling similar to Longstreet's, the feeling that you must spend the men like gold coins, one at a time. There are no replacements. He also has pride in his unit for its defense yesterday.

Even with all the carnage that did take place at Gettysburg, human kindness is left in some of the men — most could just not bring themselves to use their bayonets on another man. There is hope for the human race after all. And there is a sense of camaraderie and respect for fellow soldiers, regardless of what side they are on.

The Union Army needs changes in management; in fact, after this battle, changes were made. Instead of depending solely on volunteers whose enlistments ran out just when you needed them most, or fighting a unit until everyone was dead, the Union set up a draft system.

Ironically enough, the 20th Maine is being sent to rest in the "Safest place on the battlefield . . . in the center of the line." That is the very place Lee will attack that day. In actual historical accounts, this is not the way it happened, but putting Chamberlain there was Shaara's way of keeping his viewpoint character right in the middle of the action.

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