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

Summary

Coming down off Little Round Top escorted by a young lieutenant named Pitzer, Chamberlain and his men can see the whole army spread out along the ridge and up to the hills at the north end. He hears about yesterday's charge by the 1st Minnesota. It attacked the Rebel line on a moment's notice at Hancock's order and bought time for reinforcements to move up. This saved the Union line when it was breaking, but out of 300 men, only 40 came back.

Pitzer tells Chamberlain that Meade wanted to pull out last night, but the rest of officers voted to stay. Pitzer adds that Hancock believes the Rebels will attack again, and it will be right in the middle of the Union line.

Chamberlain's group is placed in reserve behind Meade's headquarters. He sends one of his men to scrounge for rations while Tom checks on Kilrain at the hospital. Chamberlain is called to see General Sykes, and a sympathetic lieutenant lends him a horse to ride over.

Sykes is curt, short-tempered, and not personable, but impressed with Chamberlain's charge yesterday. He, too, comments on Chamberlain's not being regular army. Sykes will look into making Chamberlain a brigade commander. He sits there eating chicken and pickles in front of Chamberlain and never offers him anything, but he agrees to send a lieutenant to get Chamberlain's men some rations.

Chamberlain, now without the horse, must walk back to his men on his injured foot, which is burning like fire. He manages to overcome his pride and asks for help when Lieutenant Frank Haskell approaches him. Haskell kindly gets him some chicken, eyes Chamberlain with respect, and mentions he recognized Chamberlain's name. Chamberlain eats one piece of chicken and gives the other two to his men.

Tom returns, glum. He recounts the terrible conditions at the hospital and tells Chamberlain that Kilrain is dead. It wasn't his wounds; his heart just gave out.

At that moment, the battle starts with an artillery barrage. Everyone ducks for cover, and Chamberlain notes that he "had been under artillery before but never like this." He huddles against the ground and falls asleep. Chamberlain continues to wake and sleep, with everything having a surreal nature to it.

Analysis

Chamberlain notes that the 1st Minnesota had worse casualties than his own group. He reflects that during a fight your own experience always seems the worst, but to remember that others often have it worse. Chamberlain is able to objectively look at himself, notice his own flaws and pettiness, and make changes.

Chamberlain and his men are confronted with the smells of coffee, cooking chicken, and rotting dead horses. Ordinarily, the last one would kill a person's interest in the first two. But war has a way of bringing things down to raw basics. After so many hours of no food, no water, and so much exhaustion, Chamberlain and his men search for food despite the smell of dead horses.

The word dreamyly has shown up repeatedly throughout the book. It is a reference to Chamberlain's wife and her misspelling of that word in her letters. He thinks of the word time and again, and it is his connection to her in the middle of horror and chaos.

Chamberlain notes General Gibbon at headquarters and remembers the man has brothers serving on the other side. He wonders how many are out there today facing them. He reflects on using his own brother to fill a hole in the line — a correct command move — but "Some things a man cannot be asked to do. Killing of brothers." He realizes the whole war is about killing brothers, and he decides that will not happen in his family. Tom has to go, but Chamberlain will tell him at the right time.

After Kilrain dies, Chamberlain reflects on whether there is a heaven or not. While he mostly believes in heaven and that there should be more than just the metallic end, silence, and the worms for dead soldiers, he cannot believe in heaven at this moment. The pain of Kilrain being gone is too strong. There is only the feeling that death is just a vast dark, a huge nothing. This is how most people react. There is the theoretical belief in heaven, and happiness for the dead resting in peace, and there is the reality that crashes in when someone close dies. All you feel is the pain and emptiness. It is hard to feel that theoretical joy.

It has been said that pain and fear intensify one's senses and focus. During the intense artillery barrage, Chamberlain "stared very hard for a moment at a circle of greenish dried moss, the fine gray grain of the rock the most vivid thing he had ever seen, what marvelous eyesight one has now . . ." Ordinarily, a person wouldn't even notice such things. But the fear generated by such a barrage suddenly magnifies the small things usually overlooked.

The same thing happens when Chamberlain learns of Kilrain's death. Up to that moment, Chamberlain is feeling exhausted, hungry, and dull from pain and loss of blood. He's barely conscious. Yet when his brother tells him Kilrain is dead, Chamberlain blinks and "The world came into focus. He could see leaves of the trees dark and sharp against the blue sky. He could smell the dead horses." The dull awareness has been blasted away by emotional pain, and suddenly every sense is felt full force.

Shaara foreshadows Hancock's performance in this battle, and it's seen in the comments made by several characters. Lieutenant Pitzer tells Chamberlain that Hancock believes the Rebs will attack again, right in the middle of the Union line. Longstreet has voiced his own concerns that they are up against Hancock, and Armistead knows that Hancock is their best. Lee, convinced that Meade will have reinforced his flanks and weakened the middle, may have underestimated Hancock's leadership.

Glossary

Whitworth a type of English cannon.

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