The Killer Angels By Michael Shaara Summary and Analysis Monday, June 29, 1863 - 1. The Spy

Summary

Harrison is a spy hired by General Longstreet. Working behind enemy lines, he discovers important changes in the location, strength, and leadership of the Union Army. He has identified some of the units and determined where they are going and how fast they are moving. Though it is raining and almost dark, a dangerous way to approach a Confederate camp with its sentries, he does so anyway, feeling the message cannot wait.

Harrison's reception is marked by suspicion and disdain, as various Confederate officers question the validity of the spy and his information. Even Longstreet struggles with whether to trust him. The deciding factors are the nature of the news he brings and the lack of any concrete information from General J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart is supposed to be the Confederate Army's eyes and ears, but he has failed to contact Lee for several days. In Stuart's absence, Longstreet has no choice but to take a chance that Harrison is telling the truth. He brings Harrison to see General Lee.

Harrison gives his information to Lee and is then dismissed. Lee and Longstreet privately discuss what they have learned, Stuart's lengthy absence, and the implications of Meade as the new Union commander. Lee, though concerned about moving "on the word of a paid spy," orders the army to Gettysburg and the ultimate showdown with the Union Army.

Analysis

Several things are established in this first chapter: the prevailing attitudes in Southern society, character personalities and relationships, major story conflicts, and the style and strength of Shaara's writing.

The major ruling attitudes in the South are gentility, nobility, and honor. The commanders behave as gentlemen, and one's honor is more important than one's life. Battle is a means to glory in the South; it is executed with the same nobility, romance, and excitement as with the knights of old.

In this society, Harrison is a despised man. He is a spy and in the knightly company of Lee and his men, spies have no honor. Even worse, he is an actor, another calling looked down upon. Harrison is portrayed unfavorably, with Shaara using such imagery as "The spy slithered down from the horse . . . grinning foolishly."

Harrison is also a man of conflicts. On the one hand, he has risked his life to come through the Confederate lines at night to bring vital information. And he vehemently states he is a patriot and refers to himself as a "scout," not a spy. On the other hand, his thoughts and actions throughout the chapter show he is a very proud man. He boasts about the way he does his work — it is a dramatic performance as he points out to Longstreet — and he only wishes he had an audience to witness it. It is not clear if Harrison is truly a patriot, but it is clear he wants people to see how good he is. He repeatedly reminds Longstreet of how good his information is, and Harrison takes great delight in revealing each tidbit.

Lee and most of his commanders show reactions ranging from discomfort to outright disdain. Even Longstreet approaches Harrison and his information with caution. Harrison's behavior and his treatment by Lee and the other officers shows the Southern code of honor in action. Gentlemen treat each other with honor and all others with disdain.

However, Shaara does foreshadow the demise of this code with some irony. Whatever Harrison's motivations, he has risked his life to deliver solid, accurate, needed information. There is no escaping that Harrison has done a brave job and done it well. Stuart, on the other hand, is supposed to be one of Lee's most favored, noble, and exalted commanders, but he has failed miserably. The biggest irony is that the best and only information on Union movements comes not from the aristocratic Stuart, but from the despised Harrison.

Lee is the ultimate honorable man — he does not smoke, drink, chase women, or gamble, and he believes totally in God. He is soft-spoken, always in control, and chooses his words carefully. His operating style is apparent — he is a decisive man who analyzes the information available, makes his choices, and then leaves the rest to God and his commanders.

He is opposed to the idea of defensive warfare, preferring instead the Napoleonic tactics of great armies marching toward each other for battle on the open field. Hiding behind defensive works waiting for the enemy to attack and using such things as paid spies are distasteful and violate his values. These themes influence his decisions throughout the book.

His choices have a streak of the daring, and it has made him successful against a foe with more money and supplies. Because he cannot afford to trade the Union man for man, Lee knows time is of the essence. Each battle must take a heavy toll on his enemy, and Lee's strategies reflect that. Given the choice between a battle strategy of playing it safe or gambling with decent odds for the big win, Lee will almost always pick the latter. In a sense, that is his only choice.

Lastly, Lee is from Virginia, as are many of his commanders, and his allegiance to his home state is his deepest loyalty. To him, the South is Virginia and the only reason he is in the war on the Confederate side is because Virginia seceded.

Longstreet is not ruled by the emotions of nobility. But then he is also one of the few leaders not from Virginia. He is instead a professional soldier, and a pragmatic one. He does not overlook anything important and obvious just because the source, such as a paid spy, is disdainful. He does not relish using spies and is not sure what to expect of them. But the lack of good information can lose a battle. So Longstreet hires Harrison.

Longstreet is grim, silent, and unconvinced that their tactics are right. He differs strongly from Lee in his approach to warfare. He is one of the few men of his time who sees beyond the glory of chivalrous deeds, to recognize that machines and weaponry, not men, will determine battle outcomes. He does not want to be in the North and does not believe in offensive warfare "when the enemy outnumbered you and outgunned you and would come looking for you anyway if you waited somewhere on your own ground."

Longstreet is also suffering deep grief. Three of his children have died of fever within a week during the previous winter. His quiet moments are filled with thoughts of them, and their deaths have left him a pained and changed man.

Yet there is still a closeness, respect, and almost affection between Longstreet and Lee. Longstreet is Lee's right arm since Stonewall Jackson's death after Chancellorsville. Lee respects Longstreet's advice, trusts his leadership abilities, and treasures his company. He is Lee's "old war horse." Longstreet, in turn, would do almost anything for Lee.

Jeb Stuart, too, would do anything for Lee, but he is also a grandiose man who seems to be a glory-seeker. In spite of this, Lee has a fatherly affection for Stuart, respect for his abilities as a cavalry leader, and unwavering faith that Stuart will not fail him.

Longstreet does not share these feelings. Longstreet considers Stuart to be a joyrider who likes to see his name in the newspapers. Longstreet curses Stuart for leaving the Confederate Army in danger by not providing needed information and protection.

One of the recurring questions throughout the story — "Where is Stuart?" — surfaces in this chapter. Stuart's absence for over a week is one that will influence almost every decision made by Lee and those of some of his commanders because without his reconnaissance, the Confederate commanders do not know what they are up against. This lack of knowledge will have a direct impact on the outcome of the battle.

Shaara's writing really powers the story. Well-chosen character details, creative descriptions, unusual similes, and strong active verbs, are some of the tools he uses.

To reveal Harrison's personality and previous career as an actor, Shaara has him quoting Shakespeare and using grandiose and theatrical mannerisms. Shaara shows Harrison's pride in his work when he has Harrison elaborate for Longstreet the various "performances" he does with the local people in order to obtain information. Harrison's murky values and past are further implied when Harrison reveals his name is just a small joke on the name of an ex-President and ex-General. No one knows who Harrison is or what he really stands for.

Powerful similes are evident throughout the story. On the first page of this chapter, the size, shape, and ominous nature of the gathering Union Army is characterized this way: "It . . . overflowed the narrow valley road, coiling along a stream . . . choking at a white bridge . . . like a great chopped bristly snake." He goes on to show that the threat is still increasing with the passage "the pressure of that great blue army . . . building like water behind a cracking dam."

Shaara creates sharp, clear images with his descriptions: "liquid Southern voice," "bleak hawkish grinning face," and "black diamond eyes." And action is portrayed forcefully and sensually with strong verbs: "He smelled out the shape of Lee's army . . ."

Glossary

guidons small flags or pennants carried by cavalry guides. A guidon aided in identifying units and keeping control of the situation. It also was an emotional emblem inspiring the unit to defend it bravely, and the opponent to capture it.

Black Hats of the Iron Brigade refers to men of a Union brigade famed even among the Confederates for their courage as well as for the hats they wore — black slouch hats instead of the flat, visored kepis. The name Iron Brigade supposedly came from their performance during the battle at South Mountain where they stood and fought without wavering.

South Mountain in September of 1862, General McClellan's troops fought their way through three mountain passes on their way to a victory against Lee at Sharpsburg.

Vicksburg Early settler city in west Mississippi that was besieged by General Grant in the Civil War, just before the battle of Gettysburg. Jefferson Davis suggested that Lee secure Vicksburg first before heading north. Lee convinced him otherwise. Vicksburg surrendered to Union forces on July 4th, the day after the Confederate loss at Gettysburg. It resulted in the loss of the Mississippi River and divided the South in half.

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