The Killer Angels

Written by Michael Shaara
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

America, June 29, 1863, and the country is being torn apart by civil war. The North, the Union, is opposed to slavery, while the South depends on slaves to run huge plantations and keep up the great demands of the North and Europe for cotton. Cotton is king, and slave labour costs nothing. The story opens on the eve of the greatest battle fought on American soil – Gettysburg. In the space of a few days, Federal forces lose 23,000 men while the Confederates’ losses range between 20,000 and 28,000. Although there were more battles and skirmishes to follow, Gettysburg marked the great turning point in the war. In his famous Gettysburg Address following the battle, Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed the United States of America as ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’

Michael Shaara takes the reader blow by blow through those four momentous days, told first from one side and then the other. The various manoeuvrings, the tactics, and the orders given are graphically described, and when the two armies finally clash you are there with them amidst the dirt, the heat and the carnage.

To add to the reader’s understanding, Michael Shaara gives an excellent introductory chapter plus a rundown of who is who. The Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.