Free Effects Of War On Soldiers In Shaara Michael’s “The Killer Angels” Essay Example
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: War, Slavery, Veterans, Union, Gettysburg, Civil War, United States, Conflict
The personal turmoil most soldiers faced during the American Civil War is evident in Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels”. Written from the troops’ points of view, including Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, Shaara’s writing gives more details about the Battle of Gettysburg. In concurrence, renowned Historian James McPherson dubbed the book “a superb recreation of the battle of Gettysburg” for it presents what “war was about and what it meant” (Shaara 2010). Prior the American Civil War, the United States saw a division of its regions to create the pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. Against slavery were Northerners, partakers of the industrial revolution, seeking competent labor for their factories. On the other hand, there were the plantation owners from the South, in need of free labor to maximize profits in their farms. Consequently, slave abolitionist Abraham Lincoln’s election as United States’ President, saw the Southern States secede from the Union and form the Confederacy. Thus emerges the two sides that fought the American Civil War of between 1861 and 1865. The importance of the Battle of Gettysburg revolves around the multiple casualties both sides recorded, and Shaara’s book gives a daily account of the same. This paper seeks to analyze the effects of war on the fighting soldiers at the personal and friendship levels as a major theme in Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels”.
On the personal level, most soldiers faced conflicting emotions on the legibility of their stand in the war. A perfect illustration of emotional and psychological conflict revolves around Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the Union Army. Foremost, as part of the Union, Chamberlain fought against the pro-slavery states making him an abolitionist. Though Shaara does not distinctly say that slavery caused the Civil War, the economies of both sides depended heavily on whether or not the emancipation of the black race will happen. On that note, Chamberlain begins to ponder over the slavery institution after encountering a runaway slave during his march towards Gettysburg with his men. While looking at the black man, Chamberlain felt “a flutter of unmistakable revulsion” (Shaara 2010, 179). Said disgust came while trying to tell whether the dark skin of the man held “dust or only a natural sheen of light on the hair” (Shaara 2010, 179). The complexion of the black man disgusts Chamberlain for the sole purpose of dissimilarity. In other words, the Union colonel does not find the other soldiers revolting since they share the same skin color, but because the runaway slave is black-skinned, he is disgusted. Consequently, one can term Chamberlain’s reaction as racist and in turn, accuse the man of mentally supporting the southerners in their bid to ensure blacks remain in bondage because they are an inferior race. However, conflict arises when Chamberlain remembers an incident where a comment of blacks being less human angered him to the point of contemplating murder. In the confrontation, Chamberlain becomes livid over the blatant exhibition of bigotry from the white man. As a result, Chamberlain’s anger leads him to “thinking of killing him, wiping him off the earth” (Shaara 2010, 188).
The conflicting emotions Chamberlain exhibits directly reflect on the possibility of soldiers from each side questioning their stand. Militiamen in the opposing forces probably doubted their ideologies and in turn, the side for which they fought. While Chamberlain contemplates murdering a professor for his racist comments, his reaction to a black man exhibits his racial prejudice. For this reason, despite fighting for the Union, one can safely argue that Chamberlain viewed the black slave as different and probably beneath the whites. On that note, it is plausible that some of the Confederates pitied the blacks but fought against emancipation because of loyalties.
At the same time, Shaara’s “The Killing Angels” portrays the conflicting thoughts of Lew Armistead of the Confederates and his friend Winfield Scott Hancock of the Union Army. Before the war, the two men “had been closer than brothers” (Shaara 2010, 65) and were in fact looking forward to a reunion in Gettysburg (Shaara 2010, XII). Expectedly, the relationship becomes harder to maintain as each man seeks to serve his side and still look out for the other. For instance, there is a scene where Armistead asks General John Longstreet whether he has heard “anything yet on Win Hancock” Longstreet's affirmative reply makes Armistead grin (Shaara 2010, 273). Armistead and Hancock are among the many more Americans torn by the Civil War. Even with the margin between the states, northerners still maintained relations with southerners and vice versa. The coming of war could not severe long built ties rapidly enough making sure that as opposing sides took up arms, brother fought brother and friends parted ways.
The major determinant factors in the soldiers’ decisions on which side to support are societal expectations, geographical locations, and loyalty. For this reason, men from the South became Confederates while those in the North joined the Union. Very few gathered enough courage to contradict the views of their side in the war. As a result, like Winfield and Hancock, one can safely assume that many more soldiers faced friends turned foe on the battlefields. Thus, another effect of war on the soldiers involved losing cherished relationships and confusion over meeting a friend on the other side of the battlefront.
Conclusively, Shaara manages to present the American Civil War from an original perspective that other history books tend to overlook. Indeed, people know that the Union emerged somewhat victorious in the Battle of Gettysburg but few understand the personal conflicts the soldiers faced. However, as one expects any other human being to be, nothing that happened in Gettysburg was natural. After the fourth day, both sides had lost men, and every man had lost someone for whom they cared.
Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2010.