Pulitzer Book Club Inclusion Guide

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GET THE BOOK

"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara

INCLUSION MILESTONES

1975

• Free education for children with disabilities mandated
• Lee Elder first African American to play in Masters
• Transfer from Indian Affairs to tribal governments begins


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AUTHOR INSPIRATIONS

Michael Shaara was a merchant seaman, WW2 paratrooper, and police officer. Letters written by his great-grandfather, a Georgia infantryman injured at Gettysburg, triggered Michael Shaara to visit Gettysburg with his family. Michael, who had a heart condition, relied on his 14-year-old future Civil War author son Jeff to scout and describe the battlefield hills of Gettysburg.

Francis McGovern, Hatboro, PA

Featured Reader

The Killer Angels forcefully drives home the fact that we are or should be one united country. When I finished the book, I reflected on the fact that there are no villains in this story.

Throughout the book, characters constantly discover their commonality in spite of the sectional differences trying to pull them apart. In 1860 many felt that they were primarily citizens of their states and secondarily citizens of the United States. Here is an imagined colloquy between Joshua Chamberlain and his younger brother Thomas as they gaze on the battlefield when it is all over. Joshua Chamberlain: “Well, they’re all equal now.” Thomas Chamberlain: “In the sight of God, anyways.” Joshua Chamberlain: “Yes, in the sight of God.”

I love this book but have to emphasize and reemphasize that it is a work of fiction. The battlefield movements are probably as accurate as they could possibly be, since Gettysburg is surely one of the most studied and discussed engagements in the history of the western world. The book is principally comprised of the thoughts and dialogue of the participants which can only have been reconstructed and inferred from the letters, memoirs and recollections of the individuals portrayed. In no way does it attempt to convey the pain, the stench, the horror and the terror of a battlefield; that is not its intent.

I came of age during the centenary of the beginning of the Civil War. All I knew or cared about was that the good guys won; never could see the sense of the myth of the “Lost Cause.” Fifteen years later, someone gave me this book and I read it in one sitting. I gave to my wife without comment, fully cognizant she might not want to read about war. She read Killer Angels quickly too. The following weekend, we piled the kids into the station wagon and drove out Gettysburg. We toured the battlefield while listening to a commentary of the three-day engagement, then finished by tramping into the woods to reverently stand before the monument to the XX Maine.

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Why Lee loses Battle of Gettysburg

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Fix bayonets and charge

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Novel rejected by 15 publishers and unpopular during its Viet Nam war era release. “The Killer Angels” became a famous Civil War novel after film adaptation, “Gettysburg,” released nearly twenty years after novel published. Focus on critical events, thoughts/actions of key historical figures during battle.

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368 pages or 13+ listening hours of historical backstory

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Listen objectively. Be aware of bias, detect misinformation, consider what’s not being said.

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The decisive battle in the Civil War for inclusion. Diverse Northern army fights for American unity, end of slavery, freedom, justice. Southern Army frames their cause as constitutional, protection of state rights. Battle lost because Lee ignores input from generals with key information and actionable strategies and won because of innovative solution from Union General who motivated a troop of mutineers.

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If you’d care for a bite to eat before the assault, butcher a steer and cook some rare steaks in a hurry. Or prepare mountains of flapjacks with bacon, ham, and apple butter. Beware of cherries and those damn green Yankee apples. Stand by with flagons of brandy and whiskey and steaming coffee in metal cups.

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“We’re an army going out to set other men free.”

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Your headquarters is on very good ground on top of the hill where you have a great view of who’s on their way.
Do a rebel yell if somebody dozes prematurely. Keep the campfire burning and break out the bugle and play “Butterfield’s Lullaby” aka Taps when it’s time to rest for the night.

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What unites members of the Southern army? What binds the diverse members of the Northern army?
Why do men follow Chamberlain, love Lee?
Compare what Chamberlain says to the mutineers to how Chamberlain reacts when he meets an injured Black man on the battlefield. How does Chamberlain feel and act after he meets that injured man?
How does Lee feel about Black people? Why is Lee revered and regarded as a gentleman? What motivates Lee? Why is attack his only option? What is the gentleman’s club?
How do leaders of both armies feel about the English and the monarchy? What did Fremantle bring to the novel?
Novel’s emphasis is perceptions and actions of generals. What do we learn about why soldiers on both sides served in the Civil War and how they feel about slavery?
How did the novel portray the role of religion on attitudes about slavery and war? Discuss the Southern Baptist minister.
Why does “everyone” hate spies?
How do you force/convince a man to fight for freedom? Why was using a bayonet worse than using a gun?
Why is honor problematic?
How does the novel make you feel about statues of Confederate Civil war leaders?

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Gettysburg, PA. Start in the Museum/Visitors Center and spend time with the gigantic hand-painted cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge, then watch the short film “A New Birth of Freedom” narrated by Morgan Freeman. Tour the battlefield by bus, Segway, horseback, bike or in your car. See the David Wills house where Lincoln (never mentioned in the novel) finished writing his Gettysburg address, the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center, the Shriver House and the Jennie Wade House. Info about reenactments at https://www.gettysburgreenactment.com/

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1993 “Gettysburg” the film adaptation of “The Killer Angels”
1991 “For the Love of the Game” adaptation of the same-titled novel
“The Civil War” (1990)

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After Michael Shaara’s death, his son Jeff Shaara wrote his first novels, “Gods and Generals” (1996) and “The Last Full Measure” (1998), the prequel and sequel to “The Killer Angels” which are bundled with “The Killer Angels” in “The Civil War Trilogy.”