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The Killer Angels  
1st edition cover
Author Michael Shaara
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Historical novel
Publisher McKay
Publication date 1974
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Preceded by Gods and Generals
Followed by The Last Full Measure

The Killer Angels (1974) is a historical novel by Michael Shaara that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. The book tells the story of four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War: June 30, 1863, as the troops of both the Union and the Confederacy move into battle around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and July 1, July 2, and July 3, when the battle was fought. The story is character driven and told from the perspective of various protagonists. A film adaptation of the novel, titled Gettysburg, was released in 1993.

Plot introduction[]

Layout of the book[]

Beginning with the famous section about Longstreet's spy Harrison gathering information about the movements and positions of the Federals, each day is told primarily from the perspectives of commanders of the two armies, including Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. Most chapters describe the emotion-laden decisions of these officers as they went into battle. Maps depicting the positioning of the troops as they went to battle, as they advanced, add to the sense of authenticity as decisions are made to advance and retreat with the armies. The author also uses the story of Gettysburg, one of the largest battles in the history of North America, to relate the causes of the Civil War and the motivations that led old friends to face each other on the battlefield.


The novel is sometimes compared to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage for its depiction of the war, but Shaara emphasizes the decisions, motivations, and actions of generals and colonels in the battle more than the common soldiers. Shaara explained that he was aiming to produce an epic military study modeled after William Shakespeare's Henry V. His choice for a specific subject was inspired by a family vacation that Shaara took to the site of the battle in 1966. Shaara's son Jeffrey Shaara expanded the story by adding a prequel, Gods and Generals and a sequel, The Last Full Measure.



Publication of The Killer Angels and release of the movie have had two significant influences on modern perceptions of the Civil War. First, the actions of Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Infantry on Little Round Top have achieved enormous public awareness. Visitors touring the Gettysburg Battlefield rank the 20th Maine monument as their most important stop. Second, since Shaara used the memoirs of General James Longstreet as a prime source for his history, the book has renewed the modern re-evaluation of Longstreet's reputation, damaged since the 1870s by the Lost Cause writers, such as Jubal A. Early.

Literary significance and criticism[]

General H. Norman Schwarzkopf described The Killer Angels as "the best and most realistic historical novel about war that I have ever read." The filmmaker Ken Burns has mentioned the influence of the book in developing his interest in the Civil War and his subsequent production of the PBS series on the subject. The book has also been cited by Joss Whedon as the original inspiration for his science fiction/Western hybrid series Firefly.

Awards and nominations[]

The Killer Angels received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Killer Angels has been required reading, at various times, at the US Army Officer Candidate School, The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment Officer Qualification Course, and The Basic School for Marine Officers (TBS). It is one of only two novels (the other being Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer) on the U.S. Army's recommended reading list for Officer Professional Development.

Other media[]

The Killer Angels was the source for the screenplay for the 1993 movie, Gettysburg.

The Firefly science fiction television series was developed by Joss Whedon after reading The Killer Angels. Homage to Shaara's novel was paid in the series' final episode, "Objects in Space".

Singer-songwriter Steve Earle included a song on his 1999 bluegrass album, The Mountain, called Dixieland, sung from the point of view of the character Buster Kilrain.

A stage adaptation by Karen Tarjan was originally produced at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago in 2004. The adaptation was subsequently produced at Anchorage Community Theatre, the Wayside Theatre in Virginia, and the Heritage Theatre in Maryland.

Further reading[]

Template:Start box Template:S-ach |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
no award given (1974)
The Optimist's Daughter
by Eudora Welty (1973)
|width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1975 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Humboldt's Gift
by Saul Bellow
|- |}