A book I had tried to read over a decade ago, The Killer Angels is still on the Marine Corps reading list, and it is understandable why once you get through with the book. This is a Civil War Novel that mainly follows the Generals involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. In fact, the old movie "Gettysburg" is heavily based on this book. I can understand why that book had such a heavy input on the movie as it is a vivid piece of writing that tells more than the reader may expect.
This book had a terrific collection of battle diagrams that clearly gives the reader an idea of what the battle map looked like as they read on. The book bounces from character to character and battle position to battle position, which makes illustrations of the overall movements of the units on a map very helpful. As near as I can tell, this book gets the unit positions correct, which is really nice. Though this book classifies as a novel, much of the goal of this book is to give the readers a more personal idea of the battle and what it was like to command and fight in one of the most pivotal battles that shaped the Civil War. The Battle Diagrams help the reader keep up smartly and stay in tune with the battle positions and how they shifted throughout the day(s).
There is not much, if any, record of the exact thoughts and actions of the field commanders during this battle, resulting in the author improvising the characters' thoughts and actions. However, the character and dialogue improvisation in this particular book is heavily drawn off of eye witness testimony in memoirs, letters, and other historical archives. This allowed the author to brilliantly form the characters and their behaviors, reactions, and thoughts with vivid detail. As the reader, I could feel a great connection with the characters as the author described their thoughts on the pain they experienced physically and emotionally during and after the battle. This extraordinary detail in character helped me follow the characters of both armies and feel the emotional tension they felt, and feel what they felt.
LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY
The Killer Angels, as I originally mentioned, is on the Marine Corps reading list for a good reason. Despite the fact that this book is labelled as a novel, there are a great many things that military professionals can learn from this book, when read in its entirety. Most of the actions and decisions, good and bad, actually happened during the battle. This book gives the reader the unique ability to see exactly what the characters saw and experienced, including how they felt about decisions they had to make. There are not many sources of literature out there this vivid in displaying command decisions and their impacts on the battlefield. You get to see in the minds of the commanders in the field and watch their decisions play out for better or worse.
To name a few things you will recognize in this book as you read through this book. The reader will recognize constant examples of how the stress of command and the fog of war can affect those leading. The reader will get to see firsthand why it is important as a leader to exercise initiative, have great flexibility, and listen to the reports and concerns of your peers. The reader will get to see how emotional it can be when commanding great sums of men. You learn from the experience of these characters that in war, sometimes you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. You can do everything wrong and still achieve victory simply because you acted. On the other hand, you can also do everything right and still lose horribly. If you take the time to read this novel, I think you will find it quite entertaining and very engaging with vivid illustrations of what it was like commanding troops in the battle of Gettysburg.
Do It Rite
Alaska-Based Youtube Vlogger, Retired Marine, gun enthusiast, and passionate firearm and gear evaluator.