During a recent long weekend in Gettysburg, PA , I decided it was time to read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Dave and I have now been to Gettysburg on long weekend trips every year for the past four years. Two of those years during Thanksgiving weekend, one in February and one at the end of June, close to the timing of the actual battle which took place July 1, 2, and 3, 1863. The first time we went together as a couple to Gettysburg was also the first time I was ever there.
Dave had been to Gettysburg often through the years. He participated for a number of years as a civil war reenactor with the 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, as well as being an extra in the movie “Gettysburg” which was based on the novel The Killer Angels.
What’s in a title? Michael Shaara’s title evokes a memory from Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, whose regiment fought brilliantly during the second day of the Gettysburg battle protecting the Union line at Little Round Top. Chamberlain remembers a speech from Hamlet in which Hamlet states that man is “in action how like an angel!” Chamberlain’s father, when he heard this says that “if man is an angel, he’s most definitely a ‘murderin’ angel”. This comes directly from a speech that Chamberlain gave after the war called “Man: The Killer Angel”.
This was so true during those three days in 1863 where over 50,000 casualties were reported. This is where President Abraham Lincoln would give his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 in dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg where most of those that died on the battlefield those days at the end of June 1863 are buried.
Gettysburg National Military Park is a very somber place. The Visitors Center at the National Park includes a museum and a Cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge, which occurred on the last day of the battle. These two attractions are not to be missed and provide a nice overview of not only the battle that took place here, but of the Civil War itself. It is worth spending at the very least a full day at the battlefield and a weekend is even better.
Walking the battlefield is peaceful now, but it does stir in one grief over the loss of life, a memory of a time we should not forget about and awe over what a beautiful place Gettysburg really is.