Although the novel features a large cast of Union and Confederate officers, The Killer Angels belongs to Robert E. Lee, who is about to make a fatal blunder by ordering Pickett’s Charge, and James Longstreet, Lee’s second in command, who sees the blunder coming but cannot persuade the Old Man to stop it.
Shaara is critical of the romanticism of the South’s gentleman warriors, yet engages in romanticism himself. He takes us into the minds of the commanders who act decisively, but ignores those who hesitate or stumble. Officers die quickly and neatly, or discretely off-stage, while the enlisted soldiers just die in masses, except for the occasional unnamed man who screams as blood and entrails pour from his wound.
Still, Shaara recreates the Battle of Gettysburg with clarity and economy, and with insight into the thoughts and emotions of successful fighting commanders. The Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.