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Major Themes (10)
Lee vs. Longstreet: Lee’s a pious, idealist gentleman who belongs to the old school of warfare Longstreet’s a grim realist and pragmatist who advocates trench warfare and has lost touch with God.
Idealism vs. Realism: idealist Lee vs. realist Longstreet, idealist Chamberlain vs. realist Kilrain, idealist Pickett becomes realist Pickett
Gentlemen: Stuart vs. Harrison, Lee vs. Longstreet
Motives for Fighting: maintain/destroy slavery, maintain/destroy aristocracy, maintain states’ rights, preserve Union, defend home, self-advancement
Communication: inability to show emotion or say what must be said is common on the battlefield
Union vs. Confederacy: industrialized and urban Union vs. feudal and rural Confederacy; strange new mass of dissimilar soldiers who are greater in number but have lost faith in their leaders (Federal forces) vs. old-fashioned army, the underdog united under Lee (Rebel forces)
Duty: Family vs. the State (the government), State allegiance
Catch-22: having no choice but to fight your friends and neighbors to the death
Effects of War: glorious exhilaration, numbing, blurred line between right and wrong
Human Nature: xenophobia (fear of the unfamiliar), fearing the worst, excessive self-criticism
Stuart’s Absence: Stuart joyrides and leaves Rebel infantry blind, court-martial vs. reprimand
Intuition: the sense that comes with experience
Strategy: Napoleonic tactics vs. WWI trench warfare
Soldiers’ Past Experiences: Mexican War, frontier fighting, family tragedies
Europe: similarities to the South, role in war, possibilities of reunion with Confederacy
Civilians: the effect of the war upon the masses
Jackson’s Absence: the relative incompetence of Ewell and Hill
Good Ground: finding it with the experienced eye, how large a role it plays in battle
Management: politicians, loved vs. feared
Passion vs. Numbers: which is the deciding factor in battles?
Luck: how much of a factor is it?
Relationships: family and friends on opposing sides of the war
Considering the solemn topic (war), the book is surprisingly light-hearted. Despite the internal angst of the main characters (Chamberlain missing his wife, Armistead missing Hancock, Longstreet having to lead his men to certain defeat) the book is definitely an optimistic work. The friendly campfire scenes, the comic presence of Fremantle, and the images of rebirth at the book’s end all contribute to the positive mood of The Killer Angels.