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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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The Human Nature theme


Lee exhibits natural human optimism by not wanting to believe that his main cavalryman has been irresponsible: " ‘Stuart would not leave us blind.’ " (p.14) "We have other cavalry. Why doesn’t the old man [Lee] send for a look? Tell you why: he can’t believe Stuart would let him down." Longstreet is reflecting on Lee’s optimism and inability to accept the reality of the situation. Denial is a common psychological habit. (p.52)


The spy notes an evil trait of human nature inflamed by war when he reflects upon being threatened with execution by a Confederate private: "Why do there have to be men...who enjoy another man’s dying?" (p.6)

Monkey Tricks:

"The spy chatted on amiably. He seemed to need to talk." (p.11) The spy’s talking provides a distraction from the horrors of the war. Developing these little habits is a natural human reaction to crisis or disturbing circumstances. Joseph Conrad labeled such habits or self-imposed duties "monkey tricks" in his novel Heart of Darkness.

Emotional pain is greater than physical pain:

"But it was not the pain that troubled him; it was a sick gray emptiness he knew too well, that sense of a hole clear through him like the blasted vacancy in the air behind a shell burst, an enormous emptiness. The thing about the heart was that you could not coax it or force it, as you could any other disease." (p.74) Simile.

Make up for mistakes:

"He [Heth] knows he brought this on [the unplanned skirmish with Buford]; he wants to fight now to retrieve it. His answer is to fight, not to think; to fight, pure and simple. (p.104)

Fear the worst:

"Now there were rumors: a terrible defeat, someone had blundered, two hundred thousand rebs, the Eleventh corps had deserted...Damn the rumors."

The Management theme

Chamberlain’s "honey over vinegar" method:

Chamberlain wins over the mutineers by being straight with them and treating them like human beings rather than using threats and starvation.

But can’t run an army like a committee:

"A year ago they held meetings to decide what to do; if they disagreed with an officer, they stopped and argued. Can’t conduct an army as a town meeting." (p.121)

Reprimand vs. Punish:

Longstreet thinks Stuart should be court-marshaled, Lee thinks a reprimanding would be better for the cavalier and the army as a whole.


After hearing of Meade replacing Hooker, Lee makes the ironic mental quip "God bless the politicians." This pops into his head because Lee knows that although Meade was best for the politicians, Reynolds (Hooker’s other potential replacement) would have been better for the Union on the field--and therefore more of a challenge to Lee.

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MonkeyNotes-The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


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