|A tender moment in the book and movie: Armistead|
|reminisces about Hancock, with whom he served.|
Michael Shaara has his own opinions about why the Confederates lost the battle. (In the afterword, Shaara states quite clearly that Longstreet's defensive strategies were ahead of their time.) What he avoids doing in Killer Angels (thankfully) is parceling out praise and blame. Characters praise and blame each other and themselves. Yet the author's tone is remarkably free of the kind of finger-pointing found in other books on the Civil War.
I don't know if the battle of Gettysburg is unique here but evidently soldiers, politicians, and authors both after the war and now have spent a great deal of time dismantling every moment of every hour and minute of Gettysburg for the purpose of arguing that if only X had done Y, Z would have happened.
In his book on Civil War battlefields, Jeff Shaara, Michael Shaara's son, acknowledges these arguments before he gently points out, in a similar spirit of generosity to his father's, that they are largely besides the point.
The point being (I am less generous): even if the Confederates had broken the Union line (which some people argue happened), where on earth would the Confederate army--what remained of it--have gone next? Does anyone really believe that they could have made it to Washington at that point and accomplished anything of purpose? The historians who make these arguments treat the battle rather like a Red Sox game--"If only so-and-so had just caught that ball in the third inning!"--ignoring everything except remote outside possibilities that could only have occurred if certain disparate events had managed to collide. (They also tend to ignore things like, "Um, the soldiers have been fighting all day. They literally can't walk another step," and, as my brother Joe has pointed out, supply lines. These aren't chess pieces; these are people.)
Michael Shaara, on the other hand, is concerned more with what happened and what the people involved possibly thought than in discussing "if onlys."
What impresses me about Chamberlain isn't so much the swinging fence bayonet charge (another part of the war that disgruntled historians like to debate), which is admittedly impressive, but what he did before it (the movie helped here with visualization). Hours into the day, to stretch the line, he sent one set of men from the front to the back followed by another set of men rather than sending men at the furthest end out further, so the line would stretch but never be broken.
Regarding the bayonet charge, the argument is that Chamberlain didn't suggest it first, nobody could hear Chamberlain's instructions over the noise, and many other people helped it happen. True! But Chamberlain is like Paul Revere to me--first he is mythologized, then he is demonized, then everybody realizes that the mythology was closer to the truth all along.