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Drive half an hour north of Washington DC and you will find verdant rolling hills and flat rich farmland broken here and there by granite outcroppings and dark poplar forests A place of great beauty and serenity Close your eyes a moment efface the houses and stores and gas stations from your minds eye and it looks pretty much as it did in July 1863That summer its green fields were stained red with the blood of 50000 Americans dead and wounded 50000 In just three days of slaughter in Eastern Pennsylvania fully one-third as many casualties as during the three years of the Korean WarThe Battle of Gettysburg fought July 1-4 1863 was Americas Armageddon the single blazing moment when the Civil Wars central issue--would we be one nation or two--was decided What happened is well known after a smashing win in May 1863 at Chancellorsville Virginia Robert E Lee became set on dealing a death blow to the Union army now in disarray and staked everything on winning a huge victory on northern soil Almost by accident the two great armies made contact at Gettysburg a site neither side chose nor wanted and the greatest battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere began The Union army was the first to reach Gettysburg seized the high ground and driven into the ropes by Lees body punches never let it goWhile what happened at Gettysburg is well-documented why it was done as it was done remains elusive These are the questions Michael Shaara tries to answer in his 1975 Pulitzer prize-winner The Killer Angels a sort of American Iliad that has in abundance what many historical novels lack believable personalities accurate minutia genuine pathos It is a dramatic work reminiscent of the best historical fiction including William Styrons The Confessions of Nat Turner and Gore Vidals Burr and LincolnWhile Stephen Crane revealed both the boredom and the horror of the Civil War through the common soldiers
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