Study Guide

The Killer Angels Principles

By Michael Shaara

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There were major principles at stake for the North and the South during the Civil War—they had different concepts of freedom, different ideas of loyalty. In Chamberlain's view, what makes the North distinctive is that it's fighting mainly for principles—it's not just fighting for its own glory, or just for the sake of pure nationalism. It's supporting equality and liberty: those are the two big ones, at least. According to him, this makes it unique in history—most countries don't fight for principles, they fight for other (probably bad) reasons. But the Southerners probably would've argued that they were fighting for principles too—it's just that their principles weren't ultimately approved by history, in the end. Also, on an individual level, the soldiers' principles are tested, too—like, General Armistead has to fight against his best friend, General Hancock, breaking a vow he had taken earlier.

Questions About Principles

  1. Aside from liberty and equality, what other principles are at stake in this fight?
  2. What do you think the founding principles of the United States are? Did the Civil War help preserve those? Did it create any new principles that hadn't existed before?
  3. What do you think the Confederates would say their principles were?

Chew on This

"Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles." – Emerson

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both." – Dwight David Eisenhower

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