There's no way around it, even though many of the Southern characters try: slavery and racism are central themes in The Killer Angels. The Confederates insist that they're not fighting for slavery; they're fighting for states' rights. Well, right: they were fighting in particular for states' rights to permit slavery, but for some reason, Confederates didn't want to analyze this rationale too deeply.
On the other hand, people in the Union Army have a mixture of opinions: some, like Chamberlain, are totally opposed to slavery, and view the struggle for freedom as the real reason for the war; while others, like Buster Kilrain, seem fairly indifferent to the plight of the slaves and instead just want to bring down the Southern aristocracy.
However you spin it, though, slavery is a huge issue in this novel, and Shaara makes it pretty clear that this is the biggest issue at stake for him in the Civil War.
Questions About Slavery
- How do you think people tried to justify slavery to themselves in the South? How could someone view slavery as being okay?
- Do you think slavery would still exist today if the Confederacy had won the Battle of Gettysburg? Or do you think slavery would have come to an end at some other point?
- Do you think Chamberlain and Kilrain disagree on the causes of the war in a big way? Or do their views correspond to some extent?
Chew on This
Slavery would have died out on its own, without the Civil War.
The South was aggressively attempting to expand slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, and, if they were successful, who knows where else after that. Only a war could have ended slavery.