The Movie Version of 'The Killer Angels' by Michael Shaara

Official Records
American Civil War
Military History
Resource Collection
Movie Database

Movie Soundtrack
Reunion and Finale, Randy Edelman
Music Video Background
If It Be Your Will
Leonard Cohen

The Union

Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain

Lt. Thomas D. Chamberlain

Brig. Gen. John Buford

Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock

Private Bucklin

Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds

Sgt. 'Buster' Kilrain

Col. Strong Vincent

Capt. Ellis Spear
The Confederacy

Lt. Gen. James Longstreet

Gen. Lewis A. Armistead

Gen. Robert E. Lee

Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood

Col. E. Porter Alexander

The Union


Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (8 Sep 1828 24 Feb 1914) was a college professor who joined the Union Army without the benefit of any formal military education, and became a highly respected and decorated Union officer during the American Civil War, reaching the rank of major general. For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony for the infantry of Robert E. Lee's Army at Appomattox, Virginia. After the war he served as a Republican Governor of Maine for four terms and served on the faculty and as president of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.


Actor: Jeff Daniels (1955-)

Lt. Thomas D. Chamberlain
Lt. Thomas Davee Chamberlain (April 29, 1841 - Aug 12, 1896). The youngest child of the Chamberlain family, Tom served from 1862, joining with his brother in the 20th Maine, to the end of the war.

Actor: C. Thomas Howell (1966-)

Brig. Gen. John Buford
Brig. Gen. John Buford (Mar 4, 1826 - Dec 16, 1863) see also. A West Pointer, Buford came from a military family. He served in the Cavalry, then was given a staff position, from which he was removed by Major General John Pope, with whom he had served, and given a field command again. His cavalry went up against J.E.B. Stuart, and captured Stuart's plumed hat. A hard driving individual, Buford served in multiple staff and cavalry field positions. On his deathbed from typhoid, Buford was given his commission as Major General of volunteers.

Buford's Boys
Gettysburg Campaign

Actor: Sam Elliott of Tombstone.

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock (Feb 14, 1824 Feb 9, 1886). Another West Pointer, it was at West Point that Hancock met Reynolds, Longstreet, McClelland, Pickett, Grant and "Stonewall" Jackson. Just prior to Gettysburg, Hancock was named commander of the II Army Corps under General Meade. It was on Hancock's recommendation that Meade chose to make the Union stand at Gettysburg. For three years, Hancock and his friend Lo Armistead had managed to avoid each other across battlefields, but at Gettysburg the unwanted confrontation finally took place. The story of their teary farewell to one another in Los Angeles, one going North and one going South, was told in the memoirs of Hancock's wife, Almira. Mentioned in a dispatch by McClellan, "Hancock was superb today", Hancock became known in the press as Hancock, the Superb. He ran unsuccessfully for President in 1880.

In 1865, General Hancock was put in charge of the execution of the Lincoln assassins. His part in the death of Mary Surratt made him a target for some. Brig. Gen. Henry L. Burnett was a typical soldier who spent the time after the war still defending his fellow soldiers. Burnett was given charge of the investigation by Stanton, was a special judge advocate during the trial, and was responsible for preparing the materials for the Library of Congress. A paper that Burnett presented and published defends General Hancock's role in the affair.

Lincoln Assassination Trial Role
Book on Hancock

Actor: Brian Mallon

Private Bucklin

Actor: John Diehl (1950-) of Miami Vice.

Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds
Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds (Sep 20, 1820 Jul 1, 1863). Reynolds was a graduate of West Point and, after service in the Mexican war, taught at and, briefly, commanded West Point. A Lt. Colonel at the start of the Civil War, Reynolds was promoted to Brigadier General a month after the first Battle of Bull Run. Captured while asleep by a Confederate friend, General D.H. Hill, Reynolds was exchanged before the second Battle of Bull Run. Reynolds wasn't a political general, but an experienced fighter and good tactician. Called to support Buford at Gettysburg, Reynolds was shot by a sniper as he was placing his units on the battlefield. His loss was keenly felt.


Actor: John Rothman (1949-)

Sgt. 'Buster' Kilrain
Sgt. 'Buster' Kilrain ( Jul 7, 1863).

Actor: Kevin Conway (1942-)

Col. Strong Vincent
Col. Strong Vincent (Jun 17, 1837 Jul 7, 1863). Not a military man, but a graduate of Harvard, Vincent volunteered on his wedding day. He believed in the Union cause, and turned down an offer to become Judge Advocate of the Army because he wanted to fight. He set the units for the defense of Little Round Top and was mortally wounded on July 2nd. That evening, General Meade promoted him to Brigadier General.


Actor: Maxwell Caulfield (1959-)

Capt. Ellis Spear
Capt. Ellis Spear (Oct 15, 1834 Apr 3, 1917). Spear was a graduate of Bowdoin College, where Joshua Chamberlain taught. He was a Major serving under Lt. Colonel Chamberlain at Gettysburg, later commanding the 20th Maine. After the war he became U.S. Commissioner of Patents.

Brigadier General
Book by Ellis Spear

Actor: Donal Logue (1959-)

The Confederacy


Lt. General James Longstreet
Lt. General James Longstreet (Jan 8, 1821 Jan 2, 1904). Longstreet was one of ten children, the son of James Longstreet and Mary Ann Dent, nicknamed 'Pete' by his father. Longstreet attended West Point with Ulysses Grant and introduced Grant to Longstreet's cousin, Julia Grant, and the two were soon married. It was Grant who arranged employment for Longstreet after the Civil War, and got back for him his citizenship, which had been taken from him.

After the Mexican War, Longstreet married Marie Louise Garland, the daughter of one of his old commanders. In 1862, three of his children (James 4, Augustus 12, and Mary Ann 2) died in Virginia of scarlet fever, an event which touched him deeply.

The disagreements between Lee and Grant over the right way to approach Gettysburg were severe. Longstreet wanted to flank the Union army, set up defensive positions, and make the Union attack a well positioned force. Lee wanted to attack a superior Union position. After the loss at Gettysburg, many supporters of Lee blamed Longstreet, and he was damned in Southern literature for decades, partly for his divergent position with Lee, partly for his connection to Grant. It was only very late that researchers have looked carefully at Longstreet's arguments.

Longstreet's Book
What if Longstreet Prevailed?

Actor: Tom Berenger (1949-)

General Lewis A. Armistead
General Lewis A. Armistead (Feb 18, 1817 Jul 5, 1863). "Lo" Armistead was from a military family, the son of army engineer Colonel Walker Keith Armistead. His nickname, from "Lothario" because he wasn't, being shy and a widower, was given him by his fellow officers. Another graduate of West Point, he was expelled for breaking a plate over the head of Jubal Early, who became another general in Lee's Gettysburg army. Armistead's friend, Hancock, served with him as quartermaster in Los Angeles before the war.

Death words Controversy

Actor: Tom Berenger (1949-)

Gen. Robert E. Lee
Gen. Robert E. Lee (Jan 19, 1807 Oct 12, 1870). Lee entered West Point in 1825, and later served as its superintendant from 1852 to 1855. The son of Henry Lee, a close friend of George Washington's, Lee was an aristocratic Virginian. In 1831, he married Mary Ann Randolph Curtis, Washington's great granddaughter. Invited to command a Union army, he offered his services to the south in 1861. After the war, his US citizenship was stripped from him. Until his death, he served as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University).


Actor: Martin Sheen (1940-)

Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood
Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood (Jun 1831 Aug 30, 1879). Another graduate of West Point, Hood was from a military family, though his father wanted him to become a doctor. He was with the Second Cavalry Regiment in Texas when war broke out, becoming a lieutenant in Lee's army. Within three months he became a Colonel, and a year later Lee made him a Major General, commanding the Texas Brigade. At Gettysburg, Hood permanently lost the use of his left arm, but stayed in the service, losing his leg a month later, September 1863, at Chickamauga. But in Feb 1864, he was back in the service. Hood defended Atlanta during the Union seige, and was active until surrendering in 1865. After the war, he resided in New Orleans and engaged in business. In 1868, he married and fathered eleven children. He and his wife and oldest child died of yellow fever, destitute after his insurance company had to cover yellow fever claims. His children were all adopted by various families.

Brilliant Tactician
Georgia History

Actor: Patrick Gorman)

Col. E. Porter Alexander
Col. E. Porter Alexander (May 26, 1835 Apr 28, 1910). Alexander, known as "Porter", was the son of Yale graduate Adam Leopold Alexander and Sara Gilbert. Yet another West Pointer, graduating 3rd in his class, Alexander was an engineer who helped develop a flag signalling communication system that he made use of for the Confederate army. In the 1862 Battle of Gaines's Mill (Seven Days), Alexander observed from a hot air balloon. He was an artillery specialist, assigned to Longstreet at Gettysburg. After the war, Alexander taught engineering and mathematics at the University of South Carolina, later becoming active in business and railroading. In 1897, Alexander was appointed by President Grover Cleveland to resolve border disagreements between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Gettysburg Battle Report
New Georgia Encyclopedia

Actor: James Patrick Stuart)

XBackground for the Music VideoX

Colonel of the 2nd Maine, Chamberlain was handed a batch of "deserters", men from a disbanded Maine regiment who hadn't realized they'd signed longer papers than their friends. Threatened with execution before they reached him, Chamberlain talks to their representative, Private Bucklin, then to the men, about his reasons for being in the war. "I'm tired, Colonel. I've had all of this army and all of these officers, this damned Hooker, this damned idiot Meade, all of them, the whole bloody lousy rotten mess of sick-brained, pot-bellied scabheads that ain't fit to lead a johnny detail, ain't fit to pour pee out of a boot with instructions on the heel."

Chamberlain explains the reason he needs their help for this battle. "This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. This hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here you can build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we're fighting for, in the end, is each other. Sorry. Didn't mean to preach."

He is able to convince all but three to join his unit. They march for Gettysburg.

B: They've got a brigade in position, and that's all. I have the best damn ground around and they're hitting me with one brigade. Lovely. Lovely.

General Buford is the first in Gettysburg and recognizes the high ground is available, and the Confederates will reach it before Reynolds arrives with his men. If the Confederates take the high ground, the Union soldiers will be slaughtered. Buford has a troop of dismounted cavalry and some artillery but, as he looks at the lovely ground, he remembers when he and his men waited and help never came. He writes to ask Reynolds what he should do, and Reynold says hold the ground. Buford does, but the battle is going against him until when he thinks it's hopeless, Reynolds arrives in advance of his marching columns. Buford's men are saved.

B: Thank God.

R: Heth probably has about 10,000 men coming down that road, wouldn't you say?
B: Yes, sir. But there'll be more behind him.
R: Well, we've got about 20,000 we can put in the field. We're in very good shape, I think.
B: For a while, sir.
R: I'm sending messages to all commanders to come to this place with all possible speed. Lovely ground.
B: I thought so, sir.
R: Now let's go surprise Harry Heth.

General Reynolds is positioning his men when he is killed with a head shot from a Confederate sniper. This is a terrible blow to Meade's army.

R: Forward! For God's sake, forward.

Reading Chamberlain, you see a tremendous respect of the fighting men on each side for those fighting on the other. Tom Chamberlain talks to some Confederate prisoners of war who are just glad that, for them, the war is over. They've seen too much already. With great respect, the Confederate salutes Tom, "See you in Hell, Billy Yank." Tom salutes them back, "See you in Hell, Johnny Reb."

L: I guess my only cause is victory. This war comes as a nightmare. You pick your nightmare side. Then you put your head down and win.
A: Old gloomy Pete!

General Longstreet is the favorite of General Lee, who keeps him near. One of the units under General Longstreet is General Picketts, and one of General Picketts' officers is General Armistead. These men know each other from the Mexican campaigns, and are old friends and drinking buddies and gambling buddies.

General Buford has come to report to General Hancock that General Reynolds is dead. Hancock asks if this is good ground on which to fight. Buford says it's very good ground. Then Buford tells Hancock that Hancock's dearest friend, the man he loves as a brother, General Armistead, is on the opposite heights.

H: I wonder how old Lo is doing. If he's still alive.
B: Heard he had one of Pickett's brigades. Under Longstreet.
H: Remarkable.
B: Just across the ridge.
H: I'd like to see him again, but not here. Not like this. Well, maybe after the war.

V: Well, all right. I place you here. Put your colors here, and set your regiment to the left of this line. The rest of the brigade will form on your right. Understood?
V: You can't withdraw under any condition. If you go, this line will be flanked. If you go, the enemy will sweep up over the hillside and take this entire army from the rear. You must defend this place to the last.
C: Yes, sir.

Col. Strong Vincent positions Col. Chamberlain on Little Big Top. He tells him he is the flank of the Union army and he can't fold. He has to fight to the last man because otherwise the Confederates can get behind the Union and destroy them. Chamberlain had never heard an order to fight to the last before.

"Hold to the last. To the last of what? Last shell... last man..."

Col. Chamberlain positions his men, giving them the same inspirational talk he was given about what they need to do there. Then the rebels begin attacking up the hill. Chamberlain has the wall, an incredible advantage, as well as the fact the rebels have to attack up. Charge after charge reduces his men until they're almost out of bullets and will soon be overrun and destroyed.

Col. Chamberlain is shot, but the bullet hits his sword, bending it. It's the first of two painful wounds he'll get at Gettysburg.

When a hole forms in his line, he sends his younger brother to fill it, then is horrified that he has put his own brother's life in such danger. Tom runs out of bullets as a man is about to shoot him, and he's saved by Private Bucklin, the deserter whom Chamberlain had talked into joining them.

Finally at the point of absolute helplessness, out of ammunition, Chamberlain (though sometimes it's said that it was Lt. Melcher's idea), forms a military formation and sends his men charging down the hill with fixed bayonets, something the soldiers always hated using. This is where they have no expectation of winning, but desperation makes Chamberlain do it, and it works. His men sweep the Confederates down the hill and capture them. For this, Chamberlain won the Medal of Honor.

During the charge Chamberlain, with only his sword, is faced with a Confederate about to shoot him, but the gun misfires, and Chamberlain takes him prisoner.

B: "Colonel. Colonel."
C: "Right here, Buster."
B: "The army was blessed. I want to tell you, just in case. That I never served.. I've never served with a better man."

The Irish sargaent who has taught the novice Chamberlain all he knows has been hit a second time, and his arm will have to come off.

E: "Colonel, sir. You would so honor me."

Ellis shares his flask to congratulate Chamberlain.

H: Didn't see much. The boys went in. Hit the rocks. How did it go, Pete?
L: Fine, Sam.
H: We take those rocks?
L: Most of them.
H: Worst... ground I ever saw. You know that? They call it... Devil's Den. It's a good name for it. What casualties?
L: Don't know yet.
H: Got to give my boys credit. You should've let me go to the right. We should've gone to the right.

General Longstreet has come to visit his friend General John Bell Hood. They think Hood will make it, but not in one piece.

L: That way around to the right is still open.
Lee: I will think on it, General.
L: We have enough artillery for one more good fight, but just one.
Lee: I know. Let me think on it.

General Longstreet tries to tell General Lee how to attack the high position - how to get around the Union position, but Lee is very sure the right thing to do is attack straight into the Union guns. Longstreet pushes on every opportunity, but can get nowhere with Lee.

A: I thought about sitting this one out. But I can't do that. That wouldn't be right either. I guess not.
A: Thank you, Peter. I had to talk about that.

General Armitage comes to talk to General Longstreet because he's learned that the man he loves like a brother, General Hancock, is across the way, and he can't bear the thought that they could shoot at one another. "Things got rough toward the end; I grabbed Win by the shoulders and told him 'Win, may God strike me dead if ever raise my hand against you'. Through three years of war, we've managed to avoid each other on the battlefield. Now, his men are facing us. I thought about sitting this one out; but I can't do that. I would like to see him one last time though." Longstreet, who needs him, agrees that he can't. Armitage thanks him for letting him get it out.

Lee: What are you thinking, General?
L: Pickett's division is from my corps. But the other two units are of A.P. Hill's corps. Shouldn't General Hill lead the attack?
Lee: Say again?
L: Shouldn't General Hill lead the attack?
L: My apologies, sir.

General Lee is idolized by his men, and certain that he is right. Longstreet, having failed to convince him, asks to be allowed to turn his units over to someone else to lead. Lee just looks at him until Longstreet folds, ashamed before Lee.

General Hancock tells Chamberlain of Armitage, on the other side. "Tell me, Professor. In your studies have you come across a story from antiquity of two men who are like brothers facing each other on the field of battle?"

"When I look across the field and see the flags of the 9th and 14th Virginia; I can almost see his old crumpled hat and hear his voice. Lewis Armistead was my closest friend before the war. I'd like to see him again; but not here, not like this. What do you say, Colonel; what do the books tell you."

L: I want you to use everything you have. Maximum effort. Fire all long-range ordinance. But don't open up till I give the word and everything's in position. Then fire with all you've got. I don't want to see a single gun silent. Find an observation point and check the damage. We must clear those people off that ridge. If we don't... Anyway, you let me know when you're nearing the end of your ammunition. We must conserve enough to support the infantry attack. Is that clear?
A: Yes, sir.

General Longstreet has gone to Alexander to be sure there's enough artillery to support Pickett's men when they make the charge up the long hill. There's not. Alexander explains that the union guns have made them send the ammunition carts far back and it's taking too long to resupply. Longstreet wants to stop his men from making this charge because the bombardment won't be adequate, but knows nothing will stop Lee.

General Armitage prays before the guns begin firing. Chamberlain learns that Buster has died, and then the artillery begins. It's one of the most constant bombardments, and is meant to soften up the top so that the charge will destroy the Union army.

In the midst of the most terrible bombardment, General Hancock rides within range of the cannons where his men can see him. Chamberlain looks up in amazement. An aide begs Hancock to take cover. Hancock replies, "There are times when a corps commander's life does not count." And this is a lesson Chamberlain will take to heart.

General Armistead leads his men forward up that long, deadly ground. Hancock is shot, then Armistead is shot. General Armitage is found by Tom Chamberlain, who tries to find out who he is.

"Would like... to see General Hancock. Can you tell me... where General Hancock may be found?"
Tom Chamberlain: "I'm sorry, sir. The general's down, he's been hit.
Armistead: "No! Not both of us! Not all of us! Please, God!"

Aide: General. I'll tell you plain. There are times when you worry me. No good trying to get yourself killed. The Lord will come for you in his own good time.

In the aftermath of battle, General Longstreet goes to protect his few men who are coming back down the hill. Worried that he's suicidal, his aide tells him that God will come for him in God's own time. Colonel Chamberlain and his brother find one another on the battlefield.

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