Edward G. Longacre has written another great Civil War biography in a writing
style that keeps the reader quite interested. He uses many primary sources to reveal that the Joshua Chamberlain the man and Joshua Chamberlain the myth do not add up. What Chamberlain wrote and what other eyewitnesses wrote about incidences did not always agree. He at times took too much credit for some battles, as if he alone made something happen. Longacre shows the human Chamberlain, including an ambition more important to him than his family life. He and his wife had problems even to the point of almost getting a divorce. Longacre reviews this marriage and how unusual it was for its time, even showing how erotic they could be in their letters to each other.
Longacre devotes a few chapters to Chamberlain’s life before the Civil War. He was born in Maine with the name Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain but later changed it to Joshua Lawrence to honor his father. He attended Bowdoin College in Maine and married Fannie Adams on December 7, 1855. He became a professor at Bowdoin and a Democrat who opposed the South’s secession. He did not support the abolition of slavery, though. When the war broke out, he used his political connections to gain an officer’s commission in the Maine Volunteers.
Commissioned a lieutenant colonel and assigned to the 20th Maine Regiment, he was second in command of that regiment. He and his fellow soldiers had to learn how to be soldiers from Colonel Adelbert Ames, a professional soldier. Chamberlain’s brother Tom also was commissioned a lieutenant in the 20th Regiment. Together they were involved in the Battle of Fredericksburg and on the edges of the Battle of Chancellorsville. In June 1863 the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland and then Pennsylvania. The Union Army under General George G. Meade met Lee’s Army at Gettysburg. The 20th Maine was given the duty of defending Little Round Top against the Rebels. Chamberlain and the 20th and other regiments succeeded in holding Little Round Top.
This is where Chamberlain became a hero, where the Chamberlain myth began. By now commander of the 20th, he wrote back to his wife, family and others about the great things he led his regiment into doing. He was seriously wounded at a battle to take Petersburg, Virginia, and could have retired because of this wound - and also because he had been promoted to brigadier general - but he was so ambitious that, after he had somewhat healed, he return to combat duty.
He was at Appomattox, where General Lee surrendered. After the War he was encouraged to run for governor of Maine - not as a Democrat, but as a Republican. Because of his ambition, he was willing to switch parties, although he kept many of his Democratic values, upsetting many Republicans. Running mainly on his Civil War reputation, he was elected governor four times. He aspired to be U.S. Senator for Maine but never won that position.
After being governor, he was president of Bowdoin College, although he did not remain in the position for long. He was appointed major general of the Maine Volunteers and was involved in a controversy over the election of governor where he used the volunteers to take over the capitol. Eventually the issue was resolved, and Chamberlain traveled the country giving lectures and writing articles on the Civil War. He died on February 24, 1914. The last chapter of the book is a psychological analysis of Chamberlain that attempts to show why Chamberlain exaggerated things and was so ambitious.
Longacre provides black and white photos and other illustrations and maps. He also has endnotes and a bibliography. He is the author of several Civil War books including Fitz Lee (2004), Custer and his Wolverines (2004), General John Buford (2003), The Cavalry at Gettysburg (2003), Cavalry at Appomattox (2003), A Regiment of Slaves (2003), Man Behind the Guns (2003), Lee’s Cavalrymen (2002), Grant’s Cavalryman (2000), Lincoln’s Cavalrymen (2000), Pickett, Leader of the Charge (1998), and many others. He is featured in the recent book that is a compilation of essays that discusses what if the South had won the War, Victorious. This book is recommended for any Civil War biography collection in any library.