by Edward G. Longacre
Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Publishing, 1999. Pp. 395.
Maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN:1-58097-021-4
Joshua Chamberlain has received considerable attention in recent years, most notably since the release of the film Gettysburg brought him to the attention of a larger audience. One result has been that several books have appeared focused on Chamberlain, either in the form of biographies or as studies of his famous defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. Most have been rather adulatory. Ed Longacre’s is different.
Longacre, already noted for his work on the history of the Union cavalry and his biography of Buford, takes a different look at Chamberlain, putting the man’s military achievements within the framework of his personal and civilian life. It’s a remarkable picture, particularly in its quite intimate look at Chamberlain’s relations with his wife, and some readers may find the “Afterword: Joshua Chamberlain, A Psychological Portrait,” by psychologist Gary K. Leak, interesting, if not amusing.
Militarily, Longacre is rather more critical of Chamberlain’s accomplishments as a soldier than many other recent historians, who have tended to be rather worshipful. The author observes that Chamberlain’s account of the struggle for Little Round Top changed over the years, with his role becoming increasingly important. Moreover, virtually from the moment the fighting ended there were contradictory versions of what transpired.
It’s important to understand that Longacre has not set out to “debunk” Chamberlain’s reputation. In fact the book demonstrates that Chamberlain did play a critical role, not only on Little Round Top, but on several other fields. But it does put his achievements into better perspective within the greater framework of the war. Worth reading.