Friday, August 18, 2006

Book Review - "The Last Full Measure" by Jeff Shaara

"The Last Full Measure" is a Civil War historical novel by Jeff Shaara, published in 1998. The book deals with the war after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and takes place almost totally in Virginia.

This book is the third of three dealing with the Civil War - the other two are "Gods and Generals" by Jeff Shaara which deals with the start of the War and the lead up to Gettysburg, and "The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which was the first one written and was a Pulitzer Prize winning book, about the Battle at Gettysburg.

All three books have the same theme - what were the thoughts, words, writings and actions of the principal actors in this theater of the Civil War? Each chapter provides the perspective of one of the characters, while history marches on. While they are historical novels, they are true to the historical record, although the authors had to create thoughts and words in many cases. In the third book, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain are the major players, and nearly every chapter is from their viewpoint.

This third book is very sad. Grant and Lee by this time realize, after winning and losing battles that took many lives, that the Union will win, but at what cost? After 500 pages, they meet at Appomatox Court House and Lee surrenders. Lee is on the defensive throughout this period, his army is starving even in Virginia, and he cannot afford to fight directly with the Union army. Grant is on the offensive, and makes very few mistakes (unlike previous Union generals), and has better communications and supplies. Chamberlain is wounded several times and always returns to lead, and is chosen by Grant to receive the stacked arms of the Confederate Army at the surrender.

As the painful war ends, hope replaces futility and despair - and then Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Grant was invited to the theater that night, but chose to not attend.

The final chapters of the book detail the remainder of the lives of Lee, Grant and Chamberlain, followed by a chapter with summaries of the lives of the other generals.

I have learned much about the Civil War and the major players in the conflict through reading these three books. I definitely recommend them to any reader wanting to understand the sweep of American history in this time and place.

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