This magnificent portrait of Chamberlain in his Brunswick home's library was generously sent me by artist Ken Hendricksen.

Please do not use without his express written permission!

This page is for YOU! These are reviews of Civil War books, either about or by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, submitted by visitors to this site.

Have you read an interesting book about Chamberlain? Please feel free to email me your own review.



"The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command" by Edwin B. Coddington

Reviewed by Chris Aguilar

"The Gettysburg Campaign's main focus is the entire Gettysburg Campaign (a.k.a. Lee's Second Invasion). Why then am I writing this for a Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Web site? Well, as you may know, Chamberlain was a pivotal figure in the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. This being part of the campaign, it is of course mentioned in the book.

TGC is a very large, 863-page book that is considered by many the work about the Gettysburg Campaign. It is well written, well researched, and easy to read. Highly intelligent scholars have proved that Coddington was a little easy on Major-General Meade's performance compared to others. He attacked the performances of Major-Generals Daniel Sickles and James Longstreet, but not Meade. Of course, I am getting off topic; this should be about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and not George Gordon Meade.

The Chapter that pertains to the 20th Maine's heroic stand on Little Round Top is "Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard." Coddington describes the "valor of the 20th Maine" and how it "stopped the Confederate advance." His section on the 20th Maine's defense in particular is great. Seasoned with a variety of quotes from the likes of Colonel Oates (15th Alabama, opposing the 20th Maine) and JLC himself. Obviously, the writing about this small but important fight is limited because of the sheer scope of what Coddington had to cover. He does not write just an overview; he writes of the motions that the 20th Maine went through in their heroic defense in fair detail.

Of particular interest to the JLC-minded reader is the map between pages 386 and 387. Although it may be somewhat simplistic, it does show in some detail the defense of Little Round Top, including the position of the 20th Maine, Company B, which was dispatched to guard the regiment's flank. If you are an up-and-coming Chamberlain fan, this book is sure to give you a better idea of what actually occurred than the movie "Gettysburg" will. The book offers several pages of quality information from an author whose research is meticulous and thorough. It is lax in information on Chamberlain himself, because the book is a study in command and not a biography. If you are like Pat, then you might as well read the book and add a bit to your encyclopedia-like knowledge on the subject.

When thinking about reading this book, remember two things. You will not find any reference to Private Buster Kilrain: He did not exist. He was a made up figure, used only in the book "The Killer Angels" and the movie "Gettysburg." TGC is not a biography of Chamberlain, but rather about the entire Gettysburg Campaign, so there will be a bit more than just Colonel Chamberlain and his Mainers.

Happy Reading!

"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara

Reviewed by Trudy Ring, Burbank, CA

"The Killer Angels" is the perhaps the best novel ever written about the Civil War. It has served as many readers' introduction to that period of our history and to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, for instance, says he knew little about the Civil War in general , or the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, before he read "The Killer Angels"--but the novel made it all come alive for him, sparking an interest that led to his wonderful Civil War TV series, which gave extensive attention to Chamberlain's exploits, and made excellent use of his writings.

The novel, for which Michael Shaara won the Pulitzer Prize, chronicles the Battle of Gettysburg from the viewpoints of key participants, including Chamberlain and Gen. John Buford on the Union side, and Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy. Along with the battle action, there's plenty of insight into the soldiers' motivations and decisions, including Lee and Longstreet's differences over whether Gettysburg was appropriate ground for a fight. Shaara, drawing on comprehensive historical research, does a beautiful job of evoking the spirit of these men and others, such as Confederate generals George Pickett and Lewis Armistead (the portrayal of Armistead's affection for his close friend Winfield Scott Hancock, now his adversary on the field of battle, is especially touching). Reading the book, you feel like you KNOW these people, like they're in the same room with you. And Chamberlain, whether leading the 20th Maine in the defense of Little Round Top, dreaming longingly of his wife, or pondering the morality of sending his brother to a dangerous position, is an irresistible hero. He is an intellectual idealist, a courageous and inspiring commander, and a romantic, virile, and sensitive man.

Naturally, as fiction, "The Killer Angels" contains a few embellishments. Chamberlain's stirring antislavery speech to the Second Maine mutineers who have been assigned to his regiment comes from Shaara's imagination; in real life, though, his promises of fairness and justice were sufficiently eloquent to persuade most of the mutineers to pick up a weapon and serve. And Chamberlain was not, as Shaara would have it, a particular admirer of George B. McClellan. But overall, you get the feeling that Chamberlain was pretty much as he is portrayed here--and you get that feeling about the others as well.

Some reviewers have criticized "The Killer Angels" and its film version, "Gettysburg", for inattention to some major figures of the battle, such as George Meade, the Union's commanding general. But clearly, the men who figure prominently in "The Killer Angels" are those Shaara found most interesting--and he makes them plenty interesting to readers, too. And Shaara manages throughout to convey respect for the warriors without glorifying war; the book is in many ways a meditation on the moral questions raised even by a war that most of us think had to be fought.

Michael Shaara's son, Jeff, has written a prequel and sequel to "The Killer Angels"--"Gods and Generals" and "The Last Full Measure". Both are fine books and well worth reading, if not quite up to the original. A film of "Gods and Generals" is in production, with Jeff Daniels reprising his "Gettysburg" role as Chamberlain. Works inspired by "The Killer Angels" also include a terrific tune, "Dixieland," by singer-songwriter Steve Earle (an extremely talented but hard-to-categorize artist ,whose music is best described as "alternative country"). This song, on Earle's CD The Mountain, is narrated by Buster Kilrain, a character (Chamberlain's trusted aide) from "The Killer Angels". The fictional Kilrain, Earle notes, is a composite of several real-life soldiers. "Dixieland" is a rousing, bluegrass-inspired tune, and Earle's lyrics mention Chamberlain prominently.

    I must say right here that I have been disappointed in the level of participation by visitors, in providing book reviews for this page.

The following two reviews were written by me, and first appeared on the Publish America Web site in October 2003:

"Silver Eagles" A Novel, by Nick Korolev. Publish America, 2003.

As the Webmistress of a site about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, I was very interested in seeing his story told in novel form. I found this book at the 20th Maine Civil War Shop in Freeport, ME, during a vacation in Chamberlain's home state of Maine in May 2004, and decided to buy it.

And I was not disappointed! Mr. Korolev does an excellent job in making both Colonel Adelbert Ames and Joshua Chamberlain into real flesh-and-blood human beings. It's especially true of Colonel Ames, who has come down in Civil War history as a rather humorless, profane, and cold-hearted officer, who nearly drives the untried 20th Maine to mutiny with his relentless drilling, swearing and yelling.

A prime example of Mr. Korolev's writing talent is his description of Chamberlain's and Ames' attempt to build a small fireplace in their headquarters tent, in the late fall of 1862, when the 20th Maine was ecamped in Virginia, after the Battle of Antietam:

"....When he {Ames} headed out the back of his tent, he stopped short, incredulous. There stood Chamberlain in his rolled-up shirtsleeves, his coat thrown over one of the tent lines and sword belt on the ground beneath it, axe in hand, reaching for a log. Their eyes met.

"Sir, is there a problem?", Chamberlain asked innocently.

"Sometimes he swore Chamberlain had no sense of military precedence or propriety, regardless of his studies, or perhaps he chose to sometimes ignore it. "I will get a couple of the men from the Pioneers to build the fireplace. You're an officer, for God's sake!"

"I was under the impression we were going to build it, sir. I cut my own firewood at home and was raised on a farm. Can handle an axe and hatchet quite well. I don't think it will hurt army decorum to get this project off on the right foot," Chamberlain smiled wryly with an almost impish twinkle in his blue-gray eyes. "We're also going to need some mu to chink the logs and line the fireplace. Preferably mud with a good clay content".

"We are going to need mud?" He felt his second-in-command was challenging him in an almost playful way. The man was full of surprises -- just when he thought he had Chamberlain figured out.

"Yes, sir. We -- or will you not be joining me on this construction project, Colonel, sir?" The smile was still there.

" He found himself suddenly gripped by the team spirit of a building project..." (p. 125)

So the project did commence. Ames got an orderly to get a bucket of nearby river mud, which came shortly. Chamberlain tested the mud, squeezing it with his fingers to test the consistency, and judged it perfect. He then saluted the private who brought the mud--and got the stuff on his forehead. Which, as Mr. Korolev describes, nearly caused Ames to "....bust a gut trying to keep from laughing". (p. 127)

Together, Ames and Chamberlain worked at creating their fireplace. In the end, both officers were covered in mud, from filling in the log chinks, and making sure a makeshift chimney made of an empty nail keg was securely in place. Their faces were covered with mud, and their shirts and trousers were splattered with it, too. Mr. Korolev describes what happens next:

"Then they stared at one another in the fading light. Both were struck by their ludicrous appearance. Suddenly, all formality was lost and they burst into hearty laughter like a couple of schoolboys". (p. 127)

I can just see these two, acting like a pair of college frat boys, laughing hysterically at their latest creation.

On the historical side, Mr. Korolev has his facts straight. While he inserts a couple of fictional 20th Maine privates for drama's sake, he doesn't sacrifice history for dramatic effect. For instance, he shows Chamberlain nearly losing his temper, while confronting a soldier giving loud orders within plain sight of the Confederate lines, after the battle of Fredericksburg, in December 1862.

Mr. Korolev also puts you right there during the 20th Maine's fight for Little Round Top at Gettysburg, in July 1863. He left me in tears in the battle's aftermath, especially when the 20th Maine comes across a burned barn containing charred corpses of Union and Confederate wounded. Some of the Mainers get literally sick at the sight, in spite of what they themselves had been through just a short time before.

In short, I would recommend Mr. Korolev's book to anyone interested in Chamberlain's life! I hope he might follow it up with a look at Chamberlain's post-Gettysburg Civil War career.

Are you reading this, Mr. Korolev?

"Valor's Measure: Based on the Heroic Civil War Career of Joshua L. Chamberlain" by Thomas Wade Oliver. Publish America, 2003.

      I came across this particular book during the same May 2004 trip to Maine, when I bought "Silver Eagles", and looked forward eagerly to reading it. Unfortunately, I found it to be a bit of a disappointment.

Mr. Oliver, in spite of acknowledging the assistance of both the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick, ME (who maintains Chamberlain's home there as a museum), and citing other Chamberlain biographers such as Willard Wallace ("Soul of the Lion"), John Pullen ("The Twentieth Maine" and "Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero's Life and Legacy"), and Alice Rains Trulock ("In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the American Civil War") fails to even have Chamberlain's birth date down correctly. In his Foreword, he writes:

"....I think my initial attraction to Chamberlain came in the fact that, though he was extremely well-educated, he was pretty much your average level-headed kid. Born in 1832..."

WRONG! Anyone who knows even the basics of Chamberlain's life knows he was born on September 8, 1828! If Mr. Oliver had bothered to visit Chamberlain's grave at Pine Grove Cemetery in Brunswick, he would have clearly seen '1828' on the headstone, or the veteran's marker that cover's Chamberlain's resting place.

But one of the worst 'historical liberties' taken by Mr. Oliver occurs at the end of the book. He describes, in some detail, the moment in August 1893, when Chamberlain and his family go to the US Capitol in Washington, DC, where he receives his Medal of Honor, for his actions at Gettysburg:

"A proclamation was read to the Congressmen, in it a description of the war hero's great accomplishments during the war. After the document was read, a Congressman from Maine {who is not named by Mr. Oliver} stepped forward, and read aloud the words on a proclamation he held ceremoniously in front of him:

"For gallantry beyond the call of duty at Little Round Top, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Gentlemen of the Congress, Mister Speaker, it is with great privilege that I represent you, and the Great State of Maine, in awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain".

"The men in the hall stood and gave an ovation as the blue and white ribbon with a bronze eagle clutching a five-pointed star was placed around Chamberlain's neck.

"Chamberlain then bowed his head to each section of the round assembly hall, offering his appreciation. When the appropriate acknowledgement to the statesmen was completed, he looked up into the balcony, and raised his hand to his family." (p. 191)

All very stirring and moving, yes. But this ceremony never happened. The fact is, according to author John Pullen, in his excellent book "Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero's Life & Legacy", Chamberlain received his Medal of Honor in a far more prosaic fashion--through the mail:

" August 1893, Chamberlain received in the mail a small package from the War Department's Records and Pensions Office, with a return receipt requested. When opened, it was found to contain the Medal of Honor....the nation's highest military decoration, awarded for gallantry in action. Today such an award would provide the occasion for an elaborate ceremony. But in the late nineteenth century, the postman was often the only representative of the Federal government to make an appearance". (pp. 133 & 134.)

At the time, Chamberlain had been suffering through another bout with infection from the wound he'd received in battle at Petersburg, VA, in June 1864. He was so ill it was feared he would die -- and many of his former wartime comrades (most prominently General Alexander Webb, General George Meade's former Chief of Staff--and Chamberlain's closest military friend), lobbied furiously for Chamberlain to receive this long-overdue honor.

I suppose describing receiving the MOH in a Washington ceremony beats doing the same for a postal delivery. But in my opinion, it's completely unnecessary and historically incorrect.

In spite of that, the book is easy to read, and a decent introduction for those who might not know Chamberlain's story. But the reader should then read the biographies by the authors cited above, to get a far more accurate reading of Chamberlain's life.

In short, the book was disappointing. I hope Mr. Oliver's next endeavor will be better researched. And he should get a better editor to boot, to catch the historical mistakes.

Here is another review by me:

"Courage On Little Round Top", by Thomas M. Eishen.

Skyward Publishing, Inc., 2005

\This book was sent to me by author Thomas Eishen, in the late winter of 2005. He had visited the Web site in late 2004, and told me he was about to have a novel published, which had Chamberlain as one of its protagonists. He said he would send me a copy of the book, if I promised to write a review of it. And here it is.

The story focuses on the days immediately preceding the fight for Little Round Top, at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, as seen through the eyes of Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, and Second Lieutenant Robert Horne Wicker, Company L, 15th Alabama Infantry. Wicker is the Confederate officer who narrowly missed killing Chamberlain during the 20th Maine's desperate final charge down Little Round Top. While I had read about this particular incident in several Chamberlain biographies -- how the Confederate officer pointed a 'big Navy Colt revolver' (in Chamberlain's own words), literally in Chamberlain's face, and fired...only to miss its intended target; he subsequently was taken prisoner by Chamberlain, and ordered to turn over both his sword, and the revolver -- Wicker was never mentioned by name. Mr. Eishen has given Lt. Wicker his due. In his Acknowledgments, Mr. Eishen mentions Wicker's own granddaughter, Anne Magorian, for her research assistance. He's also consulted sources in Maine, such as the Pejepscot Historical Society and Bowdoin College, in Brunswick.

Mr. Eishen begins the story describing then-Private Wicker's severe wounding at the Battle of Gaines Mill (also called Cold Harbor), during the Peninsula Campaign in June 1862. He was, in the words of the 15th Alabama's commander, Colonel William C. Oates, 'absent....about two months, but returned, and was at the {Union} surrender of Harpers Ferry, in the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam), in the Maryland campaign, and was thereafter present in every battle, until captured at Gettysburg, and not exchanged during the war". (Wicker was first sent to the Fort Delaware POW camp immediately after Gettysburg, and then transferred to the Johnson's Island POW camp for officers in Ohio, until being released in June 1865, and returned to Alabama. He eventually moved to Texas, where he died in February 1877, age 39.)

Wicker is also fighting a few personal demons along the way: his rather prickly relationship with Company L's First Lieutenant, J. J. Hatcher; his still-unresolved grief at the deaths of his brother William, and sisters Martha and Jane back home in Alabama; and -- most importantly -- a rather nasty inner voice that accuses him of battlefield cowardice, and dares him to run away in the midst of battle. Mr. Eishen portrays Wicker as a courageous and principled man, determined to prove he can be a good officer -- even while being overly scrutinized by the disagreeable Hatcher.

As to his portrait of Joshua L. Chamberlain, Mr. Eishen does an excellent job in humanizing him. He describes Chamberlain's rather 'warm' dreams about his wife, Fannie, during his all-too-short moments of sleep (which I got a kick out of, personally!). He also puts Chamberlain in the midst of dealing with his youngest brother Tom -- who is his adjutant in the 20th Maine -- and his middle brother John, who is a civilian attached to the Christian Commission, and who spends considerable time with Joshua and Tom before Gettysburg.

I particularly like the scene in which both John and Tom are working in tandem, to get older brother Lawrence (as he was known still to family and childhood friends) to stay on his horse during the march north into Pennsylvania, while Chamberlain was recovering from a bout with heatstroke:

"Why are you walking?", John demanded, as he jumped from his saddle.

Lawrence looked over at him and smiled. John didn't smile back. Neither did Tom, who stayed on his horse. "Because the horse needed a rest", he said as he chuckled.

John's eyes narrowed. "That's not funny. You are still recovering from heatstroke. You have no business walking."

"That's right. Get back up on your horse!", Tom ordered. (p. 44-45)

The conversation goes on, where Chamberlain tells Tom that he (Tom) doesn't give HIM orders, even if civilian John tells him plainly his own feelings. John ends up getting so exasperated with Lawrence's stubbornness that he actually calls him "JOSHUA" --which definitely gets Lawrence's attention. After that, he follows his brothers' requests, and does get back up on the horse.

The buildup to the battle of Little Round Top is handled very well: lots of suspense, as the 20th Maine and the 15th Alabama (and both Northern and Southern armies) march towards the inevitable clash. There are interesting short vignettes with the major players on both sides: General Lee and some of his staff, General Longstreet, General Evander Law (the 15th Alabama's brigade commander) -- and even General Isaac Trimble -- on the Confederate side; Generals Meade, Hancock, Sykes, Warren -- and "Dan the Man" Sickles -- along with Colonels Strong Vincent and James Rice -- on the Union side.

The battle itself is done quite well. The reader will get a good sense of the noise, smoke, chaos and confusion that was part and parcel of a Civil War battle. Mr. Eishen does an excellent portrait of Chamberlain's coolness under fire, as he comes up with both the "refusing the line' maneuver, and the decision to make the climactic charge. He also shows Chamberlain's care for his men -- especially with the dying Private George Washington Buck, as he promotes Buck back to Sergeant. Buck had been unjustly demoted to Private some months before, for refusing to be bullied by a cruel Quartermaster in camp. Chamberlain almost tearfully promotes Buck to his deserved rank, after the soldier suffers a mortal wound.

There are a couple of quibbles I do have, however. One is the number of typographical errors I found ("Twentieth Main", the word "shuttered" used instead of 'shuddered', when describing Chamberlain's freezing Fredericksburg experience, the Eighty-Third Pennylsvania', to name those I did find). Being the amateur proofreader that I am, I cannot understand WHY any publisher would allow any book to go out without making sure everything's spelled right! It reflects badly on the publisher and the author, when there appears to be no proofreading.

The other criticism is about calling Chamberlain "Lawrence", outside the family circle. Chamberlain's birth name was "Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain". His father, Joshua Chamberlain Jr., named him after Commodore James Lawrence, a War of 1812 naval hero whose ship, the "Chesapeake", was attacked and sunk by the British. His dying words, "Don't Give Up the Ship!", became the Navy's battle cry.

When Chamberlain was a Bowdoin College student, he decided he liked the sound of "Joshua Lawrence" better, so he changed his name. His father and paternal grandfather were named just "Joshua Chamberlain"--there was no "Lawrence" used as a middle name by either man (and there is no "Lawrence" engraved on either man's gravestone in the cemetery in Brewer, Maine).

To say that Chamberlain was named "Joshua Lawrence" after his father and grandfather is, therefore, incorrect. Only his immediate family and longtime friends called him "Lawrence". Plus, I think his Civil War officer comrades would have called him "Joshua"--not "Lawrence".

But these two criticisms in no way detract from the overall excellence of the book. Mr. Eishen has done a tremendous job with his first book, and I look forward to his subsequent literary efforts. And I thank him, for allowing me to read and review "Courage On Little Round Top".

Here's a more positive review of the same book:

"Thomas Eishen's book about Joshua Chamberlain at Gettysburg is entitled "Courage At Little Round Top".

"The author takes the reader into the minds and emotions of the men from both sides who fought at Little Round Top. As I shared each one's experiences and thoughts, I found myself caring deeply about each one, hoping for his success and well-being.

"Having brought the Confederate and Union soldiers to life so vividly, Mr. Eishen makes the human carnage of Little Round Top all the more devastating. One mourns for those who did not make it." Charlotte Schaefer, Appomattox, Virginia

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