The popularity of Michael Shaara's wonderful Civil War novel The Killer Angels left many readers hungry for more information about its real-life protagonist, Joshua Chamberlain, who bravely led the 20th Maine in holding the Union's extreme left flank at Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg. This dual biography introduces a new figure, nearly as compelling: William Oates, the man who commanded the Alabama troops opposing Chamberlain's bluecoats. Their parallel lives, captured on these pages, reveal the country's 19th-century sectionalism and allow Perry to write a chronicle of the Civil War and its aftermath through the prism of two engaging personalities.
Chamberlain's story is fairly well known. He was a Bowdoin College professor who left his post to serve in the army, fought well, and went on to a successful postwar political career as the governor of Maine. Oates, like Chamberlain, was the son of a farmer who got caught up in his nation's defining conflict, and then helped it inch along to recovery years later as a pragmatic governor and member of Congress. Perry refuses to canonize either--Chamberlain was an overbearing husband and Oates stuffed ballot boxes--yet his treatment of these two admirable but flawed men provides a refreshing new way to read about the Civil War. --John J. Miller
From Library Journal
Perry's (A Fire in Zion, LJ 8/94) latest work presents the life and times of two men who met in battle at Little Round Top on Gettysburg's second day. Perry offers a compelling look at the lives of those officers?how they differed (U.S. officer Chamberlain was a romantic; C.S.A officer Oates was a pragmatist) and how they were similar: contrary to the impression left by Michael Shaara's Killer Angels (LJ 9/1/74) and the movie Gettysburg, neither Oates nor Chamberlain had much use for the idea of black suffrage. While the section relating to the war is somewhat weak, the account of the two officers' pre- and postwar careers is strong and gripping. That, and a look at the prevalent trends of the time that shaped Oates and Chamberlain, makes this a worthwhile purchase and enjoyable reading for Civil War buffs. Recommended for all public libraries.?Robert A. Curtis, Taylor Memorial P.L., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
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