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Conceived in Liberty: Joshua Chamberlin, William Oates, and the American Civil War Hardcover – December 1, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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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
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (December 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670862258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670862252
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,163,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One cannot gain an understanding of the American Civil War, (as well as the periods preceding it and following it), unless one eventually learns to see it through the eyes of the people who lived it. This book is presents the reader with just such an opportunity.
The author follows the lives of two men from two completely different societies, through their youth, their adolescence and young adulthood, through the War and to the time where their paths cross in the battle on Little Round Top in July 1863, through the remainder of the war and its aftermath, right into old age. Each is affected by the society which surrounds him, each man embodies the best and the worst of those societies and each is motivated to fight in their defense. There's no hero worship here; each man is presented as being quite human. Yet, each man remains quite likeable in his own way.
There's some surprises as well. Chamberlain was played by Jeff Daniels in the movie "Gettysburg". In that movie Chamberlain gives an impassioned speech to his troops about being "...an army out to set other men free..." The real Chamberlain wasn't a friend of slavery but he was no abolitionist either. Oates, for his part, (and much to my surpise), was one of the first officers to officially lobby the Confederate Congress for the enlistment of slaves early in 1863. (He was unsuccessful in his attempt).
If I haven't given the book 5 stars it's because the author's writing style is a bit on the ponderous side. Nonetheless, this is the kind of book that you'll need to have in your library if your interest in the period is a serious one. Go experience it for yourself!
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Format: Paperback
The Civil War was, in some ways, our own clash of cultures that ended up with us having a stronger, and more philisophically harmonic country than we had then. After the war we no longer were "Those United States" but "These United States".
While it took longer (and still has not taken root) for some Southern areas to accept that they have changed because of the war, this book outlines in a fascinating fashion why the American Dream was won in 1865.
Joshua Chamberlain and William Oates are both opposing personalities. Chamberlain was a professor, Oates a laborer. Chamberlain was a respected fellow before the war. Oates was much less.. even going into hiding at one point from the law.
What they had in common was a belief that they had gone as far as they could in their lives before the war. Chamberlain was forever going to be a professor. Oates forever a laborer.
Both faced each other in Gettysburg. While Chamberlain was the hero of Little Top in that battle, Oates eventually had a longer and more productive politcal life than Chamberlain.
Neither of these men won their positions by birth, wealth, or by the inner workings of a political machine. They won their positions by hard work, and the admiration of their men in battle and the people they fought for.
While it may have been possible prior to the Civil War for these men to have done so (Abraham Lincoln is a prime example) the fact is that the Southern philosophy was beaten in 1865, and the Northern philosophy of hard work, and position by trust and admiration rather than birth, and wealth won out and both sides reaped benefits and still are from that day.
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent work by an author who obviously has a tremendous love and fascination for American history. The book starts slowly with the family histories of the two main characters - Chamberlain and Oates. He does an excellent job of introducing the reader to two completely different character with completely different backgrounds without taking sides or displaying predjudices. Chamberlain, the hard working, devout, formally educated New Englander projected against the self educated rambler from Alabama. He then shows how the paths these men take lead them both to that infamous day on Little Round Top. The author also does a good job of setting the stage so the reader understands how easily the course could have taken another direction - Longstreet's counter-march and delayed attack allowing the Union to reinforce the critical position and maintain control of the good ground setting the stage for the ill-fated Pickett's Charge. I think that the only area lacking in the book is the Post Civil War period in the South. While Perry spends time explaining the obvious differences between the Democrats and the reconstructionist Republicans, I do not think enough effort was given to Oates' wavering political positions and how he was influenced. All in all, one of the best works on a very demanding and focused subject.
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Format: Hardcover
So many books have been written about the Civil War that Conceived In Liberty might seem to be more of the same. But the book clears new ground on Joshua Chamberlain, by noting that this "marble man" of the North had blemishes of his own -- as did his counterpart, Col. William Oates of Alabama (the other subject of this first-rate dual biography.
I have read a number of books on Joshua Chamberlain and have always thought that there was another side to the man: that he was not simply a great hero, but also a soldier who was thoughtful, and deeply disturbed by the conflict. Perry adds the balance that is so desperately needed to our knowledge of Joshua Chamberlain, then completes the portrait by counterposing his life with that of William Oates.
These two men not only met at Gettysburg, but they are symbols of the larger issues that consumed our nation in the nineteenth century. Filled with information and anecdotal accounts of the lives of both men (incidents that appear in no other work on either Chamberlain or Oates) Conceived In Liberty is not only well-researched it is a fantastic read. This book is long overdue.
Yes, Conceived In Liberty is controversial, but that is its value. Perry is a courageous writer and a first-rate historian.
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