The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander
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 Historical hindsight is always 20/20, as this otherwise thoughtful and well-written comparative biography of two important Civil War commanders shows. On the surface, the lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the North and Edward Porter Alexander of the South have little in common. Alexander was a career officer, educated at West Point; Chamberlain was a citizen soldier who taught rhetoric in college before volunteering to fight. Alexander was born on a Virginia plantation; Chamberlain came from rock-ribbed Maine. Beneath these superficial differences, however, Golay (The Civil War, not reviewed) maintains that more united these men than divided them. Both fought in some of the major engagements of the Civil War, and though neither ever rose above middle-level commands, they enjoyed the ear of those more powerful, exerting an influence beyond their rank. Both reached the critical point of their careers at Gettysburg, where Chamberlain's bold defense of Little Round Top arguably saved the battle for the Union, while Alexander's confusion concerning orders and battle strategy led to the disastrous Pickett's charge. Following the war, both men went on to civilian success. Chamberlain became president of Bowdoin College and governor of Maine. Alexander was a successful railroad executive. But neither man, argues Golay--making use of their personal papers and writings--ever escaped his past. The two had found their greatest fulfillment and their true mÇtier as soldiers in the Civil War, and they both wrote and lectured extensively about their experiences. But the author occasionally judges his subjects with the wisdom of hindsight, as when he claims that the men never really understood the respective causes for which they fought (Alexander thought the war was an inevitable part of the country's evolution; Chamberlain viewed war as, Golay says, ``a test of character''). A riveting portrait of two men who felt they had outlived their historical moment.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1994
ISBN: 0-517-59285-1
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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