Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Booknotes: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign

New Arrival:
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign: His Supposed Charge from Fort Hell, His Near-Mortal Wound, and a Civil War Myth Reconsidered by Dennis A. Rasbach (Savas Beatie, 2016).

On June 18, 1864, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was grievously wounded during an assault on the Petersburg defenses. Not expected to live, he was rewarded with a field promotion to brigadier general, but he and his mustache survived (of course) to finish out the war and contribute to the JLC legend. The traditional interpretation, with an assist from Chamberlain himself, is that his command attacked the sector of the Dimmock Line called Rives' Salient. In 2014, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources erected signage on the supposed spot of Chamberlain's wounding, which has since sparked controversy over the accuracy of its location [there are some debates online, which you probably google search and find yourself].

Using primary sources from both sides (including Chamberlain's own writings) and claiming to finally set the record straight, Rasbach's book exhaustively argues for a different location, nearly a mile away from the modern placard. In addition to the narrower focus on Chamberlain's role in the battle, the volume additionally serves as a broader history of the Fifth Corps involvement in the June 18 attack itself (at least that's what it looks like at first glance). Typical of the publisher, the text is accompanied by many photographs and 33 maps. A detailed walking tour of the ground is also included. Unfortunately for authors with the best of intentions, these kinds of books tend to draw knee-jerk reactions from those that have only read the title. One might imagine some JLC admirers carelessly assuming that Rasbach is impugning Chamberlain's honor by accusing him of untruthfulness, but the author really does claim that the general's mistake was an honest one.

If this stuff still sounds interesting to you, be sure to check out Brett Schulte's extended interview with the author on his fine website The Siege of Petersburg Online.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write-up, Drew. I hope you will consider reading and reviewing this one. It is . . . fascinating.

    --tps

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