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Excerpt from The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Full Measure

by Jeff Shaara

The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara X
The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara
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  • First Published:
    Jun 1998, 560 pages

    May 1999, 560 pages


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As the war begins in earnest, and Chamberlain's distraction is evident to the school administration, he is offered a leave of absence--a trip to Europe, to take him away from the growing turmoil. Chamberlain uses the opportunity in a way that astounds and distresses everyone. He goes to the governor of Maine without telling anyone, including Fannie, and volunteers for service in the newly forming Maine regiments. Though he has no military experience, his intellect and zeal for the job open the door, and he is appointed Lieutenant Colonel, second-in-command of the Twentieth Maine Regiment of Volunteers.

After a difficult farewell to his family, Chamberlain and his regiment join the Army of the Potomac in Washington, and in September 1862 they march toward western Maryland, to confront Lee's army at Antietam Creek. The Twentieth Maine does not see action, but Chamberlain observes the carnage of the fight and, for the first time, experiences what the war might mean for the men around him. Three months later he leads his men into the guns at Fredericksburg and witnesses firsthand what the war has become. He spends an amazing night on the battlefield, yards from the lines of the enemy, and protects himself with the corpses of his own men.

In June 1863 he is promoted to full colonel, and now commands the regiment. He marches north with the army in pursuit of Lee's invasion. By chance, his regiment is the lead unit of the Fifth Corps, and when they reach the growing sounds of the fight at Gettysburg, the Twentieth Maine marches to the left flank, climbing a long rise to the far face of a rocky hill known later as Little Round Top. His is now the last unit, the far left flank of the Federal line, and he is ordered to hold the position at all cost. The regiment fights off a desperate series of attacks from Longstreet's corps, which, if successful, would likely turn the entire Federal flank, exposing the supply train and the rear of the rest of the army. Low on ammunition, his line weakening from the loss of so many men, he impulsively orders his men to charge the advancing rebels with bayonets, surprising the weary attackers so completely that they retreat in disorder or are captured en masse. The attacks end and the flank is secured.

During the fight, he is struck by a small piece of shrapnel, and carries a small but painful wound in his foot. As the army marches in slow pursuit of Lee's retreat, the foul weather and Chamberlain's own exhaustion take their toll, and he begins to suffer symptoms of malaria.

Though he is unknown outside of his immediate command, this college professor turned soldier now attracts the attention of the commanders above him, and it becomes apparent that his is a name that will be heard again.

Ulysses Simpson Grant

Born in 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, he graduates West Point in 1843. Small, undistinguished as a cadet, it is his initials which first attract attention. The U.S. becomes a nickname, "Uncle Sam," and soon he is known by his friends as simply "Sam." He achieves one other notable reputation at the Point, that of a master horseman, seemingly able to tame and ride any animal.

His first duty is near St. Louis, and he maintains a strong friendship with many of the former cadets, including "Pete" Longstreet. Grant meets and falls madly in love with Julia Dent, whose father's inflated notion of his own aristocratic standing produces strong objection to his daughter's relationship with a soldier. Longstreet suffers a similar fate, and in 1846, when the orders come to march to Mexico, both men leave behind young girls with wounded hearts.

Grant is assigned to the Fourth Infantry and serves under Zachary Taylor during the first conflicts in south Texas. He makes the great march inland with Winfield Scott and arrives at the gates of Mexico City to lead his men into the costly fighting that eventually breaks down the defenses of the city and gives Scott's army the victory. Grant leads his infantry with great skill, and is recognized for heroism, but is not impressed with the straight-ahead tactics used by Scott. He believes that much loss of life could have been avoided by better strategy.

Copyright© 1998 by Jeffrey M. Shaara. All Rights Reserved.

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