Dennis A. Rasbach
Savas Beatie, 2016, $29.95, 248 pp.
Image courtesy of amazon.com
There has been a swell of research into the life of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ever since the publication of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. This popularity was even more heightened when the film Gettysburg arrived. Due to this research and overall attention Chamberlain has gained, there are those who adore his contributions and writings of the American Civil War. But beyond the veil, there are some things which are questionable, mainly his actions during the Petersburg Campaign. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign, by Dennis A. Rasbach, looks into the charge he made and whether or not it is truly a myth.
Dennis A. Rasbach is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where he holds an MD and is a practicing surgeon. He has ancestors in the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry and while researching the movements of that unit, he found contradictions in Chamberlains accounts. This started a new interest in the American Civil War, mainly the Petersburg Campaign. He is a member of the Civil War Round Table of Southwest Michigan. This is his first book.
I had an interest in this book when I first heard about its publication. Throughout my readings on Civil War primary sources, I have often found possible contradictions in Chamberlain’s writings, mainly in his Passing of the Armies. Therefore, this book intrigued me. Throughout his narrative, Rasbach gives evidence for some of the fissures within Chamberlain’s writings, mainly the position he was in during his charge. Rasbach also recognizes that Chamberlain was a “brave and honest man” but the battlefield promotion he obtained at Petersburg was given through much confusion. One of the most helpful parts of this work was the Dramatis Personae before the introduction. This gave the reader some help in identifying the people who played their part. I believe this is helpful for the Civil War novice who is introduced to Chamberlain through works of fiction, much like myself when I first started. By looking at the evidence which Rasbach shows us, the position which Chamberlain wrote of years later was the attack he made was not against Fort Mahone , but actually about one mile away . Rasbach also presents the perspectives of the Confederates whom Chamberlain fought against during this charge which seems to negate what was written by this Union commander.
I highly recommend Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign. I not only recommend it for people interested in the Petersburg Campaign, but I recommend it for the student of Chamberlain. This narrative is full of incredible research and well drawn maps which seem to point to his attack at another point of the Confederate line than Chamberlain believed. Not only does this book help in clearing up a situation which has much mystery to it, but it defines the truth of the matter and even gives the proper credit to which those involved needed. Rasbach should be thanked for his research here and I do believe that this book will be a welcome addition to writings on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.