Conceived in Liberty: 1joshua Chamberlin, William Oates, and the American Civil War

Mark Perry, Author
Mark Perry, Author Viking Books $31.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-670-86225-2
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-14-024797-8
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A recent trend in Civil War writing is to present the conflict, its causes and its aftermath in the context of parallel lives, one from each side. Perry (Four Stars) links Chamberlain and Oates, the respective commanders of the Maine regiment that defended Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and the Alabama regiment that attacked it. He is evocative and convincing in his presentations of backcountry Alabama and respectable Maine as their representatives began their parallel courses, and lucid and perceptive in describing their battles. His characterization of Chamberlain's wife as a mid-century feminist manque stretches the available evidence but is a welcome corrective to her more familiar image as a depressive shrew. Chamberlain and Oates, meanwhile, emerge as men of ambition. Both developed into effective citizen-commanders at field level; both were active in postwar politics, achieving and retaining high elective office largely because of their wartime records; both were pragmatists, particularly on racial issues. Each man seems fundamentally decent--though Oates, the brawling, womanizing, self-made ""good ol' boy,"" comes off as more likable than the self-referencing, priggish Chamberlain. And both participated significantly in the re-establishment of national unity by stressing the heroism and the idealism that North and South possessed in common. In that context, Perry ultimately reveals his subjects as archetypes of those who, without forgetting the Civil War, succeeded in progressing beyond it. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. History Book Club main selection; author tour. (Dec.)
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