The Last Full Measure, by Jeff Shaara, completes the father-son Civil War trilogy begun by The Killer Angels and Gods and Generals. This book tells the tale of the last few years after the terrible battle of Gettysburg, following Lee and his army as they attempt to make a stand against the ever stronger Federals.
The book is told from the viewpoints of three main characters. The Union Army has suffered terribly from inept commanders and terrible organization, despite having a huge advantage of manpower and supplies over the Confederates. Into this steps Ulysses S. Grant, a man who’s not afraid to pay the cost to get the army whipped into shape and turn the tide of the war. We also see Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Little Round Top from the battle of Gettysburg, now leading a brigade in the final stretch of the war and promoted to general.
Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee is retreating from the disastrous battle of Gettysburg and attempting to maintain his strength in the face of the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. Still mourning the loss of Stonewall Jackson only two months before, Lee is now faced with the loss of most of his excellent commanders. Stuart, dashing rebel cavalry commander, has been killed at the battle of Yellow Tavern, and Longstreet is forced away from the army for months due to wounds.
Coupled with this is the problem of Lee’s remaining generals; men who lack the fire and zeal of the fight, and lose thousands of men in costly mistakes that the Confederates cannot afford. More than ever, Lee feels the lack of men like Stonewall Jackson. Finally, after a long string of battles culminating the siege of Petersburg, Lee’s army is racing along the rail lines in search of promised food and suplies sent from Richmond, hoping to beat the brutal Union cavalry command, Phil Sheridan, to the desperately needed food.
The story is definitely interesting, particularly if you’ve already been following Chamberlain and Lee throughout the other books in the trilogy. Though I’ve not read the first two books, I have seen both of the movies and plan on reading the books based on my opinion of this one. The story is absolutely captivating, making you feel, like Lee, that his soldiers can still prevail, and will prevail; or like Grant, feel absolute frustration at the disorganization and ineptness in his army. By no means does reading the book feel like a textbook or anything close.
We’re given a clear, up-close look at the possible emotions these men might have balanced throughout history, particularly those of Lee. The emotion at the end of the book, during the surrender of the army, is incredibly well written. Though this is a high point of the book, the low point would have to be dialogue; it often comes out sounded stilted, and not very natural at all. This becomes most annoying with the addition of myriad ellipses and ‘um’s littered throughout the speaking.
Overall, though, The Last Full Measure is an excellent book for historical fiction lovers, Civil War buffs, or anyone who’s read and enjoyed the first two books or movies in the trilogy. Sadly, there won’t be a movie made for this book of the trilogy, but one can still read the book and be transported back in time to the Civil War, and stand in the shoes of Lee, Grant, and Chamberlain.
Published on 28 January, 2012. Last updated on