A Civil War Volume Unlike Any Other: Jeff Shaara and Michael Shaara’s 3 Novels
The Jeff Shaara and Michael Shaara volume, Three Novels of the Civil War, which includes The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and The Last Full Measure, is unique and well worth reading -- all of its 1,500 pages. First, father and son wrote these novels. That fact is interesting as you journey through the son's effort to follow the character development and story line fashioned by his father, whose depiction of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our nation's history, first grabbed the reader with its relevance. The son succeeds where his father left off.
The Killer Angels was written by Michael Shaara and won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s. It tells the story of the seminal Civil War battle at Gettysburg over the first several days of July 1863. It is told through the eyes of leading military men: General Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate forces; and several of his Corps and Division generals; as well as Union soldiers; principally a regimental colonel; and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine Regiment, a fascinating man and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership in defending the Union flank from Confederate attack at Little Round Top. That individual battle was crucial to the Union repulse of Confederate forces on the second of three days of this conflict that cost the lives of more than 50,000 men.
After Michael Shaara died, his son, Jeff, wrote the bookends of the Civil War focusing on the same military men, and others. Gods and Generals was published in 1996. It centers on the high tide for the Confederate forces, when up to May 1863, on the Eastern Front, Lee's armies consistently defeated the Union forces and was closest to achieving the objective of the seceding states -- to form a country separate from the United States of America. The Last Full Measure was published in 1998. It is the story of the success of General Ulysses S. Grant’s armies after Gettysburg, and the surrender of Lee's armies on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox in Virginia.
There is a broader, more meaningful reason why the trilogy is compelling, and why even today it is worth our while as informed citizens to understand this epochal and watershed series of events in our nation's life. What our country experienced during the years leading up to and including the Civil War, what the Southern states faced in devastating economic conditions and social disorder more than 125 years after Lee surrendered his armies, what freed slaves and their children experienced is every bit a part of this story. But what we "think" is trouble and "disorder" today seems insignificant when compared to the facts of that War and the issues Americans confronted. Through the compelling observations of the military men who are the Shaara protagonists, Union and Confederate, the reader will get a real sense of what was at stake, and maybe in the process take a deep breath and say, "Our troubles today are so easy to solve."