One hundred and fifty years ago, on April 12, 1861, southern troops in Charleston, S.C., opened fire on Fort Sumter. It was the beginning of the Civil War that would continue for four long, bloody years. It would seem appropriate, this anniversary year, to take a step back in time, when magnificent courage, boldness, gallantry and heroism ruled the battlefields.
A trilogy of books written by Jeff Shaara and his father, Michael Shaara may answer many questions about the men involved before, during and after the war. The Civil War cost more lives than any war in history, pitting brother against brother, dividing families and ultimately the nation. The reasons for the war were numerous throughout the North and South with little if any agreement. The effort to keep the Union together, the conflicts between the fast-paced Northern industrial lifestyle and the slower moving Southern agricultural lifestyle and the controversy over slavery were just a few of the reasons. But equally important was the undercurrent of anger felt by many of the men, from both sides, who were forced, frequently at gunpoint, to fight a war they didn’t believe in, for any reason.
The first part of the trilogy is titled, “Gods and Generals”, written by Jeff Shaara. It begins in November 1858 – four years before the start of the Civil War – and slowly brings together many of the key players. The Gray Southerners are represented by men with names like; “Stonewall” Jackson, Bobby Lee, James Longstreet, J.E.B. Stuart, Johnston, Pendleton, Barksdale and Jefferson Davis. The Blue Northerners are represented by names like Winfield Scott, George McClellan, Burnside, Buford, Hooker, Sumner, Ames, George Meade, Joshua Chamberlain, Hancock and Sickles.
The books include maps depicting diagrams of the military strategy used on both sides. The beginning and end of the books include informative briefs about the military men involved. “Gods and Generals” closes in June 1863 as the Confederate Army and the Union Army head toward their fateful rendezvous in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The second book, “The Killer Angels”, written by Michael Shaara picks up where “Gods and Generals” ends – Gettysburg. “The Killer Angels” is Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-Prize winning Civil War novel and over 35 years later is still considered a classic. In 1993, “The Killer Angels” hit the big screen with the title “Gettysburg”. Michael’s son, Jeff Shaara, was consultant for the epic film. The movie included; Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee, Tom Berenger as James Longstreet, Sam Elliott as John Buford and Jeff Daniels as Joshua Chamberlain.
The third and final book of the trilogy is “The Last Full Measure”, written by Jeff Shaara. It begins on July 13, 1863 and continues to the end of the war and beyond. It ultimately ends with the death of Joshua Chamberlain in February 1914.
“Gods and Generals”, by Jeff Shaara was also made into a theatrical movie in 2003. Jeff Daniels returned to complete his role as Joshua Chamberlain. Bruce Boxleitner played James Longstreet and Robert Duvall was Robert E. Lee.
The Civil War is still a topic of discussion even today and continues to have a variety of views about why it was fought. But all agree – the Civil War should never be fought again.