Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War: At Every Hazard
JOSHUA CHAMBERLAIN AND THE CIVIL WAR: At Every Hazard
Cost, Matthew CreateSpace (382 pp.) $16.00 paperback April 22, 2015
Cost’s (Mainely Power, 2001, etc.) historical fiction follows the wartime activities of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
In 1862, 14-year-old Emmett Collins of Brewster, Maine, is an orphan whose remaining siblings have all enlisted with the Union Army. His father’s last letter asked him to seek help from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a noted local professor. Having decided the Union’s cause is just, Chamberlain is determined to enlist along with his brother, Tom. When Emmett shows up on his doorstep, Chamberlain decides to take Emmett along with him. The three men could not be more different: Joshua is a rarified intellectual, Tom a general store owner bored by his humdrum routine, and Emmett a lost boy with no family. Yet the three men are going to have to rely on each other as they’re thrust into some of the most dangerous fighting in the war: Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and then the long siege of Petersburg. Along the way, Emmett is witness to a country in tremendous transition as he meets some of the era’s most notable characters. The book’s title is somewhat misleading, however, as the story also deals equally with Tom and Emmett. That approach works well, though, since Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is such a mythical figure in American history that he can be hard to see as a relatable man. Tom and Emmett, then, help ground the story. Cost does an excellent job immersing the reader in the history and feeling of the time, down to the language of the enlisted men. Additionally, the narrative voice changes appropriately with Emmett as the war years roll on and he grows worldlier. However, the author sometimes relies on Chamberlain to explain to readers the significance of events such as the Emancipation Proclamation, which will be useful information for those unfamiliar with Civil War history but too direct for those already aware.
A lively and enjoyable read for those interested in the Civil War experience of extraordinary soldiers.
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Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War: At Every Hazard. By Matthew Langdon Cost. Historical fiction. Bibliography, notes, 382 pp., 2015, Matthew Langdon Cost, firstname.lastname@example.org, $16 softcover.
This is a novel that takes the life of Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and embeds fictional characters to create a novel suitable for all age groups. Each character represents an aspect of the Civil War the author is conveying to his readers.
The fictional Emmett Collins is an orphan of war who serves as Gen. Chamberlain's aide and tells his adventures through the eyes of a boy coming of age. He sees the horrors of war as well as the heroics men are capable of achieving.
War to him is ugly, dirty and brutal yet makes some men and women realize their potential. During the war little is black or white. Morality, tactics and actions are fluid, and right and wrong are situational.
Susannah Smith, the young, beautiful prostitute, and Emmett's first love, represents the struggle of war widows to support themselves during the war. Emmett Collins' family represents a typical farm clan trying to cope with war's impact on the home front.
Emmett's brother William is killed at Chancellorsville. His father dies at Malvern Hill shortly after his mother succumbs to consumption. These are the real effects of war on a family that could be from the North or South.
Chamberlain is the novel's gallant hero. A stodgy professor from Bowdoin College with no previous military experience sacrifices a safe life because he believes in the cause of preserving the Union.
Not sure of his own military abilities, he rises to the occasion at Antietam, Marye's Heights, Gettysburg, Petersburg and Appomattox. He is a commander who leads from the front.
War becomes exhilarating for Chamberlain. He is more at home leading the 20th Maine than he ever was in the classroom. Through his bout with malaria and his near mortal wounding at Rives’s Salient, he thinks of nothing but returning to his beloved command.
Even the persistent pleas from his wife Fanny cannot get him to stay home. He has found his calling and it has transformed him.
This book is exceptionally well written. Battles are described in a way to bring readers into the fear, chaos and death of the moment.
Readers can easily identify with characters both real and fictional and understand the human emotions that tear at them when family versus duty, honor versus survival and brutality versus humanity become real decisions rather than philosophical concepts.
While this novel is about the Civil War, it poses questions that everyone must answer during their lives. It is highly recommended for both Civil War enthusiasts and those wishing to learn more about the reality of war and how their daily decisions are impacted by life’s events.
Wayne L. Wolf
Wayne L. Wolf is Professor Emeritus at South Suburban College and past president of the Lincoln-Davis Civil War Roundtable. He has written several books and articles on the Civil War, including Charles Gunther: Mississippi River Confederate and John Corson Smith: The Early Days.
Cost’s cast of characters makes Maine mystery a treat
Maine Sunday Telegram; June 2, 2002, by Nancy Grape
Maybe it was the sleek brown dog with intelligent eyes poised next to the man on the cover. My first impression on beginning read a new mystery novel, “Mainely Power,” was this: Boston has Robert B. Parker and Maine has M. Langdon Cost.
That initial impression, in some ways, wasn’t far off the mark. Parker’s hero, Spenser, has his dog, the memorable Pearl, and Cost’s hero has his four-footed companion, Coffee Dog. Beyond that, Cost, a onetime bookstore owner in Brunswick has crafted a private detective, Goff Langdon, whom Spenser might well meet for a few beers if a big-city case brought him to town.
The town Langdon inhabits is Brunswick. And the case in “Mainely Power” centers on the murder of a security supervisor at a nearby nuclear plant. Why is the death called a suicide? Why does the local police chief cover up evidence that says otherwise? Before Langdon is done pursing the case, the tentacles of corruption will reach from a major state entrepreneur to the governor of Maine and involve people as different as U.S. senators and tree huggers.
It’s an entertaining read. Cost writes with an edge that keeps his characters from slipping into stereotypes. Equally important, he keeps the story moving. His hero is tough but compassionate, hard but vulnerable. “Langdon understood that he was the worst kind of drunk, the kind who really didn’t drink much more than socially when things were going well, but whose gloves came off with a little disturbance”.
Langdon is backed by a varied band of friends, male and female, who give real life to the book. Seldom has a mystery focused on men given better, stronger portraits of women than Cost gives of women in this book.
Equally interesting is his sharply etched portrait of Maine. “Maine is changing quickly, if you haven’t noticed. The computer age of technology and all that,” a laid back lawyer named Jimmy 4 by Four tells Langdon. “Twenty years ago, the displaced, disgruntled Americans like me moved here to escape all of it, but it has come and found us. Faxes. E-Mail. The Net. Don’t kid yourself. Civilization and all that comes with it has found Maine…New York has moved to Boston. Which in turn has come to the suburbs, and believe it or not, Brunswick’s the suburbs now.”
You may buy that view or dismiss it, but it’s a point of view around which Cost builds a mystery and a book. Given the intriguing cast of characters he’s created—and his credible hero—Cost, now a budding social studies teacher, may go beyond that and give us books in the plural.
Wry story of murder, coverup in Brunswick
Times Record, by Deborah Murphy
“Mainely Power,” by M. Langdon Cost. 1st Books Library, 190 pages, $14
The events of recent months have brought increased scrutiny to the magnitude of the potential disaster housed in those strange and little understood—yet for the time at least, necessary—behemoth nuclear power plants nestled throughout America in unlikely places such as Seabrook, N.H., Long Island, N.Y., and, in M. Langdon Cost’s debut, self-published novel, “Mainely Power,” near the town of Brunswick, Maine.
The mystery, published by 1st Books Library, centers on Cost’s fictional DownEast Power: It leads the reader not outward to international intrigue, but inward to a tangle of corporate interests and political in-game that determine much of life even in the relatively pristine “Vacationland.”
Goff Langdon, the hero of Cost’s tale, is a Gen-X slacker detective with a penchant for driving his 1970’s beater convertible with the top down even in the dead of the winter, drinking too much on more occasions than he should, and regularly losing wrestling matches with his dog, Coffee.
Cost describes him as “Bookstore Owner. Environmentalist. Football Fan. Red Meat Eater. He Voted Independent, sometimes Democratic, never Republican.”
Goff, estranged from his wife of three years, considers himself to be “disillusioned with life at the tender age of twenty-eight”—but the events surrounding the murder of the head of security at the DownEast Power Plant jostle him out of the holding pattern he has allowed his life to become, with not a little self-pity.
Although the books he sells in his mystery bookstore tout heroes like Easy Rawlins, Same Spade and Dave Robichaux, Goff is a far cry from those isolationist, stoic figures.
Much of the power of this mystery comes from the way in which Cost creates and ensemble story, drawing into the tale the “whole network of people taking care of Goff, making sure he didn’t screw up his life” beyond repair. Including a gruff, burly cop who secretly writes poetry; an awkward, shy but surprisingly resourceful college girl; a tough, yet bored housewife and mother of three; an African-American bartender who has relocated to Maine to raise his family in relative quiet; and a post-Wall Street baby boomer lawyer hiding out in the woods of Bowdoinham.
Then there are Goff’s two brothers, who, like Goff, have little to show for their lives thus far; and whose main strengths are their ferocious love for their brother and willingness to use their fists and firearms on his behalf. Cost’s tale follows not just Goff, but also all of these figures with their manifold hopes and disappointments, dreams and shortcomings.
Cost spins his story of murder in a small town with a wry humor, a delicate touch at description, reflections on the changing face of Maine—not all of it, in Goff’s opinion, for the good—and a compassionate eye for even minor characters.
A librarian just recently a widow who wants to help is described as “the type of lady who needed to be needed,” and an underachiever working at Cumberland Farms is seen as follows; “Didn’t have a car. Didn’t even have a license. Lived with his mother. But there wasn’t a mean bone in his body…The man could have been something more, could have gone to college, taken computer classes, gotten a better job. But then he would no longer be Danny T.”
Cost’s plot is engaging and sharply drawn, conveying much of the inward-looking and closely held nature of Maine Culture.
But beyond this, his story is most enjoyable for its true sense of nuances and texture, complexities, loyalties, disappointments, small kindnesses and care that make up relationships and much of small-town life.
T.S. Eliot wrote that, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Cost has managed, with great skill, to take his hero and his reader on such a journey.