In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock

“In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War” is a masterful biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Chamberlain was one of the great Americans of the nineteenth century. He was one of the most heroic and hardest fighting U.S. Army officers of all time.

The author, the late Alice Rains Trulock, presents a well researched, thoroughly documented, and in depth portrait of this intelligent and courageous man. She traces Chamberlain’s early life and career. She begins looking at him as a student, and later as Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Chamberlain’s military career is covered in detail. We see his rise from command of the 20th Maine to general officer rank in the Union army. We learn of his outstanding leadership and valor during some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. His experience at Five Forks, Virginia is chronicled with some of Trulock’s liveliest and most exciting prose.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is best known for his actions as Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteers at the Battle of Gettysburg. Here Trulock describes in detail the events of July 2, 1863. On that date he led his 380-man regiment in its successful defense of Little Round Top. This is arguably the most critical engagement in the most critical battle of the war. His leadership and actions saved the Union army from a crushing defeat, and ensuring his own place in the pantheon of American military heroes.

Trulock also details Chamberlain’s post-Civil War career as Governor of Maine (1867-1871), President of Bowdoin College (1871-1883), and as a semi-successful businessman.

The book gives well researched and beautifully written descriptions of Chamberlain’s military, political and business accomplishments. “In the Hands of Providence” also gives the reader a balanced and objective look at Chamberlain’s personal life. Particularly enjoyable and enlightening are the descriptions of his relationships with his wife Fannie, his daughter Grace and son Harold Wyllys (yes, the spelling is correct – it is pronounced like Willis), and his brother Tom. The author does a brilliant job of allowing the reader to get to know Chamberlain the patriot, scholar, college professor and president, military hero, and Governor of Maine as well as the warm hearted and loving family man.

Published in 1992 by the University of North Carolina Press, “In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War” is the best modern biography of one of the most extraordinary and gifted Americans of the nineteenth century. I highly recommended these 592 pages of information and entertainment. Reviewed by Jimmie A. Kepler

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