Review: The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara

Rating: 5 out of 5

This was a very emotional final volume in the Civil War trilogy. Far more so than in the previous books, did the author manage to show the effects of war on both characters and country. This makes for both an emotional look into what motivated these giants as well as a move into understanding war itself.

The author is aided in this by the more warlike nature of the new Union main commanders — Grant and Sheridan — who both have an offensive and swashbuckling style. At the same time, the inevitability of the Confederacy’s defeat marches ever closer, made ever clearer through the morbid atmosphere surrounding its dealings. The narrowed ranks of the CSA’s buccaneers, who have either lost faith like Pickett or been picked off like Stuart, further exacerbate this.

These changes mark not only the passing of the Confederacy — the final scenes at Appomattox become so vivid as it is no doubt a scene that many of us have imagined without the detail and knowledge to support it — but also in passing the buck from Lee gentlemanly qualities to Grant’s roughness. Of course, however, a longer perspective notes that Winfield Scott himself was more Grant than Lee. With that, this trilogy turns into an account of the eminent qualities of Robert E Lee who made many mistakes but did not feel the need to blame others for his own failings.

There are moments, also, when the author’s historic curiosity necessitates him to add comments. One of my favourite of these was in the same Appomattox scenes when he noted during the surrender negotiations that the headquarters of the Confederate and Union armies were in the exact same building for that day. This small gem and others like it add to the very great book!

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