Jeff Shaara - Gods and Generals: A Novel

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Heartwarming and Heartbreaking

Apr 9, 2001
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:another brilliant historical saga

Cons:as ive said before, its only for those who enjoy history.

The Bottom Line: Gods and Generals provides a clear, detailed, and emotional recount of the early portion of the Civil War, up until Gettysburg.




Jeff Shaara wrote this novel as a prequel to his father Michael Shaara’s best-selling account of the battle of Gettysburg, entitled The Killer Angels. In Gods and Generals, the author traces the events of the first half of the Civil War through the eyes of four men, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The opening section of the novel follows the lives of the four men as the inevitable war approaches.

First, Robert E. Lee is forced to make the extremely difficult decision to resign from the United States Army in order to defend his home state of Virginia, ending a long and successful career in the federal military. He is then recruited by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to assist him in organizing and controlling the southern troops. After a few failed battles, Davis finally allows Lee to become the on-field commanding general of the entire Confederate Army.

Thomas Jackson, another former United States Army veteran of the Mexican War, also leaves his position at the Virginia Military Institute to help raise, train, and lead troops in the defense of the state of Virginia. He eventually gains respect as one of the best ever field commanders, and he rises to become one of two division-leading generals directly under General Lee. His tactical genius helps the Southern army win several key battles before his untimely and accidental death at the hands of his fellow Confederates.

On the Northern side, Shaara also follows the lives of two men, Hancock and Chamberlain. Winfield Scott Hancock was stationed as a supply depot officer in the sparsely populated, newly acquired California Territory. As word of the developing conflict filters drift west, most of the soldiers located on the West Coast leave their posts, either to return to their southern homes or to seek military glory for the Union cause. As a result, Hancock gets his chance to escape his mundane position as a quartermaster and receives an appointment to lead Federal troops. Despite the numerous Northern defeats in the early years of the war, and several failed Union commanders, Hancock performs admirably and receives higher positions within the United States Army.

Finally, Jeff Shaara traces the unique transformation of Joshua Chamberlain from a Bates College professor to a general in the Federal Army. Inspired by the patriotism and sense of duty that caused many of his students to leave to fight in the Civil War, he also leaves his position to join the army. Under the guidance of a veteran officer, Chamberlain shows his keen intelligence as he quickly learns what it takes to lead his young soldiers into battle.

As the Civil War progresses, Shaara describes several key battles, including the First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The author makes it very clear, that despite excellent generals such as Lee, Jackson, Chamberlain, Hancock, and others, various factors prevented each army from capitalizing on opportunities to gain an upper hand in the Civil War. The political gamesmanship of the federal government and the individual shortcomings of Commanding Generals such as Meade, Burnside, and McClellan, acted to squander the several chances the Union Army had to obliterate a weakened Confederate Army. Likewise, the Southern forces were unable to take advantage of their battlefield victories and superior officers, hindered by an undermanned and under-equipted army.

Therefore, as the book draws to a close, neither army has been able to gain a long-term advantage in the conflict, and this leads to the costliest battle ever fought on American soil, the three-day battle of Gettysburg. This conflict, the first major engagement in a Northern state, will be crucial in determining the outcome of the Civil War.

I think that this novel, Gods and Generals is the best of the books written by Michael and Jeff Shaara. The emotional and interpersonal development of Robert E. Lee and the other characters is amazing, as they soldiers struggle through the demanding war.

Watch for Jeff Shaara's newest novel, about the Boston Massacre, coming later this spring!


Recommend this product? Yes


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