Creating a legend

By DONALD G. FULTON  |  January 6, 2010

Desjardin compares, to poignant effect, the romantic idealism of Chamberlain with the tragic realism of Spear. Through the years after the Civil War, both participated in commemorative, social, and educational activities related to the 20th Maine. But they felt very differently about war. While Chamberlain embraced lofty, patriotic rhetoric that justified the war, Spear said such oratory failed to compensate for the killing and maiming of so many men, or for all the mothers, sisters, and wives who lost loved ones. Spear was proud of his role as a victorious participant in the struggle, but struggled to come to terms with the death and destruction. Perhaps his description of these inner conflicts is Desjardin's greatest success, reminding us that the romance of heroic action, so thrilling to many, cohabits the bloody, gruesome reality of men taking other men apart piece by piece.

Donald G. Fulton can be reached at portland-feedback@phx.com.

STAND FIRM YE BOYS FROM MAINE: THE 20TH MAINE AND THE GETTYSBURG CAMPAIGN | 15th Anniversary Edition | by Thomas A. Desjardin | Oxford University Press | 272 pages | $16.95

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