January 17, 2013

BUSHNELL ON BOOKS: "Joshua Chamberlain: A Life in Letters" and "Judith: A Quoddy Tale"

Bill Bushnell

JOSHUA CHAMBERLAIN: A LIFE IN LETTERS
Edited by Thomas Desjardin
Osprey Publishing, 2012
336 pages, $25.95
ISBN 978-1-84908-559-5
 
Joshua Chamberlain (1828-1914) may be Maine’s most recognized historical figure and for good reason — he was a selfless man of honor, loyalty, courage and compassion. And his personal correspondence clearly reflects those laudable qualities in this revealing book sponsored by the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

This is a collection of nearly 300 never-before published letters, compiled and edited by Maine’s Chief Historian Thomas Desjardin. He has organized these letters chronologically from 1849 to 1914, from Bowdoin College and the Civil War to Chamberlain’s post-war years as citizen and Maine governor.

The collection features letters from Chamberlain as well as letters received from family, friends and admirers.

A third of the letters reflect Chamberlain’s courtship and marriage to Fannie Adams, with language flowery, poetic and chaste:  “With a thousand kisses of love, love passionate as boyhood, strong as manhood and deep as life.”

Letters between Chamberlain and Fannie during the Civil War describe his loneliness, financial concerns, his patriotism and telling descriptions of campaigns and battles. In Virginia, 1862 he wrote:  “Nothing flourishes here but graves.” 

After the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg, Chamberlain describes the bravery of his soldiers during a futile frontal assault, saying they “were resolved not to flinch in that fiery ordeal.”

In one letter he describes the origin of the iconic “ferocious moustache” he wore for the rest of his life, and in another he excuses his own battlefield heroism by writing “I was a little impudent.”

The last letters concern his actions as defacto military governor during the tense political stand-off known as “The Great Count-Out Crisis of 1880,” when his calm, steadfast and firm leadership averted post-election violence in Maine.

For more interesting reading about Chamberlain, see John Pullen’s excellent biography, “Joshua Chamberlain:  A Hero’s Life and Legacy” (Stackpole, 1999).
 

JUDITH: A QUODDY TALE
By John R. Cobb
Maine Authors Publishing, 2012
226 pages, $15.95
ISBN 978-1-936447-36-7
 

In this debut novel, Maine author John Cobb tells the intriguing story of a Down East fishing family and its struggle with loss, guilt, grief, and its difficult effort to right past wrongs.
Cobb’s first novel shows real promise — a clever, convincing human story of men and women living with decisions and actions they wish they could take back, searching for redemption that seems just out of reach.

Ray Winn returns to Cobscook Bay (near Lubec) after a career in the Marines, still grieving over the deaths of his wife and young son in a tragic house fire.  His father-in-law, Jasper, also a widower and in poor health, takes Ray in and the two men settle into a comfortable friendship.  Jasper’s own son, Dale, is just out of prison for an unjustified manslaughter conviction three years earlier.  All these men are suffering from their own self-inflicted wounds, but they provide much-needed support and structure to each other.

As these three fishermen work to rebuild their lives and their family relationship, strange accidents at sea in the often turbulent and unpredictable waters of Passamaquoddy Bay bring out the creepy superstitions of the Ole Scot, a maritime apparition seeking the souls of lost fishermen.

Although the Ole Scot plays a prominent role in this story, it is not a supernatural tale; rather, it is a well-crafted portrayal of believable characters dealing with the good and bad of life the best way they can. And despite the often clinging despair, Cobb adds humor —  like the hilarious scene of the lobsterman’s haircut and Jasper’s interview with a hapless TV reporter.

The second half of the book is by far the best, with solid suspense and revelation. And although the ending is a bit sappy, the overall story is very satisfying.


— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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