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by Jeff Shaara, 1996

The story follows four main characters from 1858 to the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg. Robert E Lee is a frustrated cavalry officer in Texas, watching his 30-year career in the U.S. Army stagnate into an unfulfilling conclusion to a life that has kept him far from his home, and the growth of his family. Thomas J. Jackson is an ill-equipped professor at the Virginia Military Institute who suffers enormous personal tragedy, and yearns for the exciting life he had known briefly as a soldier in the Mexican War. Winfield Scott Hancock is a one-man quartermaster in the small village of Los Angeles, California, also yearning for life closer to the “action,” and like Lee, finds himself frustrated by a career that seems to be too far removed from the attention of his superiors. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a rising young star in the academic world of Bowdoin College in Maine, who realizes that his career is pleasing everyone but him.

As the extraordinary events of 1861 unfold, and the country collapses into the horror of a Civil War, each man must face his family, his personal duty and his own sense of responsibility to his country. The path these four men take, Lee and Jackson choosing to fight for the South, Hancock and Chamberlain fighting for the Union, reflect the paths taken by an entire generation of Americans.

Through the first two years of the war, each man learns not only about war, but about his own place in history. At Fredericksburg in December, 1862, the four men take to the same horrible field, discovering first hand what the Civil War has become, and what their own role will be. At Chancellorsville, in May, 1863, the story comes to a brutal climax as Jackson, now called “Stonewall,” is killed, and with his death both sides understand that the tide of the war is turned.


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