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Literature / The Last Full Measure

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The Last Full Measure is the third book in the Shaara Civil War trilogy, preceded by Gods and Generals and The Killer Angels, depicting events in the Eastern Theater of The American Civil War. It was published in 1998. Although there were plans to adapt it into film like its predecessors, they were scrapped after the poor box office showing of Gods and Generals.

The title is derived from a line in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion." The speech itself is printed, one section at a time, in the novel's section breaks.

It starts almost immediately after the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg and covers the war from that point until the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The book introduces General Ulysses S. Grant when he is appointed Lieutenant General in Washington, D.C. and takes over command of the Army of the Potomac from General Meade, implementing a strategy of not retreating from a numerically inferior force and pursuing them after victories. Meanwhile, Lee has lost his best commanders, his army is underfed and ill-supplied, and he is left with fewer and fewer options until he is only left with surrender. The novel concludes with the last days of its surviving protagonists postbellum.

Not to be confused with the nonfiction book of the same tile by Richard Moe, which follows the lives and times of the First Minnesota Volunteers as they fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Tropes present:

  • Achey Scars:
    • Hancock continues to be troubled by his Gettysburg wound. He eventually has to leave field command because it keeps opening up and he can't ride, which effectively makes him unable to coordinate his troops.
    • Chamberlain's near-fatal wound still pains him in the Distant Finale. Although he lived with it for decades, its complications were the ultimate cause of his death as an old man.
  • A Death in the Limelight:
    • One Union grunt named Chuckie is introduced with his worries about his comrades, his irascible lieutenant, his wife's refusal to answer his letters, and all the damn Southern insects. A few minutes later, Southern troops attack his position and he is killed.
    • General J.E.B. Stuart had appeared frequently in Lee's chapters here and in the previous two books. The only chapter he gets to himself is the one in which he is mortally wounded at Yellow Tavern.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Grant. Treated sympathetically—he remembers that when he was stationed in California, his shyness and refusal to visit brothels in the absence of his wife Julia left him lonely with a bottle. He almost falls Off the Wagon after the defeat at Cold Harbor, but one of his aides intervenes.
    • General Ledlie of the Union is also an alcoholic who gets no sympathy. He is intoxicated during two battles and his men are decimated both times because he can't lead them, resulting in his removal the second time.
  • Batman Gambit: Grant's advance into Virginia. He knows that Lee must defend Richmond. Therefore, wherever he goes, Lee will have no choice to meet him, therefore he can almost choose his own ground. (This doesn't always work, however, see Cold Harbor.)
  • Blood Knight: Phil Sheridan. For all that his aggression is necessary to push the Confederates into defeat, Grant takes exception when he proposes attacking them while they are obviously preparing to surrender.
  • Cigar Chomper: Grant. He even tells one of his aides that he doesn't want to have to mediate between arguing commanders without one.
  • Demoted to Extra: As per Real Life. Hancock and Longstreet's wounds took them out of action for long periods of time, so the protagonist role is restricted mostly to Lee, Grant, and Chamberlainnote .
  • Determinator: General Ulysses S. Grant. He isn't intimidated by Lee's reputation, and although he suffers numerous setbacks and losses in the Overland Campaign, he refuses to withdraw the army from Virginia as his predecessors did.
  • Field Promotion: Chamberlain gets the first field promotion that Grant gave because everyone thought his wound was mortal, although he ultimately survives. Chamberlain himself gives one to a Major Glenn to inspire him to lead a charge. After Glenn is mortally wounded, Chamberlain calls him Colonel, keeping his promise.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • Hancock meditates on this and wonders if his friendship with Armistead could have survived the war, had Armistead lived.
    • Grant and Longstreet were good friends; Longstreet was even at Grant's wedding. Grant is hit hard when he hears that Longstreet was wounded.
    • One Confederate soldier protests shooting one particular Union sentry before a surprise attack because they'd gotten into the habit of talking across the lines every night.
  • Friend or Foe?: Longstreet and his staff are very concerned about a Confederate unit wearing black uniforms, since it makes them look like Yankees. They are fired upon almost immediately after this observation.
  • Frontline General: After the Field Promotion, Chamberlain has a hard time remembering the regulation that brigadier generals have to stay 150 yards behind the line of attack.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: General Meade. This causes some ruckus when he's given command of General Sheridan, who has one of his own.
  • Happily Married: Ulysses and Julia Grant. She and their children join him over the winter of 1864/65.
  • Hot-Blooded: General Stuart on the Confederate side, General Sheridan for the Union, both cavalry commanders. Stuart is killed in the clash when Grant gives Sheridan free reign.
  • The Men First: Grant is nervous about any appearance that he's getting special treatment for being the commanding general of the entire army.
  • Mercy Kill: An enlisted man shoots a wounded soldier so that he doesn't burn to death in the Wilderness.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Grant's realization that the slaughter at Cold Harbor is entirely his responsibility. In Real Life, Grant wrote of it as one of his biggest regrets.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: This becomes much less prominent than it was in The Killer Angels and Jeff Shaara's prequel, Gods and Generals, due to the greater depiction of the war crimes that Confederate soldiers committed, particularly their murder of surrendering Black troops. This is even deconstructed with the Hancock-Armistead relationship, which the other novels portrayed as a heartbreaking microcosm of the tragically divided loyalties between dear friends. Now, Hancock starts to wonder if his friendship with Armistead could have survived if Armistead had.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The defeat at Gettysburg and the appointment of General Grant to command starts the long slide into defeat for Lee and his army, a reversal from the times before that battle when he seemed almost unable to lose.
  • Not So Stoic: In private, Lee sobs over the death of J.E.B. Stuart.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Chamberlain's wound at Petersburg. He is shot through the lower abdomen/groin, which was almost always a mortal wound back then. Although not mentioned by the novel, Maine newspapers printed his obituary the next day. He ends up returning to field command after a lengthy hospital stay.note 
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Subverted by Grant. He is, of course, a sensitive and honest man, but what he's not is polished. Aide Rawlins laments that reporters and foreigners portray Grant as a backwoods hick for his appearance.
  • Oh, Crap!: Stuart's dawning realization that the cavalry under Sheridan is no longer the timid, ill-managed force he was used to dealing with.
  • Older and Wiser: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is much more experienced and wise to the battlefield than he was at the start of Gods and Generals. He mentally Lamp Shades it when he meets a young Union officer who's still fighting with eagerness.
  • The Quiet One: General Grant. When he meets Lincoln at a public event, he realizes that it hadn't occurred to him to think of anything to say to the President.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: Still a problem for both sides, but moreso the Union. Grant wonders if his army is actually too big for effective communication to be possible and is aggravated by his over-cautious generals.
  • Rousing Speech: Chamberlain gives one to his troops before the Battle of Petersburg.
  • Sedgwick Speech: The Trope Namer is depicted—General Sedgwick confidently asserts that they're out of range of the rebel muskets and is immediately shot in the head.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Pickett has become gloomy and bitter after his division was shattered at Gettysburg.
    • Though less severe, Chamberlain frequently wonders how much longer the war can be endured and what it's turning them into.
  • The Strategist:
    • Longstreet, at least until he is wounded and removed from the battlefield. At that point in the war, Lee had no choice but to use his ideas on defensive warfare.
    • Grant invokes it when he meditates on the cliche of seeing war as a chessboard. Although his Overland Campaign had many tactical failures, it was a strategic success because it did eventually force Lee's surrender.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Grant likes to eat pickles for breakfast.
  • War Is Hell:
    • It becomes quite literal at the Battle of the Wilderness. A brush fire sweeps through wounded troops trapped in the woods and overtakes a Confederate unit attacking Hancock's position.
    • The Siege of Petersburg is long, bloody, mud-soaked, diseased, and miserable. Basically if you're looking for an inversion of War Is Glorious, look right there.
    • In particular from the Siege of Petersburg is the Battle of the Crater. The Confederates slaughter the Union men at will. Then when it looks like they're getting tired of it and letting the Yanks surrender, they see that there are black troops among them. So they start shooting again, and then the panicking white Union men start shooting their black comrades themselves in hopes of being spared.
  • What Could Have Been: invoked Discussed in the aftermath of Lincoln's shooting, with the assertion that he could have kept the vengeful impulses of Northern politicians in check and thus prevented the South from resentfully passing its oppressive segregation laws.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Lee is shown as president of Washington College in 1870, into his final illness and reputed last words, "Strike the tent."note  Grant is shown being visited by Mark Twain as he races to finish his memoirs ahead of his throat cancer in 1885. Chamberlain visits Little Round Top in 1914, a few months before his death. The novel finishes with the paragraph summations of its characters' later life (or legacy).