Review of "In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War"

Updated on March 27, 2020
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J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate NY and has a master's degree in history.

In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War

Throughout Alice Rains Trulock’s In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War, Trulock argues for the heroic success of Chamberlain in his military, educational, vocational, and familial duties. Using an often passive and uncertain voice, Trulock argues her thesis that due to Chamberlain’s heroic service to the Union army of the Potomac, the 20th Maine became an achiever of “imperishable glory” at Gettysburg and throughout the Civil War. Trulock’s biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain emphasizes his strong leadership skills while paying extensive attention to the inadequacies of those around him, such as his fellow soldiers in service to the Union’s 20th Maine.[1]

Emphasizing Chamberlain’s religious convictions and liberal arts education, as well as his political standing “sharpened by the national debate,” Trulock painted a valiant picture of Chamberlain running off to war to fight for his beliefs, leaving behind a loving family and steady job, and risking his life to save the Union of the United States from secession of the American south. Due to his moral position in opposition to slavery, as well as his loyalty to the “greatness of Lincoln’s leadership,” Chamberlain is depicted as a hero of the Civil War. Highlighting such occasions as Chamberlain’s refusal to stop fighting at the Union attack at Petersburg despite being shot through the hip, Trulock uses the writings and correspondence of J. L. Chamberlain to chronologically outline Chamberlain’s participation in the Civil War.[2]

Trulock’s language fails to command the authoritative tone of a professional historian and relies heavily upon speculation and assumptions in her analysis of the life and service of J. L. Chamberlain. In her analysis of Chamberlain beyond his basic biographical details of being an anti-slavery unionist from Maine, Trulock uses weak passive language in her speculations regarding Chamberlain’s life, as shown through such instances as her assumption that Chamberlain “was the kind of man,” or that Chamberlain “surely took care,” or even more bold assertions such as Trulock’s statement that “but with the pain from his wounds undoubtedly limiting the couple’s conjugal relations, Fannie must have lost a great deal of what little influence a wife had.” Similarly, Trulock used unprofessional language throughout her writing, especially throughout her depictions of the various battles and military campaigns in which Chamberlain and the 20th Maine participated. Her failure to successfully and assertively convey the definitive course of the campaigns engaged in by Chamberlain, Trulock used such statements as “they removed the bullet, and at last they managed to patch up and connect things enough that they concluded there might be a chance for recovery.”[3]

Using such primary source documentation as Chamberlain family correspondence and the personal writings of J. L. Chamberlain as evidence, Trulock explains that Chamberlain’s reverence for family agrarian ideals, parental expectations, and exposure to the ideas of intellectuals such as Harriet Beecher Stowe molded Chamberlain into the heroic war-hero figure he became. Although often using an unconvincing language stated in passive voice, Trulock’s In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War conveys that Chamberlain’s charismatic leadership of the 20th Maine led to the support and respect of Chamberlain by his men “in a way that could not be doubted, only pardoned” as men risked their lives at the command and protection of their beloved Chamberlain.[4]


[1] Alice Rains Trulock. In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War. (USA: University of North Carolina Press,1992). Pp.22, 64.

[2] Ibid., 61, 82, 188-228.

[3] Ibid., 221, 340, 214.

[4] Ibid. 26, 43, 185.

Special Thanks

Special Thanks to Hartwick College, Oneonta NY, for the use of their beautiful Library!
Special Thanks to Hartwick College, Oneonta NY, for the use of their beautiful Library!


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