Holden Author Explores "Command Conflicts" in Civil War Campaign

Article excerpt

By Brian Swartz

Weekly Staff Editor

HOLDEN -- The characters and confusion that surrounded Ulysses Simpson Grant in springtime 1864 Virginia come vividly to life in "Command Conflicts in Grant's Overland Campaign," the latest book by noted local Civil War author Diane Monroe Smith.

Author of the Chamberlain biography "Fanny and Joshua," Smith wrote "Command Conflicts" after researching the role that Joshua Chamberlain played during the siege of Petersburg. She has now written three Civil War-themed books, accomplishments made possible by her lifelong interest in the war.

"When I was a kid, it was the 100-year anniversary of all the battles, and I was an avid history kid," Smith said. Her Civil War interest later went dormant until her sons, Robert and Alex, joined Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry, as re-enactors while in their teens.

"They did so without encouragement from Ned and me," Smith recalled. A 14-year-old Alex later appeared as an extra in the Ted Turner "Gettysburg" movie.

The Smiths took Alex to Pennsylvania during the movie's filming - - and "that really got me going again" about the Civil War, Diane said. She volunteered with the Pejepscot Historical Society, which was then restoring the Brunswick home of Joshua and Fanny Chamberlain.

Smith started "researching the Chamberlains for seven or eight years," then wove her research into "Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain." Published in June 1999 by Thomas Publications of Gettysburg, the book details the relationship between the Chamberlains and "adds considerable illumination to Joshua's life and character," according to John Pullen, author of "The Twentieth Maine."

The book was well-received, except by certain male historians. "I don't think all military historians are willing to accept works by a woman," Smith said. She feels that "'Fanny and Joshua' was relegated to being a women's book because I included her (Fanny Chamberlain) in the biography.

"I was really pleased because it went out of print last year," Smith said. The University Press of New England plans to re-release "Fanny and Joshua" this month.

During her research, Smith contacted an archivist at Duke University, which she had heard still possessed some Joshua Chamberlain letters. Instead the university had an unpublished "Chamberlain manuscript" detailing the history of the Petersburg campaign, during which Chamberlain commanded a brigade in the Fifth Corps, she learned.

Smith "heavily annotated" the manuscript and published the book "Chamberlain at Petersburg." The book presents "a good, hard look at the Fifth Corps and their experience in Grant's Overland Campaign," she said.

"I was fascinated by it, the whole Fifth Corps experience," Smith recalled. Drawing upon her research, she started investigating Grant and the generals who surrounded him during spring and summer 1864.

Her effort led to the January 2013 publication of "Command Conflicts in Grant's Overland Campaign." Painstakingly researched and highly detailed, the 248-page (bibliography and index included) book follows Grant as he assumes higher command in the Western Theater and ultimately becomes the commander of all Union armies in winter 1864. …