Jack Campbell,
The Last Full Measure
(Subterranean Press, 2013)

It's about the time of the American Civil War, but the political landscape of the United States is vastly different than the one we learned about in history books.

In the years following the American Revolution, the military has become entwined with the executive branch of government -- to the extent that the president is selected by military appointment, and military rank is awarded for political deeds rather than prowess on the battlefield. Few people remember how it was supposed to be, but Joshua Chamberlain, a bookish professor from Maine, has read the forbidden documents and speaks out against the autocratic system that has developed.

Of course, Chamberlain ends up on trial for sedition, a charge for which he is quickly convicted and sentenced to hard labor on a southern plantation. Sentenced with him is a trouble-making idealist, Abraham Lincoln, whose speeches have been riling the population. Deemed too dangerous to be allowed to interact with the general public, he's sent into solitary confinement at Fort Monroe.

But Chamberlain, freed on a raid on his prison train by the fledgling Army of the New Republic, is caught up in the new revolution. Diverse military leaders united by a cause -- the likes of Hancock, Armistead, Buford, Mosby and Longstreet -- are looking for a man to inspire the people, and Chamberlain thinks that Lincoln fellow might fit the bill.

That leads to a daring prison raid and a desperate flight up through Pennsylvania to elude troops led by federal commanders Lee and Stuart. And all roads seemingly lead to a small town called Gettysburg.

Jack Campbell's novella, scarcely 100 pages long, redefines America in the mid-19th century and thrusts the major players from the actual Battle of Gettysburg together in very different alliances than history allowed. While reading, I found myself wondering where the rest of them were -- what were Reynolds, Pickett and Doubleday, among others, doing?

It's brilliantly imagined and constructed, and my only complaint about The Last Full Measure is that it's too short. Having set the stage for a very different Civil War, I would have liked to see more expansion on the subject than this short form allows. That said, the book handily presents its story and leaves readers wanting more.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 April 2013

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