THE TWENTIETH MAINE
by John J. Pullen
A problem that one often encounters in reading regimental histories is the struggle to simply stay awake! Too often they are written as simple, straightforward, and, unfortunately, dry recitations of facts. The reader is left with little or no sense of the human element behind the stories of troop maneuvers and battle strategies.
In The Twentieth Maine Pullen demonstrates the astonishing touch he has for awakening the humanity of the war. He allows us to share in the journey made by those men; taking us onto battlefields and into encampments in such a way that we cannot help seeing through the eyes of those who lived through the events described. We travel with the men of the Twentieth, learning as they go, experiencing the same hardships and sharing in their laughter.
We meet Colonel Adelbert Ames, West point graduate and regular army, brought in to command this rag-tag bunch of New England individualists. Little could he have known that this "hell of a regiment" would one day so distinguish itself on battlefields from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
The Twentieth Maine was fairly unique in that its soldiers came from all parts of their home state; a sort of cast-off regiment of men who had signed up late. They had no connection to a particular town, county, or region. There were students from Bowdoin College, lumberman from the far Aroostook Forest, government clerks from Augusta, farmers from the inland plain and fisherman from the wild coastline. What they did have in common was a toughness bred by their climate, a work ethic from their ancestors, and the individualism so typical of New England men.
But in that uniqueness was their strength, and we see that clearly played out in Pullen's words. They were men who had much to learn about being soldiers, and they did so, with spectacular results. None more so than their lieutenant colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. With virtually no military experience, and little to recommend him except being a man of "the highest moral, intellectual and literary worth" Chamberlain rose to the occasion each and every time, leading his men with courage, compassion and ingenuity. It is little wonder that when the 20th Maine is thought of it is usually in relation to this man.
Pullen has the ability to make us instinctively understand the trials and tribulations of a bygone era. We can each take a small piece of the 20th Maine with us after reading his work. They fought and scrapped; earned their battle scars and their glory. We do so through them.
And when its all over we too can dream of a Maine where "...in the cool, shadowed woods it would be so quiet a man could hear a chipmunk scolding a mile away.". Thanks to John J. Pullen.
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