April 7, 2008

The Passing of the Armies

Anyone who would visit this blog is probably going to be familiar with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Thanks to the film Gettysburg, Chamberlain is recognized by scores as the cerebral and heroic colonel of the Twentieth Maine Infantry, the regiment that valiantly held the Union left at Little Round Trip. Less known to the casual reader is that following the legendary battle, Chamberlain stayed in the AOP to the end and went on to have five horses shot out from under him, was wounded a total of six times, and had the eerie experience of reading his obituary twice. His final wound was deemed so serious that he was promoted to brigadier general as he supposedly lay dying on the field of battle.

Chamberlain’s post-war career was equally impressive, including four terms as governor of Maine and also serving as the president of Bowdoin College. Also known to most is that the Civil War never left Chamberlain. He was a frequent speaker at reunions and wrote a number of war-related essays. He began his memoir when in his 80’s but was not finished when he passed away in 1914.

Nevertheless, Chamberlain’s account of the final Appomattox campaign and the Grand Review was posthumously published in 1915 by G. P. Putnam’s under the full title of The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac. Considering what I know of Putnam’s during that timeframe, I assume the book was initially issued with some type of dust jacket, but I have never seen one or even read of one being offered for sale.

His participation in and description of the Appomattox surrender proceedings is legendary and forms the basis for numerous pieces of contemporary artwork. According to John Peterson, who wrote the preface to a new 1994 edition, Chamberlain’s writing has “a dreamy, ethereal quality – not surprising considering his age at the time of the writing and his wounds and precarious health at the time of the events described.” Eicher’s Civil War in Books in even more generous, describing the title as “one of the finest accounts of a campaign penned by a Federal soldier… a stellar work of Civil War history – a classic.”

The Passing of the Armies has been reprinted extensively over the past two decades, however it is an extremely rare book in the first edition (see pictures). In fact, as of today, there are no first edition copies available for sale on ABE, which of course, underscores its scarcity. Broadfoot’s most recent price guide places it at $500, which seems a bit low years after that reference work was printed. The presence of the dust jacket would increase the price three-fold. Given this work’s classic status, an original copy in fine condition could be considered a cornerstone of any first edition library.

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