Shaara introduces Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine Regiment. He is suffering from heatstroke after marching 80 miles in four days. Also introduced are his younger brother Tom, who is his aide, and Buster Kilrain.
Tom adores his older brother and struggles to remember to refer to him as a commanding officer when in front of the men. Kilrain is a career army man and former sergeant who was demoted to private after striking an officer in a drunken fight. Kilrain is the best soldier in the outfit due to his years of experience and, in spite of being demoted, he is Chamberlain's most trusted advisor. He is like a father to Chamberlain, and there is a deep affection between the two men.
At the start of the chapter, a captain from the 118th Pennsylvania delivers 120 mutineers to Chamberlain, with orders to shoot any man who won't fight. The mutineers mistakenly signed up for three-year enlistments when the rest of old 2nd Maine regiment only signed up for two years. Since the rest of the regiment has gone home, they want to be discharged rather than fight another year with any other regiment.
They have been starved, driven to exhaustion, and otherwise badly treated. The captain delivering them is disdainful of all Maine men, including Chamberlain who is a superior officer. Chamberlain confronts him with silent power that demands respect, and the captain, catching himself, snaps to attention and salutes Chamberlain. Chamberlain's handling of the Pennsylvania man is not lost on the mutineers, who have been watching the interchange closely.
When the unit is ordered to move out a short time later, Chamberlain speaks to the mutineers, letting the words come from his heart. He won't shoot them, knowing they have already done their share of fighting, and so he talks instead about his reasons for being there — the right of each man to become something on his own, his right to dignity and freedom. Chamberlain asks for their help and promises to look into their cause after the upcoming battle. As they march toward Gettysburg, Chamberlain is amazed and gratified to learn that 114 of the 120 men have decided to join his regiment.
Chamberlain is not "regular army," but a former college professor. He is used to dealing with irritable, unruly students who question things, and he is used to discussing things to bring about an agreement, rather than threatening to "shoot" someone into compliance. His "professor's mind" questions things instead of accepting military dogma. He thinks deeply on the meaning of life and man, and he has a basic humanitarian and fatherly approach to dealing with his men. He cares for their needs and then leads them.
His basic humanity toward others is what ultimately reaches the mutineers and convinces them to join the 20th Maine. They have been fed, heard, spoken to kindly, respected for what they've already done in the war, and they are not going to be shot if they don't fight. They are willing to take a chance following Chamberlain.
Also, Chamberlain is a Maine man. The importance of allegiance to your home state first above everything is shown in the interchanges about "Maine men." You see the interstate rivalry and inter-unit disdain when the Pennsylvania captain who delivers the mutineers treats all Maine men with disgust.
The importance of Chamberlain's convincing the mutineers to join his regiment will be seen later as the battle at Gettysburg unfolds.
flankers soldiers detailed to protect the sides of a marching column.
advance guards detachments of troops sent ahead to inspect and protect the line of march.
Huguenots Protestants in France in the 1500s and 1600s who were persecuted and massacred for their faith, by the Catholics.
road guards advance troops sent ahead of a military unit to detect enemy forces and protect the main force as it moves ahead.
skirmishers scouts who provided information on enemy strength and location, geography of the land ahead, and also screened the movements of the main force from enemy detection.
impressed seamen American seamen taken by the British from American ships on the high seas and pressed into service of the British Navy. The British claimed they were deserters. This practice led to the War of 1812.
Casey's Manual of Infantry Tactics an 800-page book of infantry tactics written by Union General Silas Casey and accepted as the official Union Army manual in 1862.
sound the General most of the actions of a military unit, from getting up in the morning, to going to sleep at night, were communicated by bugle calls. The General was most likely the call used by Chamberlain's regiment to notify the men to assemble and start their march.