Chamberlain is the main Union voice in the novel. He provides a different view of the war than that of Lee or Longstreet, since as a colonel, he is significantly lower in rank than they. But Chamberlain is one of the most interesting Union soldiers of the Civil War, and certainly one of the most popular. Chamberlain led a fascinating life. He was a professor at Bowdoin College at the time of the war, left the college to fight, and distinguished himself as an excellent soldier by the end of the war. It was Chamberlain who accepted the surrender of the Confederate forces at Appomattox. The novel tries to strike a delicate balance between describing Chamberlain as a college professor and as a soldier. Compared to many of his fellow soldiers, he is quite educated and thoughtful. For many, he is the easiest character with which to identify, since he is not only a citizen-turned-soldier, but is also lower ranked than the generals. Chamberlain is the idealized citizen-soldier, the man who chooses to forsake his comfortable job for his country and lives to become a renowned soldier.
Throughout the novel, Chamberlain constantly evaluates everything he sees, often poetically. He analyzes what he sees around him, and he has a much closer, more hands-on experience with the battle than many of Shaara’s other characters. He is also in a difficult position because his brother, Tom, is one of his aides. Chamberlain realizes during the novel that he may be required to order Tom into harm’s way, perhaps even to his death. Chamberlain is the soldier with the soul of a poet, and he provides the novel with some of its best and most insightful analysis of the feelings and motivations of Union soldiers during the Civil War.