Joseph Wheelan’s ‘Their Last Full Measure’ Sheds Light on the Final Days of the Civil War [REVIEW]

Union infantry skirmishers hold their position.
Union infantry skirmishers hold their position. (Photo courtesy Canva)

The Civil War lasted for four long years. It was one of the bloodiest conflicts ever fought on American soil. Yet, no matter how many novels or films have been made about the war, it remains one of the most controversial and complex periods in the nation’s history. Now author Joseph Wheelan brings the period to vivid life in his book, Their Last Full Measure, which may very well answer your most burning questions.

Da Capo Press

By 1865, the Confederacy was crumbling as Union soldiers hammered against them relentlessly. Federal armies marched against the Rebels’ last standing bastions. General Sherman’s army conducted a punitive campaign against the seat of the Rebellion in South Carolina while General Grant faced off with Robert E. Lee’s starving Army of Northern Virginia.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln sought to end slavery in the United States forever even as Confederate President Jefferson Davis struggled to hold together his quickly unraveling nation.

In Their Last Full Measure, Wheelan stitches together pieces of history into one fascinating narrative. The result is a book that helps us grasp the significance of the battles that were fought, Lee’s surrender, Lincoln’s assassination, and what it took for everyone to survive the war’s wreckage.

In school I remember my teacher covering the Civil War in less than a week’s time. However, I can honestly say that I really didn’t understand the full context of the war. One question always seemed to form in my mind. “Why did so many people feel compelled to fight for their beliefs?” Wheelan is the first author to answer this question for me in a concise and logical way.

Their Last Full Measure recounts the last 150 days of the Civil War in the narrative of a novel. I appreciated this format as it covered the period between January and May 1865. The information in each chapter brought to life the many polarizing emotions and decisions each family and member of the Union and Confederate Armies needed to make in order to survive.

By humanizing each civilian and military person in this manner, Wheelan takes the reader on a journey of discovery which considers the strongly held beliefs of the day and why they were so intrinsic to the time. He also reveals why even now, those ideals continue to blur the lines of how we view each other.

I now have a much better understanding of what the Civil War meant to so many people then and now. If you enjoy unpacking history, you definitely won’t want to miss Their Last Full Measure. This is a must read for history lovers everywhere!

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Joseph Wheelan was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press for 24 years in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Denver; Little Rock; and Raleigh, N.C.

While news editor in the AP’s Denver and Raleigh bureaus, Wheelan directed team, feature and investigative reporting projects while supervising daily news coverage.

He also reviewed books for the AP and, among other things, wrote about the Korean War and the continuing battle by its veterans to obtain government benefits for cold-weather injuries.

Before joining the AP, he was a reporter and state editor for the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune. Wheelan is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado-Denver.

He and his wife, Pat, a research scientist, have two grown daughters, Sarah and Ann, and live in Cary, N.C.

For more information, visit

Joseph Wheelan
Joseph Wheelan

By Joseph Wheelan
432 pp. Da Capo Press. $17.50.

Purchase Their Last Full Measure direct from Jathan & Heather Books or from one of these other fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Half Price Books, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, or Walmart.

About Heather Fink
Heather Fink is a writer, bibliophile and award-winning librarian who loves to introduce the next generation of readers to the wonderful world of books. She currently resides in Texas.

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