“Joshua L. Chamberlain: A Life in Letters,” a handsomely produced volume introduced and edited by seasoned Civil War scholars James McPherson and Maine’s own Thomas Desjardin, provides some 250 previously unpublished communications relating to the state’s most celebrated fighting general.

They are nicely annotated, indexed and backed by fine illustrations. The bulk of the letters were gifted to the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., by Don Troiani, who had acquired them from the Chamberlain family.

So why even bother with a review? Anyone who admires Chamberlain (and there is a great deal to admire in the man, during and after the conflict) or who studies the Civil War would seem natural readers. Indeed, it is a necessary book for those already deeply engaged in the study of the man’s life and career.

However, this is by no means a book for everyone. Beginners should first turn to previous works, including Chamberlain’s own publications, John J. Pullin’s “Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero’s Life and Legacy” (1999), Desjardin’s “Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine” (1995) and, particularly, Diane Monroe Smith’s “Fanny & Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain” (1999).

I say this because the first 153 pages of the book are devoted to letters from 1849 to 1860. The war years are covered between pages 165 and 231, a mere 66 pages, and the post-war era is represented by 74 pages. What the reader is served up is a preponderance of correspondence between Joshua (1828-1914) and his future wife, Frances Caroline Adams (1825-1905).

The couple met in 1851 at the Brunswick Meeting House, where Fanny’s uncle and guardian was minister. After an agonizingly long courtship — during which Joshua graduated from Bowdoin College and Fanny studied the arts in New York and then taught school in Milledgeville, Ga. — they were finally wed in 1855.

To say that the intimate letters between Joshua and Fanny are cloying to a 21st-century reader is an understatement. Complaints about their illnesses and stresses (real and imagined) superimposed over the Sir Walter Scott ideals of chivalry and love — plus the prospect of physical love and raising a family — are troubling and unpleasant.

Consider Fanny to Joshua (1852): “O! Lawrence it was you and your love alone of which I was thinking when I spoke to you of a ‘man’s love.’ I was thinking of you as a man, a strong and noble man, and of myself as a frail weak woman when I said what I did.”

Or consider Joshua to Fanny (July 23, 1854): “Be sure of one thing, my own dearest darling, that I do love you as I always have, and must ever love you. You? Why my Fanny do you remember who you are? Do you my sweet darling? Come now dear and sit on my knee and talk with me.” (This is when we go for popcorn during the movie.)

My advice to readers is to pick up Smith’s insightful “Fanny & Joshua” before reading these letters. The former explains a complex, thwarted, lifelong marriage as well as any source can.

In “A Life In Letters,” there are also some bits of post-war political interest and the occasional gem. Witness one of Joshua’s wartime notes to Fanny dated Nov. 11, 1863: “(Gen. John Marshall Brown) took the opportunity today of cutting my beard to suit his notion of my face. He has left me with a ferocious mustache and a bit of my imperial only.”

Now we know that the famous Chamberlain tonsorial look was the work of the great Portland scholar, soldier, businessman, eventual head of J. B. Brown & Sons and co-namesake of Maine Historical’s Brown Library.

William David Barry is a local historian who has authored or co-authored six books, including “Deering: A Social and Architectural History” and “Maine: The Wilder Half of New England.” He lives in Portland.