Joshua Chamberlain

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Joshua Chamberlain History

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Biography

The Union Army, vol. 1
Joshua L. Chamberlain, major-general, was born in Brewer,
Me., Sept. 8, 1828. His father proposed an army career for him,
and sent him at the age of fourteen to the military academy of
Maj. Whiting at Ellsworth, Me., where one lasting benefit was
the compulsory acquirement of some practical acquaintance
with the French language. After some time spent in that insti-
tution of learning, and in teaching country school and other
remunerative employment, he decided to become a minister
of the gospel; and finally, having committed to memory Kuhner's
unabridged Greek grammar from alphabet to appendix, he en-
tered Bowdoin college with advanced standing at the age of
nineteen. Graduating at the college in 1852, he entered Bangor
theological seminary, where, besides conforming to all regula-
tions, he read his theology in Latin and his church history in
German, and took up the study of the Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic
languages, to which he continued to devote not less than an
hour a day for six years. Before his graduation, having written
the four sermons required, and occasionally preached them, he
received "calls" from three important churches; but the remark-
able impression made by his "Master's Oration" at Bowdoin
in 1855 on "Law and Liberty" led to his immediate appointment
as instructor in the department of natural and revealed religion.
The next year he was elected professor of rhetoric and oratory
and held this place for five years. In July, 1862, leave of ab-
sence for two years was granted him for the purpose of pursuing
his studies in Europe, but the serious reverses of the Union army
and the critical condition of the country at that time seemed to
him a call to service in another field. On Aug. 8 he was made
lieutenant-colonel of the 20th regiment of Maine volunteers.
In twenty days he had the organization complete with full
ranks, turned the command over to Col. Ames of the regular
army, and set forth for the field. The regiment was assigned
to Butterfield's division, Porter's corps. Army of the Potomac.
Col. Chamberlain's qualities were tested in the sharp engagement
at Shepherdstown ford immediately after the battle of Antietam,
in September, and in the terrible experiences of his command
in the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg in December he cer-
tainly won the master's degree in his military education. He
had an arduous part in all the trying operations of that winter
on the Rappahannock. In May, 1863, he was made colonel
of his regiment, having already acted in that capacity for three
months. At Gettysburg, July 2, he held the extreme left of the
Union line, and his conduct on that occasion in the memorable
defense of Little Round Top won for him the admiration of the
army and public fame, and he was recognized by the govern-
ment in the bestowal of the Congressional medal of honor for
"conspicuous personal gallantry and distinguished service."
He was immediately placed in command of the famous "light
brigade" of the division, which he handled with marked skill
in the action at Rappahannock station. At Spottsylvania
Court House in May, 1864, he was placed in command of a "for-
lorn hope" of nine picked regiments to make a night assault on
a hitherto impregnable point of the enemy's works. By remark-
able judgment and skill he gained the position, but in the morn-
ing it was found to be commanded on both flanks by the enemy
in force, therefore utterly untenable, and the withdrawal ordered
was more difficult than the advance had been. Shortly after-
ward came the sharp engagements on the Totopotomy and the
North Anna, and the terrible battles of Bethesda Church and
Cold Harbor, in all of which his coolness of judgment and quick-
ness of action drew special commendation. He was promoted
to colonel of the 20th Maine on May 18, as stated above, and one
month later, in command of a brigade, he made the desperate
charge on Rives' salient in the Petersburg lines, where Gen.
Grant promoted him on the field to the rank of brigadier-general
"for gallant conduct in leading his brigade against a superior
force of the enemy and for meritorious service" in that terrible
campaign of 1864. In this assault he was seriously wounded
and reported dead, but after two months of intense suffering he
returned to his command. In the last campaign of the war, with
two brigades he led the advance of the infantry with Sheridan,
and made the brilliant opening fight on the Quaker road, March
29, 1865, where he was twice wounded (in the left arm and
breast), and his horse was shot under him. His conduct again
drew attention of the government, and he was promoted to the
brevet rank of major-general "for conspicuous gallantry" in
this action. On the White Oak road, March 31, although much
disabled by wounds, he distinguished himself by recovering a
lost field; and in the battle of Five Forks, April i, his prompti-
tude and skillful handling of troops received special official men-
tion. In the final action at Appomattox Court House, April
9, he was called by Gen. Sheridan to replace his leading division
of cavalry, and the first flag of truce from Longstreet came to
him. His corps commander says in an official report: "In the
final action Gen. Chamberlain had the advance, and was driving
the enemy rapidly before him when the announcement of the
surrender was made." At the formal surrender of Lee's army
he was designated to command the parade before which that
army laid down the arms and colors of the Confederacy. At the
final grand review in Washington, his division had the honor
of being placed at the head of the column of the Army of the
Potomac, and his troops, fresh from the surrender at Appomat-
tox, were received by the thronging spectators as might be
imagined. In the reorganization of the regular army at the close
of hostilities he was offered a colonelcy, with the privilege of
retiring with the rank of brigadier-general, on account of wounds
received in the service. Not caring to be a soldier in time of
peace, he declined this offer, and was mustered out of military
service Jan. 15, 1866. Returning to Maine he was offered the
choice of several diplomatic offices abroad, but almost as soon
as he was out of the army, he was elected governor of the state
by the largest majority ever given in that commonwealth. His
administration was very satisfactory and he was continued in
that office for four terms. While popular with the people he
was in some disfavor with his party because he did not approve
the policy of conferring the privilege of the "suffrage" on the
lately liberated slaves, holding that reconstruction could only
be effected by and through the best minds of the south, a position
that history has thoroughly vindicated. In 1871 Gen. Cham-
berlain was elected president of Bowdoin college, and held that
position until 1883, when he resigned, although continuing to
lecture on public law and public economy until 1885. He was
appointed major-general of Maine militia in 1876, was United
States commissioner to the Paris exposition in 1878, and in
1885 he went to Florida as president of a railroad construction
company. In 1900 he was appointed by President McKinley
surveyor of customs at the port of Portland, and is still the effi-
cient occupant of that position. Thus it will be seen that Gen.
Chamberlain is still an active man of affairs. He is in great
request as a speaker on public occasions and as a writer he has
an extended reputation. He has recently been engaged in writ-
ing out his notes on the last campaign of the Army of the Poto-
mac, which he contemplates publishing under the title, "The
Passing of the Armies: Last Campaign of Grant and Lee." He
also revised and edited the manuscript pertaining to the state
military history of Maine, which appears as a part of this pub-

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