Joshua Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
32nd Governor of Maine
In office
January 2, 1867 – January 4, 1871
Preceded by Samuel Cony
Succeeded by Sidney Perham
Personal details
Born September 8, 1828(1828-09-08)
Brewer, Maine
Died February 24, 1914(1914-02-24) (aged 85)
Portland, Maine
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Fanny Chamberlain
Children Grace Dupee (Chamberlain) Allen (b. 1856), Infant Son (unnamed) (d. 1857), Harold Wyllys Chamberlain (b. 1858), Emily Stelle Chamberlain (d. 1860), Gertrude Loraine Chamberlain (d. 1865)
Residence Brunswick, Maine (His house is preserved as a historical landmark to this day.)
Alma mater Bowdoin College
Profession Teaching, Military
Religion Congregationalist
Military service
Nickname(s) Lion of the Round Top
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1862–66
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpgBrevet Major General
Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General
Commands 20th Maine Infantry
3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps
1st Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps
1st Division, V Corps
Battles/wars American Civil War
Awards Medal of Honor

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (September 8, 1828 – February 24, 1914),[1] born as Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain,[2][3] was an American college professor from the State of Maine, who volunteered during the American Civil War to join the Union Army. Although having no earlier education in military strategies, he became a highly respected and decorated Union officer, reaching the rank of brigadier general (and brevet major general). For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony for the infantry of Robert E. Lee's Army at Appomattox, Virginia. After the war, he entered politics as a Republican and served four one-year terms of office as the 32nd Governor of Maine. He served on the faculty, and as president, of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.


Early life

Joshua Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine, to Joshua and Sarah Dupee Chamberlain, the oldest of five children. He entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1848, after teaching himself to read Ancient Greek in order to pass the entrance exam. While at Bowdoin he met many people who would influence his life, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, the wife of a Bowdoin professor. Chamberlain would often go to listen to her read passages from what would later become her celebrated novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. He also joined the Peucinian Society, a group of students with Federalist leanings. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society and a brother of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, Chamberlain graduated in 1852.

He married Fanny Adams, adopted daughter of a local clergyman, in 1855, and they had five children, one of whom was born too prematurely to survive and two of whom died in infancy. Adams's father did not at first approve of the marriage, but later approved and shared a mutual respect with his son-in-law. Chamberlain studied for three additional years at Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine, returned to Bowdoin, and began a career in education as a professor of rhetoric. He eventually went on to teach every subject in the curriculum with the exception of science and mathematics. In 1861 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages.[4] He was fluent in nine languages other than English: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac.

Chamberlain's great-grandfathers were soldiers in the American Revolutionary War. One, Franklin Chamberlain, was a sergeant in the battle of Yorktown. His grandfather, also named Joshua Chamberlain, was a colonel in the local militia during the War of 1812 and was court-martialed (but exonerated) for his part in the humiliating Battle of Hampden, which led to the sacking of Bangor and Brewer by British forces. His father also had served during the abortive Aroostook War of 1839. Chamberlain himself was not trained in military science, but felt a strong desire to serve his country.

Civil War

Chamberlain believed the Union needed to be supported by all those willing against the Confederacy. On several occasions Chamberlain spoke freely of his beliefs during his class urging students to follow their hearts in regards to the war while issuing his own proclamation that the cause was just. Of his desire to serve in the War he wrote to the Governor of Maine, "I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our country from desolation, and defend the national existence against treachery."[5] Many faculty at Bowdoin did not feel his enthusiasm for various reasons and Chamberlain was subsequently granted a leave of absence (supposedly to study languages for two years in Europe). He then promptly enlisted unbeknownst to those at Bowdoin and his family. Offered the colonelcy of the 20th Maine Regiment, he declined, according to his biographer, John J. Pullen, preferring to "start a little lower and learn the business first." He was appointed lieutenant colonel of the regiment on August 8, 1862, under the command of Col. Adelbert Ames. The 20th was part of the V Corps in the Union Army of the Potomac. One of Chamberlain's younger brothers, Thomas Chamberlain, was also an officer of the 20th Maine, and another, John Chamberlain, visited the regiment at Gettysburg as a member of the U.S. Christian Commission until appointed as a chaplain in another Maine Volunteer regiment.

Battle of Fredericksburg

Chamberlain's regiment marched to the Battle of Antietam, but did not participate in the fighting. The 20th Maine fought at the subsequent Battle of Fredericksburg, suffering relatively small numbers of casualties in the assaults on Marye's Heights, but were forced to spend a miserable night on the freezing battlefield among the many wounded from other regiments. Chamberlain chronicled this night well in his diary and went to great length discussing his having to use bodies of the fallen for shelter and a pillow while listening to the bullets zip into the corpses.

Battle of Chancellorsville

The 20th missed May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville due to an outbreak of smallpox in their ranks (which was caused by an errant smallpox vaccine), which kept them on guard duty in the rear.[6] Chamberlain was promoted to colonel of the regiment in June 1863, upon the promotion of Ames.

Battle of Gettysburg

Little Round Top, western slope, photographed by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1863.

Chamberlain achieved fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of a hill named Little Round Top became the focus of many publications and stories, including the novel The Killer Angels and the film Gettysburg.

Chamberlain's position on Little Round Top

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces were recovering from initial defeats and hastily regrouping into defensive positions on a line of hills south of the town. Sensing the momentary vulnerability of the Union forces, the Confederates began an attack against the Union left flank. Sent to defend the southern slope of Little Round Top by Col. Strong Vincent, Chamberlain found himself and the 20th Maine at the far left end of the entire Union line. He quickly understood the strategic significance of the small hill, and the need for the 20th Maine to hold the Union left at all costs. The men from Maine waited until troops from the 15th Alabama Infantry regiment, under Col. William C. Oates, charged up the hill, attempting to flank the Union position. Time and time again the Confederates struck, until the 20th Maine was almost doubled back upon itself. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Col. Chamberlain recognized the dire circumstances and ordered his left wing (which was now looking southeast, compared to the rest of the regiment, which was facing west) to initiate a bayonet charge. From his report of the day: "At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough." While battlefield conditions make it unlikely that many men heard Chamberlain's order, most historians believe he initiated the charge.

The 20th Maine charged down the hill, with the left wing wheeling continually to make the charging line swing like a hinge, thus creating a simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver, capturing 101 of the Confederate soldiers and successfully saving the flank.This version of the battle was popularized by the book, "Killer Angels" and the movie, "Gettysburg" and there is a historical debate on the validity of this account. [7]. Chamberlain sustained two slight wounds in the battle, one when a shot hit his sword scabbard and bruised his thigh, and another when his right foot was hit by a spent bullet or piece of shrapnel. For his tenacity at defending Little Round Top he was known by the sobriquet Lion of the Round Top. Prior to the Battle, Chamberlain was quite ill, developing malaria and dysentery. Later, due to this illness, he was taken off active duty until he recovered.

Siege of Petersburg

In April 1864, Chamberlain returned to the Army of the Potomac and was promoted to brigade commander shortly before the Siege of Petersburg. There, in a major action on June 18, at Rives' Salient, Chamberlain was shot through the right hip and groin. Despite the injury, Chamberlain withdrew his sword and stuck it into the ground in order to keep himself upright to dissuade the growing resolve for retreat. He stood upright for several minutes until he collapsed and lay unconscious from loss of blood. The wound was considered mortal by the division's surgeon, who predicted he would perish; Chamberlain's incorrectly recorded death in battle was reported in the Maine newspapers, and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant gave Chamberlain a battlefield promotion to the rank of brigadier general after receiving an urgent recommendation on June 19 from corps commander Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren: "He has been recommended for promotion for gallant and efficient conduct on previous occasion and yesterday led his brigade against the enemy under most destructive fire. He expresses the wish that he may receive the recognition of his services by promotion before he dies for the gratification of his family and friends."[8] Not expected to live, Chamberlain displayed surprising will and courage, and with the support of his brother Tom, was back in command by November. Although many, including his wife Fanny, urged Chamberlain to resign, he was determined to serve through the end of the war.

In early 1865, Chamberlain was given command of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of V Corps, and he continued to act with courage and resolve. On March 29, 1865, his brigade participated in a major skirmish on the Quaker Road during Grant's final advance that would finish the war. Despite losses, another wound (in the left arm and chest), and nearly being captured, Chamberlain was successful and brevetted to the rank of major general by President Abraham Lincoln.

In all, Chamberlain served in 20 battles and numerous skirmishes, was cited for bravery four times, had six horses shot from under him, and was wounded six times.


On the morning of April 9, 1865, Chamberlain learned of the desire by Lee to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia when a Confederate staff officer approached him under a flag of truce. "Sir," he reported to Chamberlain, "I am from General Gordon. General Lee desires a cessation of hostilities until he can hear from General Grant as to the proposed surrender."[9] The next day, Chamberlain was summoned to Union headquarters where Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin informed him that he had been selected to preside over the parade of the Confederate infantry as part of their formal surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 12.[10]

Thus Chamberlain was responsible for one of the most poignant scenes of the Civil War. As the Confederate soldiers marched down the road to surrender their arms and colors, Chamberlain, on his own initiative, ordered his men to come to attention and "carry arms" as a show of respect. Chamberlain described what happened next:

Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the 'carry.' All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor a word nor motion of man, but awful stillness as if it were the passing of the dead.[11]

Chamberlain's salute to the Confederate soldiers was unpopular with many in the North, but he defended his action in his memoirs, The Passing of the Armies. Many years later, Gordon, in his own memoirs, called Chamberlain "one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army." Gordon never mentioned the anecdote until after he read Chamberlain's account, more than 40 years later.[12]

Post-war career

Chamberlain memorial in Brewer, Maine

Chamberlain left the army soon after the war ended, going back to his home state of Maine. Due to his immense popularity he served as Governor of Maine for four one-year terms after he won election as a Republican. His victory in 1866 set the record for the most votes and the highest percentage for any Maine governor by that time. He would break his own record in 1868. During his time in office he was attacked by those angered by his support for capital punishment and by his refusal to create a special police force to enforce the prohibition of alcohol.

1866 Maine Governor Election
Party Candidate Votes Percentage
Republican Joshua Chamberlain 69,637 62.4%
Democratic Eben F. Pillsbury 41,947 37.6%
1867 Maine Governor Election
Party Candidate Votes Percentage
Republican Joshua Chamberlain 57,322 55.5%
Democratic Eben F. Pillsbury 45,990 44.5%
1868 Maine Governor Election
Party Candidate Votes Percentage
Republican Joshua Chamberlain 75,523 72.1%
Democratic Eben F. Pillsbury 29,264 27.9%
1869 Maine Governor Election
Party Candidate Votes Percentage
Republican Joshua Chamberlain 54,314 55.4%
Democratic Franklin Smith 39,033 39.8%
Prohibition N.G. Hitchborn 4,736 4.8%

After leaving political office, he returned to Bowdoin College. In 1871, he was appointed president of Bowdoin and remained in that position until 1883, when he was forced to resign due to ill health from his war wounds. He also served as an ex-officio trustee of nearby Bates College from 1867 to 1871.

In January 1880, there was a dispute about who was the newly elected governor of Maine, and the Maine State House was occupied by a band of armed men. The outgoing governor, Alonzo Garcelon, summoned Chamberlain, the commander of the Maine Militia, to take charge. Chamberlain sent home the armed men, and arranged for the Augusta police to keep control. He stayed in the State House most of the twelve-day period until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's decision on the election results was known. During this time, there were threats of assassination and kidnapping, and on one occasion he went outside to face down a crowd of 25-30 men intending to kill him, and both sides offered bribes to appoint him a United States senator. Having gratified neither side in the dispute, he did not become a senator, and his career in state politics ended.

Chamberlain served as Surveyor of the Port of Portland, Maine, a federal appointment, and engaged in business activities, including real estate dealings in Florida and a college of art in New York, as well as hotels and railroads. He also wrote several books about Maine, education, and his Civil War memoir, The Passing of the Armies. From the time of his serious wound in 1864 until his death, he was forced to wear an early form of a catheter with a bag and underwent six operations to try to correct the original wound and stop the fevers and infections that plagued him, without success.

In 1893, 30 years after the battle that made the 20th Maine famous, Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. The citation commends him for his "Daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top."

Beginning with his first election as governor of Maine, continuing to the end of his life, even as he suffered continual pain and discomfort from his wounds of 1864, Chamberlain was active in the Grand Army of the Republic and made many return visits to Gettysburg, giving speeches at soldiers' reunions.

Chamberlain photographed later in life in Portland, Maine, wearing uniform and his medals

In 1898 at the age of 70, still in pain from his wounds, he volunteered for duty as an officer in the Spanish-American War. Rejected for duty, he called it one of the major disappointments of his life.

As in many other Civil War actions, controversy arose when one of his subordinate officers stated that Chamberlain never actually ordered a charge at Gettysburg. The claim never seriously affected Chamberlain's fame or notoriety, however. In May 1913, he made his last known visit to Gettysburg while involved in planning the 50th anniversary reunion. Due to deteriorating health, he was unable to attend the reunion two months later.

Chamberlain became a founding member of the Maine Institution for the Blind, in Portland, now called The Iris Network. Chamberlain's wife herself was visually impaired, and he served on the first Board of Directors for the Agency.

Chamberlain died of his lingering wartime wounds in 1914 at Portland, Maine, age 85, and is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Brunswick, Maine.[1] Beside him as he died was Dr. Abner Shaw of Portland, one of the two surgeons who had operated on him in Petersburg 50 years previously. He was the last Civil War veteran to die as a result of wounds from the war.[13] A full study of his medical history strongly suggests that it was complications from the wound suffered at Petersburg that resulted in his death.[14]

His home, located across Maine Street from the Bowdoin College campus, is now the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum and is owned by the Pejepscot Historical Society, which also maintains an extensive research collection on Chamberlain. Memorabilia on display include the minié ball that almost ended his life at Petersburg and Don Troiani's original painting of the charge at Little Round Top. Tours of the home are conducted by knowledgeable volunteer docents from late May until mid-October.

Command history

  • Lieutenant Colonel (second in command), 20th Maine (August 8, 1862)
  • Colonel, commanding 20th Maine (May 20, 1863)
  • Commanding 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps (August 26 – November 19, 1863)
  • Commanding 1st Brigade (June 6–18, 1864)
  • Brigadier General of Volunteers (June 18, 1864)
  • Commanding 1st Brigade (November 19, 1864 – January 5, 1865)
  • Commanding 1st Brigade (February 27 – April 11, 1865)
  • Brevet Major General of Volunteers (March 29, 1865)
  • Commanding 1st Division (April 20 – June 28, 1865)
  • Commanding 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, Wright's Provisional Corps, Middle Department (June 28 – July, 1865)
  • Mustered out of volunteer service (January 15, 1866)[1]

In popular media

Chamberlain is a key character in Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel about Gettysburg, The Killer Angels, and the movie based on that novel, Gettysburg (in which Chamberlain was played by actor Jeff Daniels, who repeated that role in the Gods and Generals prequel).

Tom Eishen's historical novel Courage on Little Round Top is a detailed look at Chamberlain as well as Robert Wicker, the young Confederate officer who fired his pistol at Chamberlain's head during the 20th Maine's historic charge down Little Round Top.

Ken Burns's 1990 nine-part PBS film The Civil War featured Chamberlain prominently.

Steve Earle's song Dixieland from his album The Mountain refers to Chamberlain and the Battle of Gettysburg:

I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine and I fight for Chamberlain

'Cause he stood right with us when the Johnnies came like a banshee on the wind
When the smoke cleared out of Gettysburg, many a mother wept
For many a good boy died there, sure, and the air smelled just like death
I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine and I'd march to hell and back again

For Colonel Joshua Chamberlain—we're all goin' down to Dixieland

Although his name is never said, Chamberlain's actions during the Battle of Gettysburg are popularized in the song Hold at All Costs featured on the CD The Glorious Burden by the band Iced Earth, in which singer Tim Owens takes the role of Chamberlain at the battle on Little Round Top.

Shipyard Brewing Company named a pale ale after Chamberlain, and decorated the label with his profile.

In the book The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews, Chamberlain is the main character in one of the chapters, giving a brief lesson on his history.

In the second of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series (The Sea of Monsters), Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is mentioned by the centaur Chiron as single-handedly changing the course of the American Civil War.

The book "The Lost Regiment" and the subsequent series by author William R. Forstchen chronicle the adventures of the "35th Maine", a Union regiment from Maine having been transported to an alien planet. The regiment was based on the 20th Maine, with the main character and commander of the regiment, Andrew Lawrence Keane, also being a college professor.[citation needed]

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Colonel, 20th Maine Infantry. Place and date: At Gettysburg, Pa., July 2, 1863. Entered service at: Brunswick, Maine. Born: September 8, 1828, Brewer Maine. Date of issue: August 11, 1893.


Daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Eicher, pp. 168-69.
  2. ^ Chamberlain, Joshua L. The Grand Old Man of Maine: Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865-1914 (2004). Jeremiah Goulka, ed. UNC Press Books. p. 31. ISBN 0-8078-2864-5. Google Books. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  3. ^ Trulock, p. 26.
  4. ^ Chase, p. 63.
  5. ^ As cited in: Thomas A. Desjardin, Joshua L. Chamberlain, Greystone Communication, 1999, p. 22.
  6. ^ Desjardin, pp. 4-5.
  7. ^ Desjardin, Thomas (2009). Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-538231-0. 
  8. ^ Pullen, pp. 12-13.
  9. ^ Longacre, p. 243.
  10. ^ Desjardins, p. 118, states that General Grant personally selected Chamberlain from all of the officers in the army. Marvel, pp. 259-60, attributes the Grant story to Chamberlain's memory in the "dim, distant light of old age." Longacre, pp. 244-47, does not connect General Grant directly to the choice of Chamberlain, and further states that "By the turn of the 20th century, after Chamberlain had commemorated the surrender parade in numerous speeches and publications, some of the Union participants would quarrel with his presentation of events. They would charge him with making it appear that his brigade alone took part in the ceremony, ignoring other elements of the Fifth Corps also present for Gordon's surrender as well as to receive the surrender of General Longstreet's corps that same afternoon. These critics would also charge Chamberlain with implying that he had received arms and flags throughout morning and afternoon instead of during only a portion of the day as evidence suggested. Other veterans would claim that General Bartlett, not Chamberlain, had been Grant's choice to preside at the parade and that Chamberlain took over only because his superior was summoned elsewhere at the last minute. Critics of a later day would even deny that Chamberlain and Gordon had exchanged salutes of honor."
  11. ^ Chamberlain, p. 196.
  12. ^ Marvel, p. 261.
  13. ^ Patrick, Bethanne Kelly. Maj. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain
  14. ^ Schmidt, Jim. "The Medical Department: A Thorn in the Lion of the Union", Civil War News, October 2000.


  • "Civil War (A-L); Chamberlain, Joshua entry". Medal of Honor recipients. United States Army Center of Military History. August 6, 2009. Retrieved July 13, 2010. 
  • Chamberlain, Joshua L. (1992). The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based upon Personal Reminiscences of the Fifth Army Corps. Bantam. ISBN 978-0553299922. 
  • Chase, Henry (1893). Representative Men of Maine. Portland, Maine: The Lakeside Press. 
  • Desjardin, Thomas A. (1995). Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign. Thomas Publications. ISBN 1-57747-034-6. 
  • Eicher, John H.; David J. Eicher (2001). Civil War High Commands. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3. 
  • Eishen, Thomas (2004). Courage on Little Round Top. Skyward Publishing. ISBN 1-881554-38-4. 
  • Levinsky, Allan M. (2006). "Chamberlain's Stand Against Political Upheaval: His second Little Round Top". Discover Maine: Maine's History Magazine 3: 18–21. 
  • Longacre, Edward G. (1999). Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man. Combined Publishing. ISBN 978-0306813122. 
  • Marvel, William (2000). A Place Called Appomattox. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807825686. 
  • Nesbitt, Mark (1996). Through Blood & Fire: Selected Civil War Papers of Major General Joshua Chamberlain. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-1750-X. 
  • Pullen, John J. (1999). Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero's Life and Legacy. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0811708869. 
  • Trulock, Alice Rains (2001). In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the American Civil War. University of North Carolina Press. 
  • Wallace, Willard M. (1991). Soul of the Lion: A Biography of General Joshua L. Chamberlain. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Stan Clark Military Books. ISBN 1-879664-00-3. 

Further reading

  • Lemke, William (1997). A Pride of Lions: Joshua Chamberlain & Other Maine Civil War Heroes. Covered Bridge Press. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Cony
Governor of Maine
Succeeded by
Sidney Perham
Academic offices
Preceded by
Samuel Harris
President of Bowdoin College
Succeeded by
William DeWitt Hyde

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