Brevet Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Justin Ma
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Early Life

Bowdoin College

Born Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine on September 8, 1828. As the eldest child of Joshua and Sarah Chamberlain, he was a gifted student and enrolled in Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1842 after teaching himself Greek as to be accepted. Here he became acquainted with the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the wife of one of his professors, who would often read passages of what would later become Uncle Tom's Cabin. After he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1852, he continued his studies at Bangor Theological Seminary for the next three years. Following this he once again returned to Bowdoin but this time to teach, and taught as a professor of rhetoric, teaching every subject except for Math and Science.

Civil War

When the Civil War began, Chamberlain, who's ancestors had fought in the American Revolution and War of 1812, immediately enlisted. The Bowdoin administration, however, prevented him from leaving stating that he was too valuable to lose. But thankfully for the Union, Chamberlain still joined the army, but this time, in 1862, he requested a leave of absence to study languages in Europe and was granted it, and volunteered his services to the governor of Maine. He was offered command of the 20th infantry of Maine, but he stated that he first wished to learn the trade, and became the regiment's lieutenant colonel. Here he served under Colonel Adelbert Ames, with which he served did not see action at Antietam.

Battle of Fredericksburg

At the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 20th Maine saw its first action as a part of the attack on Marye's Heights. Here they suffered light casualties, but nonetheless, Chamberlain and his fellow regiment were forced to spend the night on the cold battlefield along with the many wounded soldiers of other regiments, using corpses for protection against enemy fire and even as pillows and shelter, all the while listening to bullets zip into the corpses.

Battle of Chancellorsville

The regiment missed all action at the Battle of Chancellorsville due to a smallpox outbreak among their ranks, and instead were put at guard duty in the rear. Following the promotion of Ames to Brigadier General of the XI Corps, Chamberlain became commander of the 20th Maine.

Battle of Gettysburg

Bayonet Charge of the 20th Maine at the Battle of Little Round Top, Gettysburg

On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine entered Gettysburg. They were assigned to hold Little Round Top on the far left of the Union line's flank, a small hill that served as a huge strategic advantage to whoever held it. Here the largely outnumbered 20th Maine repeatedly beat back numerous charges from the 15th Alabama. But due to their lack of numbers, the regiment was soon running low on ammunition, and Chamberlain orchestrated a little known textbook maneuver, and led a bayonet charge against the enemy

After Gettysburg, Chamberlain developed Malaria, and was suspended from duty. Chamberlain returned to the Army of the Potomac in April, 1864, and on May 1864, Chamberlain was promoted to brigade command just before the Siege of Petersburg.. Considering the circumstances of the battle, it is unlikely that any troops directly heard his order, but it is believed that Chamberlain originally initiated the charge and the rest of the regiment followed. They routed and captured many Confederates of the 15th Alabama. His actions at Little Round Top earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, and gained fame and glory for the 20th Maine.

Siege of Petersburg

On June 18, 1864 at the Siege of Petersburg, Chamberlain was shot through the right hip and groin. He proceeded to support himself on his sword, encouraging his men on before collapsing. It was believed that Chamberlain would succumb to his wounds and die, leading Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to promote him to Brigadier General as a final act. In the following weeks Chamberlain did survive, and managed to, incredibly, recover from his wounds, and on November of 1864 he returned to duty and served through the rest of the war.
On March 29, 1865, Chamberlain led the Union forces in the attack at the Battle of Lewis' Farm outside of Petersburg. Here he was wounded once again for the fourth time, and was brevetted to Major General for his bravery.

Appomattox - Southern Surrender

Chamberlain was informed of the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865, when a Confederate officer approached him under a flag of truce. He was selected to receive the Confederate forces in their surrender, and on April 12, the date of their official and formal surrender at the Appomattox Court House, he presided over the ceremony of the surrender. Here he ordered his men to attention and to carry arms in salute to the opposing forces as a sign of respect towards the defeated foe. The enemy commander, General Gordon, saluted back and showed the same respect, as Chamberlain would later describe, "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." Gordon would later, in one of his memoirs, call Chamberlain, "one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army."
Although Chamberlain's salute was widely unpopular, he would later justify and defend his actions in his own memoirs, The Passing of the Armies, his account of his part in the Appomattox Campaign which would later be published after his death.

Post-Civil War Career

After his services in the Civil War, Chamberlain returned home to Maine and served as the governor of Maine for four years after four consecutive re-elections. In 1871, he stepped down as governor and was appointed president of Bowdoin College. In his twelve years as president of Bowdoin, he revolutionized the curriculum and updated the facilities as a whole, overall serving as an excellent president and highly pushing the University in a positive direction. However, in 1883 he was forced to retire due to aggravation of his near-fatal war wounds he had received in the Civil War. He did, nonetheless, remain active in public and in the Grand Army of the Republic, and also in planning events for veterans. In 1897, he volunteered his services for the Spanish American War, but he was declined and was bitterly disappointed. On February 24, 1914, the "Lion of Little Round Top" passed away at age 85 in Portland, Maine. His death was largely in partto his past numerous war wounds, making him the last Civil War veteran to succumb and eventually die of battle wounds.
Statue of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, war hero and president of Bowdoin College in Brewer, Maine

Personal Life

In 1855, Chamberlain married Fanny Adams, the daughter of a local Clergyman. Together they had five kids, but unfortunately three were to die in infancy. However, Fanny's sight worsened as her age increased, leading Chamberlain to become a founding member of the Maine Institution of the Blind in 1905, the same year of her death. Fanny Adams died in 1905, aged 80.

Works Cited

"Battle for Little Round Top." Paths of History Art Publisher - Featuring The Art of Ron Lesser. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

Bryan. "The Benevolent Order of Mustachioed Men - Mustache of All Years." Blogspot, 31 Dec. 2009. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

Fink, David. "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain." Yahoo!, 21 June 2008. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Joshua L. Chamberlain." Military History. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

"Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain." Civil War Trust. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

McBride, David. "THE DEN OF THE LION." American Public House Review. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.

Sifakis, Stewart. "Who Was Who In The Civil War - Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain." Civil War Biographies. Web. 30 May 2012. <>.