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About Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain
Brigadier General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Civil War hero, Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin college, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at Gettysburg:
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain actually saved the day if not the battle. He almost single handedly repelled J. B. Hood's division first, then McLaws, brigades of Anderson's division of the Third Corps under Generals Wilcox, Perry, Wright and Posey. The fighting was desperate. His brigade under his direction kept the Confederates from turning the flank of the Union Army and rolling them up.
- Maine (Cumberland County), Brunswick - Home of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - 1828 - 1914
- Major General of United States Volunteers
- Recipient of Congressional Medal of Honor for gallant conduct at Battle of Gettysburg
- Governor of Maine 1867 - 1871
- President of Bowdoin College 1871 - 1888
- Marked by State of Maine Society Daughters of the American Revolution 1934
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (September 8, 1828 – February 24, 1914, born Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain) 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 received 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 of, and as president of, his alma mater, Bowdoin College.
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.
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."
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 many of the Confederate soldiers and successfully saving the flank. Chamberlain sustained two slight wounds in the battle, one when a shot hit his sword scabbard and bruised his thigh, and another when his 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. Later in 1863, he developed malaria and was taken off active duty until he recovered.
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 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." 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." 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, 1865.
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."
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."
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 received 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."
Died from wounds received during the Civil War. February 24, 1914 (85)