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Civil War Soldiers - Chamberlain

Chamberlain, Joshua L., major-general, U.S. Army, 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 institution 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 entered 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 regulations, 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 remarkable 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 absence 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 certainly 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 government 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 "forlorn hope" of nine picked regiments to make a night assault on a hitherto impregnable point of the enemy's works. By remarkable judgment and skill he gained the position, but in the morning 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 afterward 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 quickness 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 1, his promptitude and skillful handling of troops received special official mention. 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 Appomattox, 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. Chamberlain 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 efficient 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 writing out his notes on the last campaign of the Army of the Potomac, 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 publication.

Source: The Union Army: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-1865, Volume 8 Biographical, 1908

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