Chamberlain’s “Relaxing” Post-War Life

After the American Civil War concluded, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain returned to his family and home in Maine.  What would he accomplish next – or was it time to sit down and relax?

(If you’ve missed the first and second parts of the Chamberlain biography, I hope you’ll read them.  Next week will be the final Chamberlain post with a true story about leadership).

Relax?  What does that mean?  (I don’t think it was in General Chamberlain’s vocabulary…)  Chamberlain arrived home in the summer of 1865.  Physically battered by numerous wounds, Chamberlain tried to rest and reconnect with his family, but it wasn’t long before he found new positions of leadership and service.

1. Professor (Again)  Chamberlain taught oratory and rhetoric for the 1865-1866 school year at Bowdoin College.  He received several academic honors, but…  Teaching was boring compared to battlefields and the former general started looking something more challenging.

2. Governor of Maine (1867-1871)  Challenging, difficulty, and rewarding are three different ways of describing Chamberlain’s four terms in office.  (Each term was one year, so he was governor for a total of four years, 1867-1871).  As governor, he worked to improve education advancements, economic and transportation opportunities, the criminal justice system, the asylum hospitals, and encouraged European immigration to the state.  He opposed the impeachment charges against President Andrew Johnson and argued that the Maine temperance laws interfered with citizens’ Federal constitutional rights.  Overall, Chamberlain’s method of politics was innovative and for the good of the citizens and state.

Governor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Governor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

3. President of Bowdoin College (1817-1883) In 1871 Chamberlain accepted the position of college president and started a series of educational reforms within the school.  He introduced the idea of treating students like adults (not children, needing  constant control and oversight), expanded the school curriculum to include subjects useful outside of the academic realm, developed the college’s Master of Arts program, and instituted military drill as required training.  Not all the changes were well-received; many students hated the military drill exercises and it was eventually abandoned.  Chamberlain resigned in 1883 because of poor health, but he had brought Bowdoin College into the modern age of education.

4. Public Speaker  Starting in 1867 and continuing to the last years of his life, Chamberlain spoke at many public events.  The events were often patriotic and some of his most often quoted addresses are Dedication of the 20th Maine Monuments at Gettysburg (October 3, 1889), Address to the Veterans of the 16th Maine Volunteers, and Oration on the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1909).

5. Peace Keeper January 5-17, 1880, was a time of intense political tension in the state of Maine.  Political factions produced division and nearly a statewide civil war.  Chamberlain and the militia, at the government’s request, stepped in and defended the standing governor.  Chamberlain was able to convince the mobs to avoid violence.  However, “The Twelve Days” (as this incident is commonly called) exposed Chamberlain to dislike on many political fronts.

6. World Traveler Sent to the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 as a representative of the United States, this trip started Chamberlain’s interest in world-wide travels.  (On the 1878 Paris trip, his family went with him).  During the winter of 1900-1901, he traveled to the Mediterranean region, and particularly enjoyed Italy and Egypt.

7. Businessman  With political opportunities closed by the controversial “Twelve Days”, Chamberlain investigated a new venture: business.  Organized in 1885 Homosassa Company (a land development organization) was Chamberlain’s new project in the state of Florida.  In 1891 he helped to found the Ocala and Silver Springs Railroad which hopefully would bring people to the coastal community.  These businesses were not very successful.  During the 1890’s Chamberlain was the president of other executive companies – railroad, construction, power, banking, tourism, real estate, and bonds.  These companies wanted a well-known “war hero” to be leader and spokesperson for their corporations.

8. President (Again)  In the 1890’s Chamberlain promoted the Institute for Artists and Artisans, which was one of the best art schools in America.  As president of the institute, he encouraged education and art, which would increase the culture of America.

9. Requested Army Commission  When the Spanish-American War started in 1898, Chamberlain requested a field commission in the US Army.  The 70 year old patriot was politely rejected.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in US uniform (Probably during the early 1900's)

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in US uniform (Probably during the early 1900’s)

10. Surveyor of the Port of Portland, Maine On March 20, 1900, US President McKinley appointed Chamberlain to this position.  The job included inspecting and handling anchorage, mooring, and docks for the ships of the harbor and had an annual salary of $4,500.00.  He would keep this position until his death.

11. Family Man It would be wrong to conclude this biography without acknowledging Chamberlain’s family, especially since they were so important to him.  Mrs. Fanny Chamberlain greatly disliked her husband’s role in politics, which, compounded with other factors, strained their marriage; they eventually forgave and forgot the disagreements and lived quite happily until Fanny’s death in 1905.  The two children who lived to adulthood were Grace and Harold.  Harold became a not very successful attorney/businessman. Grace married a businessman named Mr. Allen and had several children; the little ones enjoyed visiting their grandparents.

On January 20, 1914, General Chamberlain died at the age of 86.  Fifty years earlier, doctors in a field hospital told him that within days he would die of battle wounds, or if he survived he would be an invalid for life.  Chamberlain wasn’t a quitter; he recovered, and though plagued with pain and infection for the rest of his life, he found new and challenging ways to serve his community and nation.

I hope that this three part biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has (and will) inspire you to find ways to leave a positive impact in your world.  Patriotism and Self-less service are never “old-fashion”!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Anything on Chamberlain’s list of “relaxing” accomplishments that inspires you?  Leave a comment and tell us!



“Bayonet! Forward” My Civil War Reminiscences by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Soul of the Lion: A Biography of General Joshua L. Chamberlain by Willard M. Wallace

In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock

6 thoughts on “Chamberlain’s “Relaxing” Post-War Life

  1. Nice relaxing retirement plan? Wow, talk about a guy who never stopped serving! Quite amazing that he was so well-rounded and capable of succeeding in so many things. Who would have guessed the the great war hero could be president at an institute for art? Facinating life, or rather, the equivalent of five lives. And yes, I really did learn some things 🙂

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