1864: “Lying Mortally Wounded The Doctors Think”

[June 19, 1864]

My darling wife

I am lying mortally wounded the doctors think, but my mind & heart are at peace[.] Jesus Christ is my all-sufficient savior. I go to him. God bless & keep & comfort you, precious one, you have been a precious wife to me. To know & love you makes life & death beautiful. Cherish the darlings & give my love to all the dear ones[.] Do not grieve too much for me. We shall all soon meet Live for the children Give my dearest love to father, mother & Sallie & John[.] Oh how happy to feel yourself forgiven

Continue reading

1863: “The 2nd Maine Started For Home This Morning”

Camp near Falmouth, Va.

May 18, 1863

Dear Sister,

I received your letter from Bangor last night. I am sorry that you have been worrying about my going into battle, for I did not go as near as I wanted to, but I was where I could see some of it. We came in from picket yesterday. One of the Regts of our Brigade – the 17th N.Y. – went home this morning. We marched to the depot to see them off. Continue reading

Chamberlain’s Charlemagne

the-generals-horsesYou did not want to be General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain‘s horse… The job application really should’ve included something like “extreme hazardous conditions; great risk to life and limb.” As the story goes, six horses were shot while Chamberlain was riding them. A bad luck rider?

Chamberlain’s horse toward the end of the American Civil War was Charlemagne. Really for all the things this amazing horse did, he ought to be in more paintings and sculptures. Continue reading

The Last Salute To The Army of Northern Virginia

General Lee signed the surrender document for the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. (You can find that story here). However, on April 12, 1865, the Confederate soldiers formally laid down their weapons under the watchful eyes of victorious Union soldiers.

It was a tense moment. It was awkward for the Union soldiers to watch; in their hearts, many of them had come to respect their enemies’ courage. It was heartbreaking moment for the Confederates; some units simply disbanded and did not appear at the ceremony, but most came. In some units, there were less than a hundred soldiers when years before there had been thousands. It was a moment when both sides felt the loss of war.

The Union general presiding over the surrender was General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The event made a solemn impression on him and wrote several accounts of the day in later years. He gave an order during the ceremony which set the tone for reconciliation.

Rather than write a long article, I thought I’d share a piece of poetry I drafted about six years ago about the surrender ceremony. (Poetry by Sarah Kay Bierle, 2009, All Rights Reserved.)

The Last Salute

The field is silent and still,

The days of war are past;

The Confederates break camp on the hill,

The day of surrender is here at last.


Silently the victors wait,

Waiting for the formalities of the day.

No longer is there any hate,

No longer do any want to slay.

The gray column moves out,

Toward the open field,

Slowly they come, though they would rather turn about,

Instead of their weapons and flags to yield.

General Gordon rides along,

His head bent down.

The words he hears are like a joyful song;

“Salute them!” is the order which sounds.


Salute them as brothers,

Salute them as brave men;

Salute those slain 258,000 others,

Salute them for more than can be told with pen.


They expect humiliation and receive honor instead,

And Gordon returns the salute.

Not another word is said;

They lay down their guns, never again to shoot.


The flags they gently fold,

Never more shall they wave in the sky.

The sorrow of some is hard to be told.

Never more shall they the Union defy.


Salute them as long lost brothers,

Salute them as new friends!

Salute them and forget the bitterness of others.

Salute them; this is the war’s long-awaited end!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. General Chamberlain received some slight criticism for his order to have Union troops salute the surrendering Confederates. Do you think his order was beneficial? If so, why? If not, what should he have done and why?

Rive’s Salient: Chamberlain’s Leadership

Many people have read or heard of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s actions at Gettysburg. Glorified in the movie Gettysburg, the current myth about this legendary man is that he single-handedly saved the Union on Little Round Top. His leadership played a crucial role, but it is an exaggeration to claim that he alone saved the Union. Chamberlain wouldn’t have supported such a statement; in his writings he constantly gives credit to the men under his command or comrade regiments. (You can read this blog’s biography of Chamberlain here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

His role at Gettysburg is well-known and some have acknowledged his courage in the final campaign and his graciousness at Appomattox. However, the Charge at Rive’s Salient on June 20, 1864, during the Battle of Petersburg is Chamberlain’s ultimate moment of leadership.  Here is the story of the fateful day:

This photo was taken in 2008 at Petersburg National Battlefield at Battery #5.  NOTE: This not Rive's Salient.  This picture is included simply to show Petersburg Battlefield as it appears today.

This photo was taken in 2008 at Petersburg National Battlefield at Battery #5. NOTE: This not Rive’s Salient. This picture is included simply to show Petersburg Battlefield as it appears today.

In front of his Union brigade lay an open field leading toward a well-fortified salient of earthworks and cannon held by Confederate troops. Orders came from General Grant’s headquarters to attack this position. Chamberlain was no stranger to frontal assaults. He had co-led one at Fredericksburg with disastrous results, he had fended them off at Gettysburg, and he had watched numerous charges in the last weeks of the Overland Campaign. He sent a letter back to headquarters, respectfully stating his opinion that this charge wasn’t going to work. The answer from Grant: do it anyway.

He could’ve made an excuse and stayed behind like other officers – he’d been ill in the spring, the campaign had been tiring . But Chamberlain’s leadership standard was “come on” – not “go on.” With full knowledge of looming failure and that he would be in constant danger, he prepared to lead the attack. Not only would he lead, he would ride into the deadly storm on a tall horse, which would make him a conspicuous target.

After some initial preparation and cannonade, the brigade moved to the attack. Chamberlain’s horse was shot; he continued on foot in front of his command. The flag faltered as the flag bearer was killed. Chamberlain seized the banner and marched on, sword drawn. The earth exploded around them. Men were falling. He knew this would be what would happen, but he marched forward.

This photo gives an idea of seeing trenches and cannon from an attacker's position.  (Photo taken by Miss Sarah at the 2013 Tom's Farm's Civil War Re-enactment)

This photo gives an idea of seeing trenches and cannon from an attacker’s position. (Photo taken by Miss Sarah at the 2013 Tom’s Farm’s Civil War Re-enactment)

As they neared the Confederate position, Chamberlain realized that they would be marching through a bog, which would slow the attacking speed. He halted, half-turned toward his men and motioned them to go on either side of the boggy ground. As he gave the directions that might secure more safety for his troops, Chamberlain was shot. The troops were still advancing and he determined that they would not see him fall. Handing off the flag, he used his sword as a prop, leaning on it, until the last soldier had gone past him. There was nothing more that he could do; the pain and loss of blood soon brought him to the ground where artillery shells tossed dirt on him as he listened to the disaster unfolding for his men. They were repulsed. His aides dragged him out of the danger zone, but left him on the field, unable to move him any farther.

Later, Chamberlain was carried from the field by four stretcher bearers, who deliberately disobeyed his orders to leave him alone and care for the other men. This insistence continued at the field hospital, but the surgeons did not listen. However, the soldiers who were near the operating table when Chamberlain was brought in never forgot his unselfish plea that they be attended before him. The wounded warrior was still exemplifying leadership in a situation where men of lesser character would have been crying for help or screaming for pain relief.

The first surgeon to examine Chamberlain’s wounds pronounced that they were mortal. Basically, a minie ball had entered at his lower right hip and tore upward toward the left hip, causing extensive internal damage, including broken bone and lacerated organs. The medical field was still in its “Dark Ages” during the Civil War and gut wounds were almost always fatal; by the medical standards there was nothing to be done and Chamberlain had no chance of survival.

Thomas Chamberlain, a younger brother, refused to accept a single opinion and found two skilled surgeons who re-examined the colonel and agreed to try surgery. Anesthetic, probably chloroform, was available, but at some point in the crude surgery, Chamberlain was in so much pain that the surgeons were afraid to continue; he insisted that they proceed and they eventually succeeded in somewhat repairing the internal damage.

Within the twenty-four hours after his wounding, Chamberlain scrawled a penciled note to his wife, which must have broken her heart when she received it. He admitted that he was probably mortally wounded but reiterated a statement of faith and the belief that he was going to heaven. He thanked her for her devotion and begged her not to grieve too much for him before closing with a whisper that he would always love her.

He was moved by stretcher and hospital ferry to a base hospital in Maryland. General Grant send a death-bed promotion and the newspapers started printing General Chamberlain’s obituary…too early. With care and motivation from his family, Chamberlain fought for life and eventually recovered. He would return to fight with his soldiers in the final campaign of the war, but for the rest of his life he would suffer complications from the shot at Petersburg.

Why Petersburg and Rive’s Salient as Chamberlain’s finest leadership moment? Because he knew what would happen. He exhibited proper care by asking for a higher military command to reassess the situation. He led the attack with the flare and appropriate charisma of a strong leader and he was so determined to be that example that he managed to stay upright after suffering a shocking wound until every soldier had rushed by him. Unselfishness is a large part of leadership and Chamberlain displayed this quality throughout the trauma and field hospital experience. Love for his family, and especially his wife, comes into the war scene as he grapples with the reality that he is likely dying and he searches for the right words to convey his faith, thanks, and love to the most important woman in his life.  Why Petersburg?  Because there, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain gave the ultimate example of leadership in the vanguard, in the field hospital, and in a scribbled note to his loved ones.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Just my thoughts here in this post.  So what do you think: Gettysburg or Rive’s Salient?  Or another battle?  Share your thoughts in a comment.

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