Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain
Hero at Little Round Top Demonstrated Gallantry at Appomattox, Too
Bethanne Kelly Patrick
of Chamberlain in uniform. (National Archives)
Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is best known for his leadership
in a victory and his gallantry at a surrender. Theologian, academician,
tactician, and politician, Chamberlain's Yankee ethics and Congregationalist
morals led a contemporary to say, "He had the heart of a woman
and the soul of a lion."
one expected the 33-year-old Bowdoin professor and family man to
go to war. His father had wanted him to attend West Point, but he
went to theological college instead at his religious mother's behest.
Yet in 1862, Chamberlain volunteered his services to the governor
of Maine and immediately was offered a colonelcy. He declined, saying
he wished to "start a little lower and learn the business first."
was soon promoted from light colonel, and his leadership was soon
tested. On July 2, 1863, Chamberlain commanded the 20th Maine's
Infantry Volunteer Corps as they faced the 15th and 47th Alabama
Infantry at Gettysburg's Little Round Top. The 20th was only a little
over 300 strong and greatly outnumbered by the Confederates, but
Chamberlain led his men in a ferocious assault that saved the Army
of the Potomac from a potentially devastating flank attack.
principles were tested when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant chose Chamberlain
to receive the formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia's
arms and colors at Appomattox on April 12, 1865. The Confederates,
under the command of Gen. John B. Gordon, began to stack arms, as
was the custom in ceremonies of surrender. Chamberlain ordered his
men to "carry arms" as a show of respect to their defeated
foes. So impressed was Gordon that he had his troops return the
salute. Many Union supporters were shocked by what they saw as a
display of admiration for the enemy. Chamberlain, ever the gentleman,
explained that he saluted not the cause, but the men.
the Battle of Petersburg, Chamberlain was shot through the hip.
His injury was so terrible that Grant gave him a brevet promotion
to brigadier general, fearing Chamberlain would not live through
the night. A doctor at the scene predicted Chamberlain would die
of this wound -- and he was correct in his diagnosis, if not his
lived 50 more years, his career and life encompassing four terms
as governor of Maine and a famously devoted relationship with his
wife Frances. In 1893, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his
actions at Little Round Top. His old wound became infected in 1914,
and on Feb. 24, at age 85, Joshua Chamberlain, the very model of
a citizen soldier, died. He was the last Civil War veteran to die
of wounds sustained in battle.