Joshua Chamberlain's Heroic Participation in the Civil War

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Throughout history, there have been many wars and battles that were fought. These battles were fought by an army and were led by people who became significant today. One of many that served in the military was Joshua Chamberlain, who may not be well known but is one of America’s important roles. Chamberlain became a significant figure in American history due to his studiousness, his desperation to serve his country, and heroic participation in the war.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born on September 8, 1828, in Brewer, Maine. He is the oldest of his four siblings. His parents were Joshua Chamberlain and Sarah Dupree. Chamberlain’s father admired the military and named his son after Captain James Lawrence, who was a naval officer in the War of 1812. His name, however, had more meaning and determination. As a child, his father was very harsh on him while his mother considered him her favorite. Both of his parents had different expectations of him. His mother wanted him to become a minister while his father wanted him to be a soldier. Growing up, he was shy and had a speech disorder that caused him to stutter; however, that didn’t stop him from going to school. Under those circumstances, in 1848, he attended Bowdoin College.

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Chamberlain was very studious and wanted to learn everything. To be able to get accepted into Bowdoin College, he had to take an entrance exam. The exam required him to learn Greek and Latin, which wasn’t a problem for him. While attending Bowdoin, he met and was taught by a professor named Calvin Stowe, who was a biblical educator that wanted to spread public education across the country. During his years in college, Chamberlain still had much difficulty with his speech; however, he overcame his disorder and encouraged himself through his religiousness. Four years later, he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1852. After Chamberlain had graduated from Bowdoin, he attended a graduate school of religion, called Bangor Theological Seminary. He gave all his attention to reading theology and church history. He attended the Seminary for a total of three years. After attending Bangor Theological Seminary, Chamberlain returned to Bowdoin because he was offered a job to be a professor of languages and rhetoric. He taught modern language and rhetoric for many years. He was also very fluent in multiple languages including Greek, Latin, Spanish, German and more.

At the end of 1855, he married his wife, Frances Caroline Adams, and had five children together. Unfortunately, one of his children died as a premature and two died during infancy. Frances Caroline Adams, or Fanny, met Chamberlain at Bowdoin College and had much difficulty because she wasn’t interested in him at first, but they made it work. After getting married, they found themselves having different opinions and had lots of arguments. Frances at one point filed for divorce and stated that Chamberlain was abusive; however, he said that it wasn’t true and that she was just making up things. Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but they did not divorce and lived together until she died in 1905.

By 1961, Chamberlain’s life was considered comfortable. He had a good job, a wife and his lovely children. He also enjoyed doing his job at Bowdoin. However, several years later, there was an outbreak of war, which made Chamberlain have more desire and the urge to serve his country and follow his father’s dream of him serving in the military. Chamberlain had told Bowdoin College that he wanted to join the army; however, his wife and the college opposed his decision. His wife wanted him to stay home and live with her and their children. She wasn’t supportive of him going into the military because she thought the war had nothing to do with him. Consequently, he left his job as a professor and volunteered to do his services and joined the military without any knowledge about military tactics.

In 1862, a war had started due to uncompromising conflicts over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery. This war was called the American Civil War. During the Civil War, Chamberlain was given a leave of absence to go to Europe and study language for two years. Instead, he enlisted into the military and was offered by the governor of Maine to become the Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine regiment. Chamberlain had told the governor, “I have always been interested in military matters and what I do not know in that line I am willing to learn”, as stated in the article (Joshua). He became second-in-command and studied under his commander Colonel Adelbert Ames, who had just graduated from Westpoint in 1861. Ames was commissioned into the artillery and was sent to fight in the war immediately. Although Ames was young and new to the army, he was very knowledgeable and stern with his discipline. He turned the men in the 20th Maine into soldiers. Chamberlain got to learn the intricacies of being a military commander and studied military tactics through books and his commander Ames. The first battle that the regiment and Chamberlain participated in was the Battle of Fredericksburg which was the Unions failed attack on Marye’s Heights. This battle is remembered today as the most catastrophic Union defeat that caused thousands of lives. Although this battle had lots of casualties, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine managed to escape without injury. Even though they maneuvered their way out, Chamberlain and his regiment were still pinned down by the Confederate continuous shooting. Nevertheless, the Battle of Fredericksburg was just the beginning and it helped Chamberlain and the 20th Maine regiment learned something new about fighting in the battle.

The next battle was the Battle of Chancellorsville. Chamberlain and his regiment were not involved in the battle due to smallpox. Instead, they were quarantined and was assigned to guard duty to keep them away from everyone else. This battle was the Confederate’s second victory; however, they had one major loss and that was Stonewall Jackson due to an accidental shot from his own men. The losses at Chancellorsville made Colonel Ames increase more troops and left Chamberlain in charge of the regiment. Furthermore, Ames was promoted and got assigned to the XI Corps and Chamberlain was promoted to the 20th Maine’s colonel. Therefore, in 1863, Chamberlain was responsible to fight in the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the major battles in the Civil War. This battle was considered the turning point of the war and was the battle that earned Chamberlain fame. The morning of the battle, General Sickles was supposed to be in charge of the left flank at the high ground; however, he wanted a different area and left the Little Round Top exposed. For this reason, the Union needed a different group of troops to be positioned on the hill, so Vincent’s brigade, which included the 20th Maine, took the position. After Robert E. Lee’s, a confederate commander, great victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, he had planned to invade the North and forced an end to war, but he failed due to Chamberlain’s regiment and other troop’s flank. In the afternoon, Chamberlain was posted and ready to face the Confederate’s attack at Little Round Top; however, they were charged at multiple times. He had lost a lot of soldiers and ammunition, so he had to extend his line and make it longer. After repulsive and repeated assaults, the regiment executed a bayonet charge and dislodged their attackers down the hill. Eventually, the 20th Maine finished sweeping the rebels off the field and the Union was secured. The Battle of Gettysburg took three days until it ended with Chamberlain’s successful plan. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain took some time off due to his illness and needed to recover from the battle before moving onto the next one. Chamberlain had also received a medal of honor due to his extraordinary heroic tactics serving on the Little Round Top, in 1893.

Shortly after his time off, Chamberlain returned, in 1864, and was assigned to be in command of the Fifth Corps, which is a Union Army of the Potomac. Soon after, the next battle that Chamberlain commanded in was the Battle of Petersburg. It was also known as the Siege of Petersburg, which is where there was a series of battles around the city. Petersburg was a crucial supply area for the Confederate army. There were raids and battles fought in an attempt to cut off the railroad. This battle ended with the abandonment of the Confederate capital at Richmond (Hawks). Throughout this battle, Chamberlain was wounded multiple times; however, he never gave up and kept on fighting. One of his wounds, a shot through his hip, landed him a promotion to Brigadier General. The General US Grant gave him the promotion thinking he was going to die due to the damage from the shot. However, he survived and was sent to Washington to recuperate.

His wife had gone to him to help with his recovery and tried to convince him to leave the military, but Chamberlain disagreed and still wanted to serve. With his promotion, he played an essential role in the campaign against the Confederates. At the beginning of the Campaign, there was another battle that was fought. It was the Battle of White Oak Road, which was fought at the end of March in 1865. He, once again, got wounded and almost lost his arm, but he kept on going. During this time, he also got promoted to Brevet Major General in honor of his efforts in the battles. On April 9th, the Confederates surrendered and a few days later they formally surrendered by stacking arms in front of Chamberlain and his troops. Chamberlain told his troops to salute the Confederates for their surrender, as the defeated army, and respect them. Eventually, the war ended and everyone got the chance to return home.

When the war ended, Chamberlain had finished as a brevet major general. Throughout his years in the military, he got the chance to fight in twenty battles and got cited for bravery four times. While fighting in the battles, he was wounded in a total of six times. He was shot in his hip, foot, arm and other parts of his body. Some of the wounds could have cost him his life; however, he was able to survive those battle wounds. As the war was ending, he was offered a spot in the regular army, but he didn’t accept the offer and decided it was time for him to go home. Despite wanting to be in the military, Chamberlain wanted a break from fighting and be with his family.

After the war, he returned to Maine and became an attractive political candidate in his state. He also became a Republican and ran for governor of Maine in 1866. His wife; however, did not want him in politics and refused to live with him in Augusta. Due to Chamberlain's intelligence and knowledge, he became the governor for four terms. In addition, he also became the president of Bowdoin College, alongside Oliver Otis Howard who was a former general and Bowdoin alum. As the president, he wanted his students to study military tactics and participate in military drills, but the staff and students disagreed with the idea. In 1883, he resigned from being president due to his health. However, his original intention was to become a US Senator. Chamberlain wanted to be elected by the Maine legislature to run for the Senate and got his hopes up because they didn’t choose him. After resignation, he tried to build his fortune by investing in railroads and moved to New York City to try and establish a law practice. In addition, he also served as the Surveyor of the Port of Portland up in Maine. By 1898, there was the Spanish-American War, which Chamberlain volunteered to serve in the United States Army, but his physical condition did not allow him to fight. As a result, he got rejected from doing his service while other Civil War veterans got accepted.

Some of the veterans that were going to fight in the Spanish-American War were Confederate commanders in the Civil War. One of the commanders was William C. Oates, who was the person that Chamberlain defeated in the Battle of Gettysburg. This made Chamberlain angry and had a conflict with Oates because he got accepted into the United States Army while Chamberlain got rejected. Later on, there was a Gettysburg monument commission that was in charge of approving or rejecting proposed monuments for the Gettysburg battlefield. However, there were lots of disagreements, so Oates asked Chamberlain for help to talk to the commission for permission to place the monument. Although they got the authorization, Oates and Chamberlain couldn’t agree on where to place the monument and it was not built due to the conflict between Oates and Chamberlain.

In the later years of his life, he spent time writing and spoke about his experience in war. He wanted to recapture the moment he was in war into his writing and explain why he loved being in the army. In 1915, there was a 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but Chamberlain couldn’t attend due to his health. On February 24, 1914, Chamberlain had passed away at the age of eighty-five. After his death in 1914, his book, ‘The Passing of the Armies’, was published and was one of his memoirs. In this book, it included stories of the battles that were fought and surrenders that occurred. It had all the details that Chamberlain had to go through and recaptured every event that had happened in his life. In addition, many other books that were published after the publication of Chamberlain’s memoir.

To conclude, with all that he has done for his country, he became well known for his heroic participation in the war. Although he knew nothing about being in the military, let alone leading an army, he was still determined to join and help his country. His desperation to join the military and serve his country led him to multiple successes. Contributing in multiple wars and leading his army for the four years he was in service. He risked his life and never gave up even when he was badly injured. Chamberlain had accomplished his desire to be in the military and became a political figure. Today, he is known as a college professor who had the bravery to serve his country and brought many successes to American history.

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Joshua Chamberlain’s Heroic Participation in the Civil War. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/joshua-chamberlains-heroic-participation-in-the-civil-war/
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