Joshua L. Chamberlain

The Life in Letters of a Great Leader of the American Civil War

Joshua L. Chamberlain cover

Joshua L. Chamberlain

The Life in Letters of a Great Leader of the American Civil War


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Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has been a central character in two feature films (Gettysburg and Gods & Generals), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (The Killer Angels), and an inspiration for Ken Burns's production of the highly acclaimed PBS series The Civil War. Chamberlain won national fame at the Battle of Gettysburg for his key role in fending off the Confederates at Little Round Top on day two of the battle.

This new volume brings to public light 300 never-before-seen letters from Chamberlain's personal correspondence, which comprises letters sent by or to Chamberlain from his college years in 1852 to his death in 1914. The first 100 letters shed light on Chamberlain's formative years and his courtship with Fannie Adams, which has been the source of much speculation by scholars. The final 200 letters reveal insights into Chamberlain the Union commander and the aftermath of the war.

Chamberlain's image can be found on everything from historical art to sculpture, from t-shirts to clocks, from bobble-head dolls to snow globes. Despite all this attention, there is still a lot about Chamberlain that most people do not know. His life is a remarkable story of perseverance, tragedy, and triumph. From an insecure young man with a considerable stuttering problem who grew up in a small town in eastern Maine, Joshua Chamberlain rose to become a major general, recipient of the Medal of Honor, Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin College. His writings are among the most oft-quoted of all Civil War memoirs, and he has become a legendary, even mythical historical figure.

Historian and acclaimed author, Thomas Desjardin, puts Chamberlain's words in contemporary and historical context and uses this extraordinary collection of letters to reveal--for the first time--the full and remarkable life of Joshua Chamberlain. Readers will find this unique portrait of Chamberlain to be entertaining, moving, and inspiring.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Joshua Chamberlain-A Life in Letters

I. Formative Years (38 Letters)
This includes brief biography of his childhood followed by letters through his college years. Few Chamberlain fans realize that he suffered greatly as a child from a stammering problem that greatly affected his personality. In an autobiography he wrote decades afterward, he recalled that, “the sleepless anxiety on this score was a serious wear upon the nervous system. It was not much short of agonizing ... This positive disability added to a natural timidity of self-assertion, apt to disclose itself on untimely occasions in that stupidity called bashfulness, had a decided effect on habits both of speech and action, which placed one at a serious disadvantage.” This early affliction shaped the way in which he related to his future wife, Frances “Fannie” Adams, who had her own issues having been sent from Massachusetts by her parents to be raised by a relative who was the minister at the Congregational church in Brunswick, Maine.

II. Joshua and Fannie (70 Letters)
These letters shed much new light on the most mysterious and defining years of Chamberlain's life. During this time, he graduated from Bowdoin College, attended and graduated from the Bangor Theological Seminary, married, and had five children, only two of which lived into a second year. His courtship of Fannie Adams, played out in these often needy and emotionally immature letters, reveal a great deal about him and how this period effected his personality and actions in the years that followed. Much has been written about the strained relationship between Joshua and Fannie while speculating what impact this might have had on him and his actions. This is by far the largest collection of letters between them, and they will provide fertile ground for future scholars, researchers, and historians to study.

III. Off to War (27 Letters)
Chamberlain's desire to serve during the Civil War was thwarted by Bowdoin College's refusal to allow him a leave of absence. Undaunted, Chamberlain applied for a two-year sabbatical to study in Europe, which was awarded. Instead of journeying to Europe, he made his way to the state capitol in Augusta and offered his services to the governor. His appointment as lieutenant colonel of Maine's 20th regiment of infantry soon followed. A military novice, Chamberlain used the "down time" in camp to study military history and tactics. This chapter will detail Chamberlain's initial involvement in the Union army. Using selected letters, we can see Chamberlain's evolution from a military novice to a veteran officer.

IV. Gettysburg to Appomattox (23 Letters)
Though most well-known for his service at Gettysburg, Chamberlain was so impressive as a field commander during the last two years of the war that Ulysses S. Grant chose him personally to command the Union troops that accepted the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox. He was wounded several times, including a nearly fatal wound at Petersburg, and personally led repeated charges against the enemy in the closing weeks of the war. These letters also include more love letters to his wife, revealing his increasing difficulty in getting her to answer his correspondence. This section includes a very important letter to his wife in which he describes in great detail, directly from his notes, his experiences in the Battle of Fredericksburg. He later referred to this letter when writing his famous article, “My Story of Fredericksburg,” for Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1912. His description in that article formed a large part of an episode of the Ken Burns series The Civil War and the feature film Gods and Generals.

V. The Elder Statesman (96 Letters)
Following the war, Chamberlain returned home a war hero and soon found himself the preferred candidate of the Republican Party for governor. He was elected to four consecutive one-year terms and struggled with such ominous issues as prohibition (a legal premise invented in Maine at this time) and capital punishment, among other things. Letters from this period also refer to his political prowess and bravery in the great “Count-Out Crisis” of 1880. As head of the state militia, he was called on to keep the peace in the state capitol after a disputed election for governor even while armed mobs of political supporters of the two candidates threatened to capture or kill him.

Conclusion: Lion of the Round Top

Product details

Published May 22 2012
Format Hardback
Edition 1st
Extent 336
ISBN 9781849085595
Imprint Osprey Publishing
Illustrations 15 b/w; 10 col
Dimensions 233 x 152 mm
Series General Military
Short code GNM
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing

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