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Joshua Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914) was a soldier in the United States Army during the American Civil War, reaching the rank of major general. He was also a Medal of Honor winner, and served as a Republican Governor of Maine for four terms.

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Civil War Service
3 Incident at Appomattox
4 Post-war Career

Early Life

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine on 8 September 1828. Chamberlain lived near Harriet Beecher Stowe and was a visitor in her home and heard her recite passages from Uncle Tom's Cabin. Chamberlain entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1848 and graduated in 1852. He studied for three additional years at Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine. Chamberlains returned to Bowdoin College and began a career in education as a professor of rhetoric.

Civil War Service

Chamberlain's great-grandfathers were soldiers in the American Revolutionary War and his grandfather had served during the War of 1812. His father also had served during the Aroostook War of 1839. Chamberlain himself was not trained in military science but felt a strong desire to serve.

Chamberlain enlisted and received a commission as Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment which was assigned to the Union Army of the Potomac.

He fought with the regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg (as shown in the movie Gods and Generals), the Antietam, and at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he was promoted to Colonel of the regiment.

Chamberlain achieved fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of Little Round Top became the focus of many publications and stories, including the movie, Gettysburg.

Chamberlain was slightly wounded in the foot at that battle by a spent bullet. This wound, although minor, would eventually cause him to become ill, and force him to return home for a few days during the Virginia Campaign. He stayed with the Army of the Potomac through its campaigns in Virginia (in 1864 and 1865), being wounded a few times (as described in the book, The Last Full Measure). He was eventually promoted to Brigadier General, and brevetted Major General. He was the subject of much praise during the war, including some from the unlikeliest sources (including fiery cavalry commander Phillip Sheridan).

Incident at Appomattox

Chamberlain was also responsible for one of the most poignant scenes of the Civil War at the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, Virginia. General Ulysses S. Grant placed Chamberlain in charge of receiving the surrender of Confederate weapons and battle flags. As the conquered Confederate soldiers marched down the road to surrender their arms and colors Chamberlain, without orders or permission, ordered his men to come to attention and "carry arms" as a show of respect. Seeing this unexpected honor, the Confederate commander, General John B. Gordon reared his horse, touched his sword to his boot toe, and ordered his men to return the salute. Chamberlain's salute was not popular with many in the north but he defended his action in his memoirs. Many years later, Gordon, in his own memoirs, called Chamberlain "one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army".

Post-war Career

Chamberlain left the army soon after the war ended, going back to his home state of Maine. Chamberlain served as Governor of Maine for four terms. After leaving political office he returned to Bowdoin College. In 1871 he was appointed President of Bowdoin College and remained in that position until 1883 when he was forced to resign due to ill health from his war wounds.

Towards the end of his life Chamberlain was active in the Grand Army of the Republic, served as Surveyor of the port of Portland, Maine, and engaged in business activities.

In 1893 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his wartime service.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain died in 1914 at Portland, Maine.