Joshua Chamberlain: Civil War Hero


The War Between the States was a difficult time in United States history. For the first time in the history of the new country, neighbors were fighting neighbors and relatives based on geographic location could be on opposite sides of the battle lines. It was also a time when everyday citizens were called to arms to help fight for a cause they believed in. The Civil War saw many new heroes come forward. Joshua Chamberlain,a young citizen from Maine with a family military history, was one such hero that rose to prominence during the war.

Chamberlain was born in Brewer, Maine on September 8, 1828, as the oldest of five children. Chamberlain was a bright child with a thirst for knowledge, and knew that he wanted to continue his education. His college of choice was Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He knew that in order to pass the entrance exam for the college he would have to know the ancient Greek language. So, to become familiar with the language, Chamberlain was focused enough to teach it to himself and passed the entrance exam.

Joshua Chamberlain entered Bowdoin in 1848 and enjoyed his time in the academic setting and worked toward a career in education. Also during his time in college, he began to enjoy discussing politics, which was something that he would explore later in life. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1852. Shortly after graduating he married Fanny Adams, and began his family and career as a Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin. During his time working at the college, Chamberlain taught many different subjects.

When the Civil War broke out, Chamberlain with his high standards of right and wrong that were put into place in college, felt a strong desire to help the Union Army. Many descendants of Joshua Chamberlain had served in the military (i.e. Great Grandfather in the Revolutionary War, Grandfather in the War of 1812, etc…) and Joshua believed it was his duty to enlist in the army to help the cause. However, Bowdoin believed he was too valuable to release and refused to let him enlist. Instead, Chamberlain took a leave of absence and in 1861 promptly enlisted in the army. He was appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the 20th Maine Regiment and began his military career.

Chamberlain's regiment was part of several offenses for the Union Army and participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Soon after, as a result of the fine work he was doing, Chamberlain was appointed Colonel. Chamberlain achieved notoriety during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was recognized in several publications for his work in defending Little Round Top. At that battle he defended this critical position and created a counter attack which captured many Confederate troops. From his quick thinking and outstanding leadership skills, he became known as the “Lion of the Round Top.”

Because of his work in Gettysburg, in 1864, Chamberlain was appointed the position of Brigade Commander. While participating in the Siege of Petersburg, Chamberlain was wounded and nearly lost his life. However, he recovered and once again led his troops in battle. In total, Chamberlain participated in 20 Civil War battles, was wounded 6 times and received 4 accommodations for bravery. In 1865, Chamberlain was appointed the rank of Major General by President Abraham Lincoln

In April 1865 with the Union Army controlling the war efforts, Chamberlain was informed of General Robert E. Lee’s intention to surrender at Appomattox Court House, and that the Union Army wanted him to preside over the parade of Confederate Officers, which was considered a very important honor. Joshua Chamberlain, hero of the Civil War, was handpicked and conducted the events which brought to an end one of the darkest chapters of American history.

After his military career, he went back home to Maine as a war hero, and went into politics. In 1866, after passing an extensive background check, Joshua Chamberlain was elected as Governor of Maine, by collecting the highest vote total for any Governor in the history of the state of Maine. He ended up serving four one-year terms as Governor. After leaving office he returned to Bowdoin College where he served as College President until 1883 when he retired due to the many injuries he sustained in the war.

Much of his post Civil War life was difficult because of the numerous war injuries. After retirement, he was able to write his Civil War memoir “Passing of the Armies” along with other books about Maine and education. In addition, in 1893, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic work in the Battle of Gettysburg. However, much of his later life was filled with pain from his injuries limiting what he was able to do. After battling his injuries for years, Chamberlain passed away on February 14, 1914.

The life of Joshua Chamberlain will be remembered for eternity. His actions during the war, especially during the Battle of Gettysburg will be remembered as a key turning point of the war, and was a key contribution for the Union Army winning the war.