The Achievements of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain


Joshua Chamberlain was one of the Union’s most decorated and respected military officers during the Civil War. He was eventually awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery during the big battle at Gettysburg. Interestingly, Chamberlain wasn’t just a soldier but also a professor. His life was truly a fascinating one.

Chamberlain was born on September 8, 1828 to Joshua and Sarah Chamberlain. He was born in Maine where he attended Bowdoin College after he taught himself how to read Greek so he could pass the school’s entrance exam. Whilst there, he met Harriet Beecher Stowe and became a member of two fraternities. He graduated in 1852 and married Fanny Adams in 1855. The couple had five children but only two survived infancy. Chamberlain eventually became a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin and in 1861 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages.

Chamberlain’s great-grandfathers were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. When the Civil War broke out, he took a leave of absence from his job and enlisted with the Union. Although offered the colonelcy of the 20th Maine Regiment, he declined and was appointed lieutenant colonel under Col. Adelbert Ames on June 8, 1861. His regiment was present during the Battle of Fredericksburg, although they did not fight. They also missed the Battle of Chancellorsville due to smallpox. In June of 1863, Chamberlain was made colonel of the 20th regiment when Ames was promoted.

On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain’s regiment found themselves defending a hill named Little Round Top. The hill was invaluable to the Union and Chamberlain knew he had to hold the hill despite the consequences. The 20th regiment tirelessly defended the hill from waves of Confederate attacks and when things got to breaking point, Chamberlain ordered his men to initiate a bayonet charge. Chamberlain’s men rushed the Confederates in a sort of hinge attack that allowed them to attack the Confederation’s front and flank, allowing them to win the day. Chamberlain was slightly injured. He also suffered from malaria in 1863 and taken off duty until he recovered.

In April of 1864, Chamberlain was promoted to brigade commander and he fought in the Siege of Petersburg, where he was shot in the right hip and groin. Despite this, he stayed upright to preserve the morale of his men and only collapsed due to blood loss and unconsciousness. The division’s doctor considered the wound fatal and Chamberlain’s death was even reported in Maine’s newspapers.

General Ulysses S. Grant promoted Chamberlain to brigadier general. Somehow, Chamberlain survived. By November, he was back in command. He was given command of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of V Corps and was eventually promoted to major general by President Lincoln. Chamberlain was even present when Lee surrendered to the Union, where he saluted the surrendering Confederate soldiers.

After the war, he returned to Maine to serve as the Republican governor for four 1-year terms. His 1866 election victory held the record for most votes and his 1868 victory broke that record. Then, in 1871, he returned to Bowdoin College until 1883, when his war wounds forced him to resign. He remained a strong political influence throughout his life and in 1893 he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Gettysburg. Chamberlain died on January 4, 1871, aged 85, from his war wounds, the last Civil War veteran to die because of his wounds.

For more information head to the following sites:

  • Biography: A brief biography about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
  • Galleries: Multiple galleries of photos relating to Chamberlain’s life.
  • Col. Chamberlain & the 20th Maine Infantry: Provides information about his military career.
  • Digital Archive: Archive of documents that are meant to preserve Chamberlain’s life and military career.
  • To the Limits of the Soul: A large amount of information about Chamberlain’s life.
  • Resources: A list of links to multiple sites with information about Chamberlain.
  • Letter: Image of an authentic letter Chamberlain wrote to an Adjunct General whilst recovering from his severe wounds.
  • Chamberlain Area: Some information about Chamberlain.
  • Civil War History: Focuses on Chamberlain’s military exploits.
  • Battle Reports: Transcripts of some of Chamberlain’s battle reports.