Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Maine-born college student who graduated from Bowdoin College in 1852, only to return with his wife three years later to become a professor of languages and rhetoric. He taught until the Civil War began in 1861, then volunteered himself to the Governor of Maine in the cause of the Union.
Chamberlain was quickly appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine regiment, under commander Colonel Adelbert Ames.
Although Chamberlain’s regiment “was present” at Antietam and saw action at Fredericksburg, he became part of military lore with his bayonet charge at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.
Here is how the the Civil War Trust described that charge:
Chamberlain was posted on the extreme left of the Federal line at Little Round Top–just in time to face Confederate General John B. Hood’s attack on the Union flank. Exhausted after repulsing repeated assaults, the 20th Maine, out of ammunition, executed a bayonet charge, dislodging their attackers and securing General Meade’s embattled left.
Following Gettysburg, Chamberlain was given command of “a brigade in the Fifth Corps” which he held until the war was over. He was in Appomattox for the Confederacy’s formal surrender, and as the Confederate soldiers filed down the road Chamberlain honored them by calling his men to attention and ordering them to “carry arms.”
Chamberlain was wounded six times during the war, once severely in Petersburg. And for his bayonet charge at Gettysburg he was awarded the Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry.”
After the war, Chamberlain returned to Maine and served four terms as governor, then became president of Bowdoin College. In this way, he was a scholar to the end. But his heart was never far from his military service, and in July, 1913–the 50th Anniversary of Gettysburg–he was there.
He died from complications from his war wounds less than a year later, on February 24, 1914.
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