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Union Leaders: Chamberlain

Joshua Chamberlain (1828-1914)

After graduating from a military school in Ellsworth, Maine, Chamberlain attend Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. In 1855 he joined the Bowdoin faculty as instructor in natural and revealed religion, and over the course of several years taught rhetoric and modern languages, becoming a professor at Bowdoin in 1856, and then at Bangor five years later. Chamberlain was granted a leave of absence in ’62 to study abroad but, over the protest of the college faculty, he enlisted as a LTC in the 20th Maine Infantry, participating in the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. He was slightly wounded during the latter action. He was promoted COL in May ’63, in time to command his regiment at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, two months later, Chamberlain performed with distinction in defending the Union left flank on Little Round Top, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In the same he was again slightly wounded. In Nov ’63 he went on temporary leave from field service suffering from malaria. After recuperating Chamberlain resumed command of the 20th Maine in May ’64. He was assigned command of a brigade the following month and was severely wounded while personally leading an attack at Petersburg.

After being promoted BG of vols on the spot by Grant Chamberlain was carried to the rear, not expected to survive. He did survive, however, and after convalescing in Maine returned to the army. He was wounded a fourth and fifth time during the Petersburg campaign, and later brevetted MG of vols. After Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, Chamberlain was designated to receive the formal surrender of arms and colors on 9 Apr ’65. Refusing an appointment as COL in the R.A. on account of poor health, Chamberlain was mustered out of service in Jun ’66. He returned to Maine to be elected Governor, a post he held through four elections, until 1871. Afterward he became president of Bowdoin College (1871-1883). Chamberlain was appointed U.S. surveyor of customs for the port of Portland in 1900, a post held until 1914, when he succumbed to the effects of his third wound.

Note: Biographical information comes from the U.S. Army Center for Military History Gettysburg Staff Ride book.

Posted in Civil War.

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