The Grand Old Man of Maine: Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865-1914

The Grand Old Man of Maine: Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865-1914

by Jeremiah E. Goulka

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Best known as the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and the commanding officer of the troops who accepted the Confederates' surrender at Appomattox, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914) has become one of the most famous and most studied figures of Civil War history. After the war, he went on to serve as governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College.


Best known as the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg and the commanding officer of the troops who accepted the Confederates' surrender at Appomattox, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914) has become one of the most famous and most studied figures of Civil War history. After the war, he went on to serve as governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. The first collection of his postwar letters, this book offers important insights for understanding Chamberlain's later years and his place in chronicling the war.

The letters included here reveal Chamberlain's perspective on military events at Gettysburg, Five Forks, and Appomattox, and on the planning of ceremonies to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Gettysburg. As Jeremiah Goulka points out in his introduction, the letters also shed light on Chamberlain's views on politics, race relations, and education, and they expose some of the personal difficulties he faced late in life. On a broader scale, Chamberlain's correspondence contributes to a better understanding of the influence of Civil War veterans on American life and the impact of the war on veterans themselves. It also says much about state and national politics (including the politics of pensions), family roles and relationships, and ideas of masculinity in Victorian America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jeremiah Goulka should be commended for his work in bringing together Chamberlain's postwar correspondence. His words serve as a reminder that the experience of war remained with the veterans long afer the guns fell silent."
Civil War History

"Goulka deserves thanks . . . for giving us a deeper understanding of a genuine American hero."
Civil War News

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The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
Civil War America Series
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6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.30(d)

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The Grand Old Man of Maine

Selected Letters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 1865-1914

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2864-5

Chapter One

The Return of the Hero

With war's end, northern veterans slowly returned to their homes, where a long readjustment awaited them. Prematurely mustered-out, Chamberlain returned to a marriage strained by unwelcomed separation, the recent death of his seventeen-month-old daughter Gertrude Loraine, an urgent need for surgery, and few immediate job prospects. Despite his pledge never to return to his old life in academia, little beyond garrison duty presented itself to Chamberlain on his arrival in Brunswick. It was some balm to be able to return to his beloved department of Rhetoric and Oratory rather than Modern Languages, but the interim presidency of Bowdoin College was also thrust upon him.

The public forum offered a welcome outlet from the harsh readjustment. Chamberlain reveled in the public's encouragement to dwell upon the war. He delivered numerous public speeches and gathered materials for a history of the V Corps. Soon the politicians would stop neglecting the state's great war hero and retrieve him from limbo.

To Charleton T. Lewis

Head Quarters 1[st] Div. 5[th] A.C. June 26 1865.

My dear friend,

Your very kind letter was duly received. I thank you for the interest you take in my success. Indeed it is only for my friends sake that I care particularly for what we call success. For myself alone I have no especial ambition; but my friends are very dear.

No good to me becomes a joy till they share it.

So I have to thank you yet again in as much as you lay me under new obligations.

I was fully expecting to see you & Mrs Lewis at our Grand Review. You could have made yourselves comfortable in my Camp, for a while, at least. But now I must look to some other time, and possibly, place for the pleasure of meeting you.

The old Army of the Potomac is gone.

Very few of the familiar faces are seen among us now. In a few days we expect to be broken up by explicit orders, and distributed & assigned in widely different places. I have no idea of my own fate. To my great astonishment I learn that Genl. Meade has sent my name to the President with a few others-all by far my seniors & superiors-for the full appointment of Major General. I appreciate the compliment at this time when the effort is to get rid of officers.

But my feeling now is that I shall return very soon to my private life. Soldiering in time of peace is almost as much against my grain as being a peace man in time of war.

My wounds too, I find, now that I am called on no longer to bear up against them, are very troublesome, and I need to be fitted at home a while.

Apropos of that, I thank you, from my heart for your friendly invitation to visit you on my return. If possible I shall not deny myself that pleasure. It is now my expectation to go North in the course of a month.

With many thanks for your kindnesses to my brother who always remembers them, and with warmest gratitude for the good thoughts & words of yourself & Mrs Lewis.

I am very truly your friend

J. L. Chamberlain

To Lorenzo Thomas

Head Quarters 1[st] Brigade 3[d] Div. Provis. Corps. July 6 1865.

Brig. Genl. L. Thomas Adj't Genl U.S.A.


I have the honor to request that I be relieved from service in the field, & ordered to some duty in the State of Maine, or in Washington City, or wherever my services can be of most benefit, until I no longer require surgical treatment for my wounds.

I have been in the field for nearly three years, having had only four days leave of absence in that time, except when sent away for medical treatment.

I was very severely wounded last summer before Petersburg, & returned to duty before I was able to mount my horse, and since that time have been twice wounded in action, without leaving the field. The state of my wounds is such as to require care and attention. I shall be obliged to undergo a severe surgical operation as soon as the heat of summer is past.

I do not apply for a leave of absence, because I believe I am able to render full service, if placed in a favorable position, until the operation referred to can be performed; and I am unwilling to be off duty without absolute necessity.

There are at present two General officers in my [command] besides myself-Bvt Brig. Genl Gregory, & Bvt. Brig Genl Root-, so that I trust the interests of the service will allow my request to be received with favor.

I have the honor to be

Very respectfully Your obdt. servant

J. L. Chamberlain Bvt. Maj. Gen Comdg 1[st] Brig. 3[d] Div. Prov. Corps late 1[st] Div. 5[th] Corps, A.P.

To Ulysses S. Grant

Portland, July 31[st], 1865.

Lieut. General Grant,


Learning that you are to be in town tomorrow, I respectfully solicit the honor of your presence at a reunion of the Graduates of Bowdoin College who have been in the war on Wednesday Evening.

This would occupy but a small portion of your time, and would be exceedingly gratifying to all our citizens and especially to those on whose behalf I make this request.

Very respectfully Your obedient servant,

(Signed) Joshua L. Chamberlain, Bvt Major General.

To Lot M. Morrill

Brunswick Nov. 1[st] 1865

My dear Senator;

You were kind enough to mention to me when I had the pleasure of seeing you last in Washington, that the Secretary of War had voluntarily spoken of me with the assurance that I should receive the appointment of Major General, for which I had been several times particularly recommended by my Superior officers, one of the last acts of Genl Meade, while the Army was about breaking up, being to send my name up for that promotion. Genl. Meade said there could be no possible doubt that, from the manner in which the recommendation went up, I should receive the appointment.

Instead of that however, I was suddenly mustered out of service while my wounds were in so bad a state that a surgical operation could not with safety be performed which is necessary to my even partial restoration to soundness. If I had been off duty & lying about in Hospital or on sick leave I should not have been thus mustered out. I had no particular wish to be retained in service as a burden to the Government. But I did not exactly like the manner in which I received my congé, nor shall I ever feel that it was either kind or just.

Others have since been appointed to every grade, whose military record I am not afraid to have brought into comparison with my own.

I had neglected to secure any particular "influence" to keep myself "before the people" or the Government, and when the army in the Field broke up, I was suddenly unknown.

There are now but three or four weeks during which it is possible to receive such an appt. as I speak of, as I see they are still made. I write to ask you if this now empty honor, which I still esteem as a proper completion of my record, can be conferred on me. I am ashamed to be obliged to solicit as a favor what I have earned at the point of my sword. But as things are I do not hesitate to do so. I should not expect to hold this appointment at all, and should probably resign it at once after acceptance.

If this cannot be done; though I shall not easily be persuaded of this when I see it done almost daily-then I shall of course be obliged to put up with the indignity, and content myself with thankfulness that I have passed through this war at least without dishonor, that my life has been preserved through almost mortal wounds, and that the blood I have shed for my country has not been in vain.

Very respectfully your obdt. servt.

J. L. Chamberlain [MHS]

To John B. Bachelder

Brunswick, Me. Nov. 10, 1865

Col. Jno. B. Bachelder

My dear Sir,

Your circular respecting your visit to Gettysburg only reached me the last of the month, or I certainly should have joined you there. I happen to be possessed of some information or rather knowledge-in regard to the operations on the left, which I desire you to have to benefit you in your work.

Your map is a marvel, & I am relying upon it for a great deal of information.

But the accounts of Col. [Joseph W.] Fishers brigade in connection with the holding or capture of Round Top which appear in the "History of the Reserves" and elsewhere I can assure you are without any warrant.

I do not think Col. F. himself will claim that they are correct. If he does it will be no difficult matter to refresh his memory, & modify his judgment.

The accounts which now are studiously kept current by somebody do great injustice to a most gallant & deserving officer, who sealed his earnest devotion to his country's cause with his blood in the terrible days of "Spotsylvania." I am prepared to give you the real truth & very nearly the whole truth as to that affair. I was an eye & ear witness to the whole operation.

I suppose you wrote to Brig. Genl. Rice of New York, [to get] at the truth, and as I have much material for your work, shall be glad to aid you in placing it at your disposal.

I sent a "circular" to your Boston address some time ago, which will inform you that I am engaged again in writing an official History of the 5[th] Army Corps.

I shall be glad to hear from you again at any time.

J. L. Chamberlain Bvt. Major General [NH]

To John L. Hodsdon

Brunswick Nov 11[th] 1865

My dear Genl,

Your favor in regard to my military history shall be forwarded in a day or two. I have never had time to make this out, as already requested from the Adjt. Genls office in Washington. But I will do so for you, at once.

John S. C. Abbott has written me several times for my history to make an Article in his Series of "Heroic Men"! I couldn't have the face to do that, & can scarcely bring myself to brag to you of my own doings. I will send such official mentions as have been made in regard to my career with a little elucidation [three words ill.]

By the way I am at work too in History Making-or writing rather.

I enclose a circular. There have been four Maine Regts. in the 5 Corps-gallant men all-and I want to get your Report for 64. in order to follow up the changes in their organization &c.

I have your 62 & 63.

The Regts are

{2[d] Infty
{6[th] do
{20[th] do
{1[st] Sharpshooters

Very truly
your friend & servt

J. L. Chamberlain

John L Hodsdon
Adjt. Genl. [GSA]

Printed Circular Addressed to John L. Hodsdon

Washington, D.C., Aug., 1865


DES: Some special treatment for "Fifth Army Corps" to mimic effect in orig. MS, p. 47?

A History of the Fifth Army Corps is in course of preparation under the direction of a Committee of its late officers. It is designed to make this work authentic, impartial, and thorough; a record not merely of the Corps as a body, but also of the several organizations which have shared its vicissitudes, as well as of individuals who have borne a conspicuous part in its career.

Besides official reports and other ordinary data, more particular details-incidents of special services-personal reminiscences-would contribute to the interest and value of the work. Unusual facilities have already been afforded for collecting the requisite material; but it is desired to omit no means of securing every possible advantage in setting forth this Record of the old Fifth Corps.

Communications in furtherance of this design are respectfully solicited of you at your earliest convenience, and may be addressed to Brev't. Maj.-Gen. J. L. Chamberlain, Brunswick, Maine.

Genl John L. Hodsdon
Adj't. Genl of Maine.

To John L. Hodsdon

Brunswick Nov 29 1865

Dear General.

I have to acknowledge the favor of your statement sent a few days since, and thank you for the abstract which you promise. It will be invaluable to me.

I want to be able to give the whole number Maine furnished to [the] National Service. All that we lost & if possible the number of the wounded.

I hope to see you for a moment soon.

truly yours

J. L. Chamberlain

Gen J. L. Hodsdon
Augusta [MSA]

To John L. Hodsdon

Brunswick Dec. 6[th] 1865

My dear Genl.

I have thought it best to send you a Book in which a portion of the papers I referred to are copied, & other authentic slips of paper pasted.-There are incidents of a merely formal nature which it would not be proper for me either to write myself, [or] (by that convenient process to which a flaming modesty so often resorts) to procure others to write for me. Time will bring them out. I prefer that my reputation should improve upon a better knowledge of fact rather than diminish.

I observe that in your Report I am spoken of as absent from my Regt. occasionally without any remark to the effect that I was at that time comdg. the Brigade. Indeed I am classed merely with Col Gilmore as "absent," when in fact I was at that time leading my Brigade into Battle, & had my horse shot there. It is perhaps my own fault. I did not communicate to you every little point I happened to gain. You will see by reference to the book that the service at Gettysburg was of far more account than has been made of it here in Maine.

These things I know are mere inadvertencies. I wonder there are not more in a work so complicated & difficult as yours.

I refer to me this further. You observe I was recommended in April for a full Major Genl. That recommendation was favorably endorsed by Meade & Grant, & like others before only dropped at Washington. When the army broke up Meade & Grant made a particular nomination which I was assured would be favorably acted on. But the gentlemen at Washington had other views.

The request has shown.

Very truly
your friend & servt.

J. L. Chamberlain

I never had but four days proper "leave of absence" during my service. At all other times when not in the field I had been ordered away for treatment of wounds &c, or on duty by order of the War Dept. I never shirked field duty. J. L. C. [MSA]

To Fannie

March 20[th], 1866.

Dear Fanny

I forgot to enclose the pictures of the children, as you desired me to do.

Please find them enclosed. This is the only one of Wyllys which is left. I have the original picture now, & can have more made if you desire it.

We are all at home now, & every thing is going on perfectly well. We have a girl in training. She promises well. Colored slightly, & married rather more. So she will be steady we think. Her husband is going to sea as cook or steward of a ship in a few days. All your things are under lock & key. Though our "Julia" is perfectly [finest]! I went to Vassalboro last evening & lecture in Augusta Saturday next.

I have been invited to give the opening address at the great Fair for the benefit of Soldier's orphans & widows to be held in Portland next month. Mrs Sampson also is frantic to have me speak for her cause-her "orphans home" too, & as the same address will do for both, I am going to try it.


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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Remarkable. . . . The Grand Old Man of Maine presents a rich portrait of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. . . . Artfully piecing together a deep selection of his postwar letters.--Washington Times

Chamberlain's important careers as governor, educator, and chronicler of the war for half a century after Appomattox remain little known. This skillfully edited collection of Chamberlain's postwar letters . . . is therefore an invaluable addition not only to the corpus of Chamberlain biographies but also to our understanding of the war, the Gilded Age, and the construction of Civil War memory.--James M. McPherson, from the Foreword

Goulka's introduction and the foreword supplied by James M. McPherson are the best summary of Chamberlain's life and legend I have read.--Bangor Daily News

Jeremiah Goulka should be commended for his work in bringing together Chamberlain's postwar correspondence. His words serve as a reminder that the experience of war remained with the veterans long afer the guns fell silent.--Civil War History

Nowhere can the complexity of a man be ascertained more fully than in the body of his correspondence. . . . Goulka's introduction offers the reader the background needed to appreciate the meaning and motive of Chamberlain's letters.--York County [Maine] Coast Star

Goulka has compiled this selection of letters not only to chronicle Chamberlain's deeds but also to reveal the depths of feeling, the commitment to honor, and the obsession for truth that resided in this remarkable man who suffered in almost constant pain from war wounds.--Virginia Quarterly Review

Goulka deserves thanks . . . for giving us a deeper understanding of a genuine American hero.--Civil War News

Meet the Author

Jeremiah Goulka is a constitutional lawyer in Washington, D.C.

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