The historical novel, The Killer Angels , Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War , and the movie, Gettysburg , have combined in recent years to lift Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain to a place of honor among Civil War heroes. The Bowdoin College professor, as Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, directed his regiment’s defense of the left flank of the Army of the Potomac in countering aggressive Confederate assaults on Little Round Top on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Out of ammunition, Chamberlain ordered his volunteers to “fix bayonets.” They charged down the hill, repelling the attack, and capturing many Confederate soldiers.
Chamberlain would later be awarded the Medal of Honor. Today, with the fame accruing to Chamberlain, Little Round Top is the most visited site at Gettysburg.
If early biographers lionized Chamberlain, in recent years there has been push back from some who have questioned the truthfulness of Chamberlain’s later accounts of his role at Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Appomattox. It is time for a fresh appraisal of this intriguing American hero.
After the war, Chamberlain was elected Governor Maine for four terms. He served as President of Bowdoin College where he sought to modernize the curriculum. He became a prominent figure in the literary battles of the so-called “Second Civil War,” the period beginning in the 1870s when Civil War veterans wrote, spoke, and defended their actions in the iconic war.
I am writing a comprehensive biography of an American soldier and leader who deserves to be known for more than his heroism in the Civil War. If a man of courage, he was also a man of contradictions. Remembered as a man of action, he was also a man of ideas. I believe that Fannie Adams Chamberlain, her story and the story of her sometimes troubled marriage to Joshua, needs more illumination.
The biography of Chamberlain – Bowdoin College student, Bangor Seminary student, husband, teacher, soldier, governor, president, memoirist – will be published by Random House in 2021.