Does the name Joshua L Chamberlain ring any bells?

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I am definitely an American Civil War buff. As I write military history for magazines and websitesas well as fiction, I've also written quite a bit on the Civil War.


Joshua L. Chamberlain was a college professor with no professional military training who became one of the best combat commanders in the Union Army. He was best known for his heroic stand on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburgs (150 years ago last month). Not as well known is the fact that he rose to the rank of major general, twice breveted by Gen. U.S. Grant as Chamberlain lay severly wounded and on the brink of death. Both times he pulled though and returned to led his regiment, later division, in battle. Because of his leadership and heroism, Grant chose Chamberlain to oversee the surrender of Confederate arms after Lee's surrender at Appomatox. As the defeated rebel passed by the Union troops to relinguish their weapons, Chamberlain ordered his troops to present the Confederates the marching salute, a show of honor to the troops they had been fighting just the day before. The honor bolstered th morale of the rebel soldiers, and afterward both Union and Confederate troops mingled, exchanged food and drink, and talked about their experiences. Chamberlain later led the Passing of the Army in Washington, DC, the last large troop movement of the war. He went on to serve in politics, and eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor for defense of Little Round Top.


Chamberlain is one of personal heroes, as if you couldn't tell. <g>

And one of mine too.  I first came across him in Ken Burn's excellent series "The Civil War" and since then have avidly read anything written about or by him.  He is an example to us all; a man who made an immense contribution, both during and after the Civil War, because he believed something that was inherently wrong had to be put right.

I would also like to say that in my home city of Manchester (UK) there are many statues.  Most are of civic dignitaries and military heroes of the Victorian era.  But there is only one of an American president and that is a statue of Abraham Lincoln.  The reason for that is the support of the cotton workers of Lancashire (the county or state) for the Union cause, despite the hardships they experienced due to the cotton famine.  They collectively wrote to Lincoln urging him to continue the fight against slavery and telling him that their suffering was inconsequential compared to what the North was fighting against.  I am proud to be a Mancunian

Interesting timing. I'm about halfway through Bruce Catton's history of the Civil War, about a year away from Gettysburg. I've read these three volumes before, and highly recommend them, if you've not read them.

I have not read that author yet, but will certainly check him out.  For a one volume study of the conflict, I recommend "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James M McPherson.  Regarding Gettysburg, the book (of that name) by Stephen W Sears is a favourite of mine.  As is the film version of Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels".

Chamberlain was one of the Gettysburg heroes; he held his position at Little Round Top at all costs, even having his men fix bayonets and wade into the Confederates when ammunition ran low. He was protecting the Union left flank, and when he gave the order the 20th Maine moved not unlike a door hinge, so that part of the unit charged while the rest went to the flank. Ultimately, Chamberlain captured more than 100 Confederate soldiers.

He went on to become Governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College, where he had been on the faculty before the war.

I've been a Civil War buff for a long time, and I have spoken before the Civil War Roundtable in Vermont.

The Civil War has been a hobby for quite some time. I've written newspaper articles on various aspects of the war, and spoken to the local Civil War Roundtable.

I am also brewing a historical novel set in the period. It'll be a spy story, at least at first.

There are many amazing facts to consider about Chamberlain.  Not the least was that he was a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin, prior to the Civil War and had no military training.  But the bayonet charge was a text book military move and completely wrong footed the Confederates.  Some historians (not all, I will admit) credit him as being the man who saved the Union.  But if Gouverneur Warren had not taken note of the fact that Little Round Top was undefended, along with the politician turned general Sickles disobeying orders, would the battle's outcome have been different?  (Please discuss: writing on one side of the paper only).

Good luck with formulating your historical Civil War novel.  I have thought for a long time about writing a murder mystery set in the Civil War.  But two things conspire against me; firstly I am not American and secondly I have a day job (so I don't currently have the time to do the research).

Sickles was one of America's great scoundrels. When he was a congressman, he caught the son of Francis Scott Key in bed with his wife and challenged him to a duel on Lafayette Square. Sickles killed him and was later acquitted in a scandalous trial.

He bought himself a commission in the Civil War, which is how he became a general. For sheer incompetence, he ranks next to Ambrose Burnside. When a cannonball at Gettysburg took one of Sickles' legs, another general (whose name escapes me at the moment), said it was one of the best things to happen for the Union cause.

Later on, Sickles visited his leg at the Army Medical Museum, where it's on display to this day. That museum is a fascinating, if grisly, combination of medical and American history. I hope it still exists. 

I think the "not yet remembered" general was quite right!  I also recall that Sickles tried to claim credit for the Union victory and subsequently marketed himself as the "real" victor of Gettysburg.  Much to his credit, Grant refused to have anything to do with Sickles and blocked him return to active service.  Is "Fighting" Joe Hooker on your list of incompetent commanders?

I'd say he was somewhere in the middle. In general, he lost more than he won, and was certainly better known for his rolling brothel than any military feat.

A literary quiz: Who was Francis Scott Key's second cousin, three times removed?


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