Some time ago, I received the following email. It was sent to me by a woman named Rosalie Meier, from Navarro College in Corsicana, TX:

"I thought you might be interested in our story.  About 1990 a woman in Corsicana, Texas read "Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara and became intrigued with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  Since her birthday was coming up, her husband, Chuck, purchased for her a letter written home to Fanny from Antietam in 1862.  That began a passion for collecting Civil War letters & documents.  Fortunately, the Pearces are well off & could afford such a collection.  In 1996 they decided to donate their collection of approximately 20 CW era letters to Navarro College and continued to fund additional acquisitions. 

"In 2001, the college decided to build a Civil War museum to house the collection which has since grown to over 12,000 original letters & documents.  We only have 3 Chamberlain letters, however one of them in particular is a beautiful letter written in 1902 recalling the ceremony on April 12, 1865 at Appomatox Court House.

"Just thought you might like to know what one woman reading a book & becoming interested in Chamberlain led to."

After reading this, how could I not contact Ms. Meier, and ask if I could use these on my site? And when she readily agreed to help me obtain copies of them -- well, what else could I say but YES?

I am deeply grateful to the staff at the Pearce Collections Museum, at Navarro College, Corsicana, TX -- and especially to Ms. Meier, for alerting me to these letters, and especially for allowing me to post them on my Web site!

Each letter's manuscript was transcribed showing all the spelling, punctuation and grammar as written by Chamberlain.


The first letter is the longest of the three. It was written just a few days after the bloody battle at Antietam in September 1862 - a battle that the brand-new 20th Maine, thankfully, was not engaged in. He makes references to the 20th Maine's commander, Adelbert Ames ('the Col."); the 20th's adjutant, John Brown ("Mr. Brown"); his young daughter Grace, or "Daise"; and Helen (most likely Fannie's young stepmother, Helen Root Adams), in the letter.

"That dreadful night in Portland" refers to his last night with Fannie at Camp Mason in Portland, ME, where the 20th was mustered in and trained. It was a miserable and rainy night, where Chamberlain, Fannie, and her adoptive father, Rev. George Adams, huddled together inside a tent, the night before the 20th Maine was to leave for the war.

Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain -- his rank with the 20th Maine, at the time he wrote this letter.

'On picket on the banks of the Potomac near Sharpsburg, Sunday morning Sept. 21, 1862:

"My dear Fanny, Since I wrote you last, we have gone through a good deal. I wrote you a few lines a day or two ago which I have had no opportunity to send, so I enclose. Just after writing those we were called up to defend a new position on the left, where the terrible storming of the bridge over the Antietam took place. We did not find ourselves much exposed however. But the next morning we started in pursuit, & on the second reached the ford at dam no. 4 the only place left the enemy to recross. Here our batteries pounded their rear, & our Division was ordered to cross. Of all the unearthly din I ever heard that was the worst. The banks on both sides were high the rebels were in line of battle to meet us across & 25 or 30 pieces of artillery on our side shelling them over our heads as we forded leg deep. The Col. Mr. Brown & I on horseback. The rebel sharpshooters were hard at work. I was ordered to stand in the middle of the river & urge on the men who halted for fear of the fire. The balls splashed all around me during the whole time & just as I reached the shore two struck just over my head in a tree. Sometimes our own shells would explode right over out head, & scare the men dreadfully. No sooner had we got over, & in line than we were ordered to recross. The General sent Col. Ames with six companies to defend the ford by lying behind the bank of the canal, & me with four companies to support the batteries on the heights. We had four wounded, not seriously. At dusk we were sent out as pickets & we have been lying here all night -- the whole Regt. -- crouching along the banks of the river. The rebels firing every time they saw a head, & we doing the same for them. The river is narrow. At about mid night I rode softly along examining our pickets, & whenever the horse stumbled -- whiz -- would come a bullet in the dark. All this morning, & at least as often as every three words I have written, a bullet of a shell has hissed over my head either from our own sharpshooters or the rebels -- 5 in that last line. I am lying in a hollow where I am not much exposed, & really not at all disturbed. Glancing down at this moment I see a rebel ball that had struck right by my side, but I suppose, before I came. I hoped to be relieved soon, & get somewhere I can live like a civilized being. Our eating, drinking & sleeping arrangements are not remarkable for comfort. I can see plenty of dead & wounded men lying around, from where I sit. As soon as it can be done we are going to rescue some wounded who are calling to us from the rebel shore. Our Regt. has not done much yet, but we feel as if we could. I am very well, & happy as one need be, not all at sorry I came, I assure you. I think I did right & whatever comes of it, I have no fears. Some of our Regt. have just crossed the river at the risk of their lives to bring away the wounded we can see, some have died since we were looking at them. The poor fellows some 8 or 10 we have got are badly hurt in all sorts of ways. They belong to our brigade & were shot in our crossing yesterday. Two were dead when they got over. I took some letters about them to find out who they were, affectionate letters from wives, & answers written but never sent. I sent the letters to the Col. of the 118th Penn. Regt. which they belonged to. I do not pretend to write much of a letter. You know under what circumstances I am writing. Tell all my friends that I have so much to do, & in such places that writing is out of the question. We have to go in places no body would ever think of going into were it not for the necessities of war.

"I must hurry, for we are in a critical moment & expecting some move.

"Don't worry about me & take all the comfort you can. Give my love to Dear Daise & to the old Myllys & to Aunt Pattie and Helen. Tell {?} that I carry her dressing case strapped on my saddle wherever I go. My horse I keep a little in the rear. I should have been killed if I had ridden him in the crossing of the Potomac.

"I hope that dreadful night in Portland did not make you sick. I am very well. Hyde got out of the battle alive--but two Bowdoin boys in his Regt. fell. H.P. Brown; & Haskell may. survive. L."

This letter was written to Fannie in the weeks following the battle of Gettysburg, when the 20th Maine, and the rest of the Army of the Potomac, was pursuing Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac back into Virginia.


Chamberlain was still not 100% recovered from the dual bouts with malaria and sunstroke, which he battled on the road north to Gettysburg in June of 1863--he had been forced to stay behind briefly, while the 20th Maine and the rest of the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, took part in several skirmishes east of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The stress of command was just now beginning to take its toll on him. Fannie was apparently in New York City visiting friends....and happened to be there during the draft riots that month, that raged through the city.

Here is a really nice portrait of Chamberlain, which I found recently.

Headquarters 20 Maine Vols.

Warrenton Va. July 28th 1863

"My dearest girl,

"We are halting here for a day or two & I find that the rest gives me opportunity to discover that I am not so well as I imagined when bugles were sounding the "forward" & we were charging through forests & up mountain sides to clear the enemy out, as has been our daily experience for a month. I have sent up an application for "sick leave" which has been approved up to Corps Head Quarters, but what its fate will be I do not know. Be sure I shall not allow myself to get very sick. I shall go into a Hospital & then perhaps let you know. But I am not very sick remember. Only half as sick as I always am in the Summer Term at College. But the Surgeons think I am not fit for duty. You know & they know that I went into those battles with my Regt. when I was not fit to sit up.

"If I dont get away, I can keep on by care and "shirking" (if the two words will go together) pretty well.

"I dont know what we are going to do--the Army, I mean. I think the 5 Corps is going to the Rappanhannock & to cross over at once, not at Fredericksburg.

"For the sake of those at home I did wish you to go home, but if you think it best you can stay (though I dont see how it can be pleasant longer).

"I dream of you & think of you as ever.

"I have many things to do in the way of office work now, & we expect to be off again in a day or two.

"Your own


"If you need more money let me know."

The last letter, written to a J.H. Cole in Peabody, MA, in May 1902, describes the time leading up to the surrender of General Lee's army at Appomattox Court House, in April 1865, as well as Chamberlain's own part in the concluding surrender ceremony.

Evidently, the writer was asking for some sort of historical background about Appomattox, and Chamberlain's own part in the momentous events at the end of hostilities in Virginia.

The Army of the James, which joined the Army of the Potomac on its pursuit of General Lee from Richmond, was commanded by General Edward O.C. Ord.

General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in his Grand Army of the Republic uniform. Painted from a period photo, by Maine artist Ken Hendricksen.

Do not use without asking my permission first. Thanks.

"Portland, May 12th, 1902.

Mr. J.H. Cole;

Peabody, Mass.

"My dear sir: -

"Your recent letter inquiring about the ceremony, or absence of ceremony, at the final surrender of the arms and colors of General Lee's army at Appomattox Court House, induced me by its earnestness to consult my "war papers" at my home in Brunswick, which include many memoranda taken at the time, and other collateral testimony. This required me to take some time when I could be at home long enough to reassure myself in regard to the incidents of that occasion. I may be led to give you a wider view of things there than you asked me for; but this will be only to give you a better comprehension of the whole situation.

"Our Corps, the Fifth, was with Sheridan & his cavalry trying to pass the flank of Lee's flying troops, and if possible get around the head of his columns of retreat. On the night of the 8th of April General Ord with a portion of the Army of the James joined us, and we pushed for Appomattox Station on the Southside Railroad, where Sheridan had cut off some rebel trains and cut therefore the line of Lee's attempted retreat to North Carolina. Arriving at the Station our whole force pushed to intercept Lee's column, Sheridan striking their advance and checking it at Appomattox Court House. In the developments of the engagement there, I with my command was called to the extreme right of our enveloping lines relieving the cavalry there engaged. From this, the flag of truce that came into our lines came first to me, and this was sent by me back towards our left, where my superior commanders were.

"The troops of the Army of the James, as I understood, had got across the Lynchburg Pike, thus heading off Lee's retreat in that direction.

"In compliance with the request by flag of truce, a cessation of hostilities was observed for several hours, until world could be got from Lee in answer to Grant's last summons to surrender, which was sent from the main column of our Army of the Potomac, now on the enemy's rear not more than five or six miles from our position across Lee's front. At the close of this truce, Lee and Grant having come up, (each of them through my rear lines, where the round-a-bout roads they had come upon led), the announcement of Lee's surrender was made, and the troops went into "camp", or bivouac, nearly on their last lines of battle.

"The troops were mostly held here for three days, while the various preparations were made for the formal surrender. Paroles had to be made out; means for transportation had to be got ready for removing the materials to be turned over; rations got up, &c. The rebel cavalry, as I understood, and most of their artillery was disbanded at convenient points without such, if any, formality, on the 11th of April.

Major General Charles Griffin, Commander, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, at the time of the surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House.

"On the 10th, however I was sent for at General Headquarters, and informed by General Griffin that General Grant had left the field for City Point, and had placed the further conclusion of matters in the hands of a commission. He stated that the confederate commanders had earnestly besought that their men might be permitted to stack their arms in their camps where they were, and let our people go over to get them after they had gone; but that General Grant had insisted that their troops should march out in due order and lay down their arms and colors in immediate presence of some representative portion of our troops, which should then guard this material of war until it could be properly removed; and that while due order and 'solemnity' should be observed, General Grant wished that nothing should be done to humiliate or unnecessarily wound the feelings of the surrendering army. General Griffin then told me I had been designated to command the "parade" which was to exercise these formalities on our part, when matters were ready. Understanding that the parade was to consist of my command, I then felt that the veteran troops of the Division, should have this place rather than the "new troops" however meritorious; and I asked to be returned to my old command, the Third Brigade of the First Division, which I had commanded after Gettysburg, and which was now composed of the consolidated troops of the whole old Division. This was done: and I resumed command of the Third Brigade on the 10th.

"On the 12th, the Division was moved to the left, replacing Turner's Division of the Army of the James, near the Court House, ready to receive the arms and colors when things were in order for this ceremony. At this time the ground was clear; none of the Confederate army apparently having been in this vicinity. I formed my line of battle, along the road from the bluff bank of the branch of the Appomattox to the Court House on the left; the line being composed from right to left in the following order: 32nd Massachusetts, (in which were some men of the 18th and 22nd whose time was not out when their regiments went,) the 20th Maine, in which were a hundred or more of the men of the 2nd Maine whose time of enlistment had not expired); the 1st Maine Sharpshooters: the 1st Mich. Sharpshooters, with some of the men of the 4th; the 118th 135th, 83d & 91st Pennsylvania, with some men of the 62nd. I asked that the two brigades I had commanded in this last campaign might be brought up in close proximity, and the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the Division, -- the 198th. Pennsylvania, and the 185th, 187th, 188th and 189th New York, -- were so stationed, but not as part of my line. Coulter's Brigade of Crawford's Division was ordered up to the vicinity with their teamsters to take the surrendered property to Burkesville Junction. What was the disposition of the other troops of the Corp or of Ord's command, I do not know. The latter soon after, or just before, went to Lynchburg, as I understood.

Major General John Brown Gordon, Army of Northern Virginia.

"The Confederate camp was in plain sight of us across the valley of the Appomattox. We saw them breaking camp, and forming for this last movement. General Gordon led, at the head of his command, composed of several of the remnants of the famous old Rebel Corps. I could not resist the impulse to pay some special attention to such a ceremony, the last token of surrender to the power of the "Union", and I instructed my Colonels to have their men come from the "order arms" to the "shoulder", or "carry", while each division of the Confederates was passing our front. At my bugle-signal this was done. Gordon quickly caught the meaning of this, and with a graceful salutation himself, gave command to have his own men take the same position of the manual as they passed us. This was done. Arms stacked, colors laid down, each division then passing off to give the paroles prepared by General Sharpe, asst. Provost Marshal, US. Army, and then free to go where they will. Teams coming up meanwhile to take away the collected material. Major Ashbrook, Ordnance Officer of our Division having charge of this. Thus successively all the Confederate troops across the river come up and pass along. It takes all day. At evening, we burn the broken cartridges left in the street, and by this lurid light the last of Lee's army passes from history.

"I spoke with many of the principal officers of the Confederate Army, during this ceremony, and I have memoranda of their remarks.

"As to my own part in this, I did not at the time think it of any special importance. Somebody had to be set at this service, and I took it without feeling that a special honor was conferred on me. But this fact is worth remembering: and the incident a conspicuous passage.

"If I may refer to any corroborative testimony, I could cite from the official report of the Commander of the Fifth Corps, one passage: "In the last engagement at Appomattox Court House, General Chamberlain had the advance, and was driving the enemy rapidly before him when the flag of truce came in".

'General Gordon also speaks of my giving him a respectful salute, in his famous lecture, published in the recent collection of American Eloquence.

"General Lee, too, refers to my treatment of some war-torn regiment of theirs which begged to be allowed to cut up their old flag and distribute the treasured tokens of service and suffering among their children. This appears, I believe, in the Personal Reminiscences written near the close of his life.

"I trust this, too hastily written after all, may not weary you.

"Very truly yours,

Joshua L. Chamberlain"

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