Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum, Brunswick, ME.
Cheryl and I spent over an hour taking a tour of Chamberlain's home, and seeing the wonderful restoration work being done. I found it interesting to look at the contrasting architectural styles, between the first and second floors!
When Chamberlain purchased this house in the spring of 1859, it had only one story. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had brought his bride to live here in 1829. In 1867, Chamberlain had the house moved--literally!--from its original location on Potter Street, to this more desirable location on Maine Street, across from both Bowdoin College and First Parish Church. During his Bowdoin presidency, in 1871, he decided he needed a larger home, for things like entertaining guests. But instead of moving to another house altogether, Chamberlain had the present house literally raised up off the ground, and had a new first floor built underneath. He personally designed the Grand Entrance Hall, with a spiral staircase going up to the second floor. He jokingly told a reporter:
Here's a nice overall look at Chamberlain's home.
Photo by David Williamson. Do not use without his express written permission.
In this house, Chamberlain and his wife Fannie raised their children: daughter Grace (nicknamed "Daisy"), and son Wyllys. Chamberlain was especially close to Grace, his eldest child; he considered her something of a kindred spirit. As an adolescent, she called her father "Dearest Papa" and "Darling Boy". She would also show her thoughtfulness to him in little ways--such as straightening and putting her father's papers away, after he left them spread around from his desk to the floor and the mantelpiece. When she was a child of six, Chamberlain wrote her this letter after the battle of Chancellorsville:
While he was president of Bowdoin, Grace grew into a young woman to whom Chamberlain would write this letter in May of 1876:
"I have been waiting long for your letter & now have come home from faculty meeting 11:30 Pm & find it.
"Thank you & bless you for it.(Private & Confidential) I dont love you so much because you are my daughter -- that is a mere plupical [?] law of time & earth -- a mechanical [encampment]. I love you because you are a splendid soul & belong to Eternity. I should love you any way daughter -- sister -- woman more especially the latter. Dont consider this a paternal epistle in which fathers say what is proper for fathers to say to daughters. I go back to first principles. Father & daughter is an arrangement of temporal & earthly law for the present sphere. If you were not a woman to command my love. you would not have it -- daughter or no daughter. You do command it -- & I want to tell you that is something worth having.
"I am glad of all the things you tell me of. You do not tell me of everything. You have good reasons. I dont care what they are if they are not the miserable ones of "afraid to tell my father". Let me tell you nobody will ever love you more or more deeply or widely than your present addressor!!!
"I love you as a father properly & regularly; I love you besides as a true, solid, genuine splendid woman, whom if God had given to me, I would have looked on as God's representative on earth -- (as a woman should be to a man) & I would have been something more than I am.
"If you dont like this burn it up & me too. I am in a hurry, & have been sick ever since my return. I wrote you a long letter & burned it! It did me just as much good & you no hurt! God bless you for a sweet true woman -- my joy & hope. If you want anything of me as a daughter let me know. Tear up & burn if you dont like. Written in 10 minutes after 3 days of hell-torments.
In 1881, Grace married Boston lawyer Horace Gwynn Allen (the son of Stephen Allen -- an old friend of her mother's, as it turned out!) at First Parish Church. Her father led her to the very altar where he and Fannie had been married in 1856. She and Horace had three daughters: Eleanor, born in 1893; Beatrice, born in 1893; and Rosamond, born in 1898. Chamberlain adored the three little girls, and visited them often in their Boston home.
Chamberlain's only surviving son, Harold Wyllys (but called Wyllys by the family), was of a different story altogether. Physically, he resembled his mother, and she was also his greatest influence. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1881, and completed his Master's Degree there in 1884, and then studied law at Boston University Law School. He was not the scholar his father was, and never seemed to become completely independent of his parents. He practiced law in both Florida and New York; he also lived in Florida briefly, where he helped Chamberlain oversee some of his business interests. He also pursued his interest in the military while in Florida, serving for several years as lieutenant of the "Finley Guards". During that service, he became involved in an incident where he and his men protected an accused man from being lynched by an armed mob! He downplayed his role in the incident, writing to his family:
But what Wyllys really enjoyed doing was being an inventor, especially doing electrical experiments involving magnets and motors. He gave up his law career, and focused mostly on this vocation, usually living with family members while conducting his experiments. He never married. Chamberlain loved his son, but was constantly worried about Wyllys' ability to stand on his own financially--especially in the event of Chamberlain's death. In a letter to Wyllys, Chamberlain wrote:
No doubt life in his famous father's shadow must have been very hard for Wyllys.
All during his life, Chamberlain remained close to his parents, writing letters and visiting them in Brewer as often as he could. During the war, in a letter to his sister Sae, he wrote:
Every year, on his birthday, Chamberlain wrote a letter to his mother, to thank her for all that she meant to him. This is what he wrote her in 1887:
In the summer of 1880, Chamberlain's father, Joshua, Jr., --the man who had taught him so many valuable lessons--died at the age of 79. In November of 1888--just over a year after receiving the above letter--Chamberlain lost his mother. In fact, the latter part of the 19th century saw Chamberlain also lose his two surviving brothers.
First to go was his brother John, who had spent time with Chamberlain during the Gettysburg campaign, as a member of the Christian Commission. John returned to Maine in 1863 and attended Bangor Theological Seminary, graduating in 1864. He was offered a commission as chaplain of the 11th Maine Infantry Regiment, but declined, and instead moved to New York City to work as an Internal Revenue commissioner, and to get started in business. In April 1865 he began to hemorrhage from his lungs, which was probably indirectly caused by his catching a cold after returning to Washington in 1863. He recovered sufficiently enough to marry Delia Jarvis of Castine and Bangor in 1866. But his illness worsened, and John died at Castine in August 1867, at the age of 29.
Here is a very nice wartime photo of Tom Chamberlain.
It gives no indication of the problems Tom suffered in later life.
Photo sent by Mindy Eckler.
Chamberlain's youngest brother, Tom, had an even more difficult life after the war. It seemed he picked up some very bad habits during his wartime service--namely, drinking too much. He couldn't seem to settle down after the war. He settled briefly in New York, working for his brother John, and worked in business for himself for a short time after John's death. He went back to Maine and worked as a merchant in Bangor for a time; then from 1879 to 1886 he worked in a pension office, possibly in Washington. In 1870 he married John's widow, Delia, but lived apart from her while working at the pension office. Sometimes he was so neglectful of his support of Delia that she had to ask her mother-in-law for money for board and other expenses. His sister Sae wrote worried letters to her brother Joshua. Tom suffered from chronic lung and heart problems before he was fifty, and in the summer of 1896, his health failed completely. His wife Delia and sister Sae devotedly nursed him during his final illness, and Tom died in August 1896, at the age of 56.
Chamberlain's love for his wife, Fannie, remained strong all through the years, even during their most difficult times, and frequent separations due to his speaking engagements. In a letter written to Fannie just before they were married, Chamberlain wrote:
Sadly, Fannie suffered from eye problems most of her life, and by the turn of the century, had gone completely blind. She, who used to enjoy travel (and who had done a lot of it, especially during the Civil War years, visiting friends in Boston and New York), became more and more reclusive, despite the entreaties of her husband and her son-in-law to leave her Brunswick home. In August of 1905, Fannie fell and broke her hip; a short time after that, Chamberlain wrote her a letter for her 80th birthday, to thank her for her love and their long life together. In it, he wrote:
On October 18, 1905, Fannie died in their Brunswick home, and was buried three days later in the family plot at Pine Grove Cemetery. Her husband mourned her loss; on her gravestone he had inscribed the words: "UNVEILED, OCTOBER 18, 1905"--a reference to her blindness. The following spring, he wrote an eloquent tribute to her, in a war paper about the Last Review of the Army of the Potomac. It was written in such a way that any casual listener or reader would think that it was not part of the description of the AOP and its spectators in 1865. It went like this:
During the post-Civil War years, and particularly after Fannie's death in October of 1905, Chamberlain found himself being virtually 'chased' by many women -- literally, from teenagers to 'mature ladies'. And no wonder: he was by no means an 'unhandsome' man! Beyond his tall physical stature, his striking gray-blue eyes (and not to mention that dashing, sweeping mustache!), Chamberlain treated woman chivalrously and attentively. Even more important than that: he also respected their abilities, which was rather surprisingly in an age when most men did not acknowledge a woman's equality.
On the 'teenage side' of things, there were Mary and Edith Dalton, daughters of an old friend of Chamberlain's. They absolutely hero-worshiped him, and they wrote him letters that would have turned any man's head, if it wasn't one that was as steady as Chamberlain's. As a younger man, Chamberlain had a young cousin, Annie Chamberlain, who loved him very much. Just before the war, she told him that she believed that God had chosen him to do a great work, and would call him when needed...
When Chamberlain lived for a time in New York City (without Fannie), attending to some of his business ventures, he made friends with Elizabeth Kendall Upham and her husband. Mrs. Upham looked after Chamberlain, invited him to dinner at the Uphams' home, and took him for carriage rides. She admired him both as a man, and a mind.
There were also women whom Chamberlain assisted in practical ways, such as with financial assistance. One such lady was Sarah S. Sampson. She was a Maine Civil War widow, who worked at the Pension Office in Washington, DC; Chamberlain assisted her in obtaining this position. She called Chamberlain her "glorious Friend", and wrote this to him in the early 1900s:
Then, there were those women who had more 'romantic' feelings for Chamberlain. One of these was Myra F. Porter, a Maine woman from Bangor, but who lived for a time in New York City. She was very poor and ill, and had spent a year in a sanatorium in Nyack-on-the-Hudson, New York. Chamberlain sent her gifts of money over the years --not a lot at once; but over time, a good-sized amount. And he also wrote occasional, in her words, 'kind letters'.
Several of Mary's letters survive, and they are filled with gratitude:
Another time she wrote:
Myra Porter was very fond of Chamberlain. For his part, however, he was really just being a gentleman, assisting a lady in her distress and loneliness. There's no indication that he felt any sort of 'romantic' feelings for her.
There was one woman, however, who did fill a lonely place in Chamberlain's life, in those years after Fannie's death. This was Mary P. Clark. She was a family friend, who admired Chamberlain very much, and she wintered in Massachusetts and summered in Maine. Somewhat extravagant in her letters to Chamberlain, she was a gracious and sentimental lady, who liked investing a friendship with much more 'tender and romantic' feelings. Sometimes Chamberlain would write and call on her. Mary called Chamberlain 'my Beloved General', and she was most grateful for his attentiveness to her. She wrote to him in 1910:
She anxiously wanted to remind Chamberlain of her love for him, and to give him, as she put it:
In 1911, Mary entreated him to visit her, if only briefly. She treasured those rare moments when she saw him -- as well as those even rarer moments when Chamberlain would talk about himself. Or, as Mary described it:
If all the women who wrote to Chamberlain, Mary Clark was most likely the closest in his affections. She was not only a link to his past, she also helped fill that need for companionship and communication, that had been lost with Fannie's death. For her part, Mary really did love Chamberlain. At the same time, there isn't much doubt that she was trying to convince herself -- and him as well -- that his affection for her ran any deeper or more exclusively than it really did.
All in all, Chamberlain enjoyed the company of women. And they responded back with both affection and admiration. And everything he did for them -- his visits, his generosity, his invitations to dine, and his gifts of flowers and candy -- meant so very much to them. And particularly to 'older' women.
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