When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1895, Chamberlain offered his services to his country once again. He contacted Maine Governor Llewellyn Powers, as well as the Secretary of War and to Senator William Frye. In the letter to Frye, Chamberlain offered to organize a division of New England troops to be distributed among several training camps, and also expressed a hope that he could go to Cuba himself. He wrote:

"I cannot but think that my day is not yet over for the service of my Country. You gentlemen in Congress and in the offices of the Government are in your right place; I desire to be in mine."(20)

He was seventy years old when he wrote this letter. The Secretary of War politely acknowledged Chamberlain's offer, but turned to younger men instead. Senator Frye and his colleague, Senator Hale, thought of him as one of the peace commissioners, but nothing came of that--as well as the suggestion from someone else that Chamberlain be considered as head of the new Philippine government.

In 1899, Chamberlain's desire to be of service came to the attention of friends in Maine, who wrote to President William McKinley, asking him to secure a position for Chamberlain to serve the Federal Government in the state of Maine--centering primarily on the post of Collector of Customs for Portland. Many letters and petitions were sent to the President, to Senators Frye and Hale, and to the First Congressional District's representative, Amos L. Allen. Even with all these letters, and expressions of support from other prominent Mainers, Chamberlain did not get the post. (Chamberlain seemed to show a reluctance to speak and work for his own advancement--not because he was shy about doing so, but because he had a great distaste for self-adulation--and he also realized that there's no such thing as an "indispensable man".)

In spite of that setback, however, Chamberlain's friends managed to secure for him the post of Surveyor of the Port of Portland. It was a less prestigious position than that of Collector of Customs, but it was much less strenuous, given the state of Chamberlain's health at the time. Chamberlain finally agreed to take this post (although he was disappointed at not getting the Collector's post), and was officially appointed by President McKinley on March 20, 1900.

The Portland Customs House (the building in the middle with the tower), Portland, ME.

Chamberlain's office was located here.

Photo courtesy of David Lepkowski.

Do not copy without his express written permission.

Chamberlain received many congratulations on getting this position--but inside he was quite distressed. In December 1899, Chamberlain wrote of this distress to an old friend, General John T. Richards:

"The surveyorship is a good little office, no doubt...It is said to be an easy place--no responsibilities, no duties, no power, no prominence, no part in the governmental representation, and requiring no ability...To me it suggests a free bed in a hospital. It has a good salary for such a place, I confess, and that is something of a silencer."(21)

Then he really said what was on his mind, and heart:

"What I aspired to...was the Collectorship. This is a representative office. It is concerned not only with the collection of the customs; but it represents the party in power; represents the President among the people as the Senators and Members of Congress represent the people in the halls of legislation and government...Hence it has been held not unworthy of the ambition of first-class men. It has been thought promotion even for Governors. I am free to say I thought myself equal to these things."(22)

As he thought of the Surveyorship, Chamberlain scoffed:

"{the Surveyorship} has nothing of this character or history about it. It is essentially an obscure office, tending to keep one out of notice, as well as out of responsibility. I am conscious of vital activities which welcome heavier tasks, and demand more scope."(23)

In the end, he applied himself vigorously to the task at hand, determined to make more of the job than it originally offered, and soon made good friends of everybody at the Customs House--especially the Collector. He was also grateful that the job was not strenuous, especially when he suffered a violent inflammation of the Petersburg wound in 1900.

From November 10, 1900 to January 10, 1901, Chamberlain took an extended trip to the Mediterranean, hoping that its warmer climate would aid in the recovery of this most recent infection from his Civil War wounds.

He had wanted to see the ancient classical lands there, especially Italy. But wet winter weather there forced a change in plans, and several acquaintances urged him to go to Egypt, where the drier climate would be better. Chamberlain took their advice enthusiastically, and took up lodgings in Cairo. He did have a brief bout with illness while there, but he received the best of care. He also applied to the Secretary of the Treasury for an extension of his leave, which was granted - and so was able to really relax and enjoy himself.

During his stay in Egypt, Chamberlain developed a consuming interest in both the country's historic past, and exciting present. According to a story later told by his niece, Alice Farrington, Chamberlain became interested in Islam. He would read the Koran in the original language at bedtime -- and then, as if to remind himself that he was, after all, a Christian, he also put his Bible on his night-table, and would read an equal portion from each book before retiring!

All in all, Chamberlain loved his stay in Egypt, and said afterwards that:

" winter on the Nile could not be otherwise than charming and full of historic interest". (23a)

Fannie did not accompany Chamberlain on this trip; by this time, she had lost her sight completely, and she was left in the care of Grace and her family. Chamberlain did not forget his wife; he wrote to her just before he left:

"You remember we are 'engaged' again, not to sink down under any evils in our absence, but to keep whole and well for other days to come."(24)

Chamberlain himself got seriously ill while in Egypt, which delayed his trip home; he returned in the spring of 1901.

Besides his work as Surveyor, Chamberlain also fulfilled many speaking engagements at this time. He spoke at many historic anniversaries in the East, as well as at meetings of the GAR and the Loyal Legion. His most significant address during this time was given on the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth in February 1909, at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. He chose as his theme "Abraham Lincoln Seen from the Field":

"But always he wished to see the army together...This had a being, a place, a power beyond the aggregate of its individual units. A review was therefore held, in completeness and most careful order. Slowly he rode along front and rear of the opened ranks, that he might see all sides of things as they were...We could see the deep sadness in his face, and feel the burden on his heart...and we took him into our hearts with answering sympathy, and gave him our pity in return."(25)

At the conclusion of the speech, the veterans sat in momentary silence, then leapt to their feet in thunderous applause.

Chamberlain's last home, Ocean Avenue, Portland, ME.

Photo by Cheryl Pula:

Cheryl and I found this wonderful old house on a cold, damp day in October. I hope the current occupant didn't see us, snapping pictures like crazy! He must have thought we were nuts.

Besides the speeches, Chamberlain also did a lot of writing about his war experiences. In early 1913, the editor of "Cosmopolitan" magazine asked him to contribute an article, which became "My Story of Fredericksburg". He was also contacted by "Hearst's Magazine" for another article, which became "Through Blood & Fire at Gettysburg". (Unfortunately, the first article caused a serious rift to develop between Chamberlain and his old comrade, Ellis Spear. It seems the editors of "Cosmopolitan"--a Hearst-edited publication--did some "colorful editing" of the article, which infuriated Spear. He thought it was Chamberlain's work--but when Chamberlain himself found out about it, he TOO was infuriated! But Spear didn't know this, and began to publicly condemn his former commanding officer.) He also presented papers on the subjects of the White Oak Road battle and the battle at Five Forks, which became the basis for his only published book, "The Passing of the Armies"--which was not published until after his death.

In May of 1913, Chamberlain made his last known visit to Gettysburg, as Maine's representative on the planning committee for the 50th anniversary reunion in July of that year. He went once more to that southern slope of the hill, where his Twentieth Maine had won their undying fame:

"I went--it is not long ago--to stand again upon that crest whose one day's crown of fire has passed into the blazoned coronet of fame; to look again upon the rocks whereon were laid as on the altar the lives of {Strong} Vincent and {Colonel Patrick} O'Rorke {the commander of the 140th New York, who helped save the right flank of Vincent's Brigade--and who died as a result.]"(26).

As he sat there, he thought he could see in his mind's eye his old comrades returning once more:

"I sat there alone on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight I was buried as with those before. But oh, what radiant companionship was around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls. Oh, the glory that beamed through those nights and days. Nobody will ever know it here!--I am sorry most of all for that."(27)

Sadly, Chamberlain's health wouldn't permit him to go to that great reunion--his doctor, the faithful Dr. Abner Shaw (the same man who saved Chamberlain's life at Petersburg in 1864) would not permit him to go. The heat would probably have killed him. But he saw the Maine contingent off at the train station in Portland--no doubt wishing with all his heart that he could be with them.

In August 1913 Chamberlain visited his daughter's family at their summer home, sailing and spending time with the family. He was even considering writing a book about Gettysburg, but he soon fell ill again, and Grace came from Boston in December to be with him. Dr. Shaw was also with him. Later that month, he felt well enough to sit up in a chair and dictate letters to his surviving sister, Sae. This illness really sapped his remaining strength; and by January 1914, he was completely bedridden. On January 20, 1914, he said in a letter to Sae:

"I am passing through deep waters...The Doctor thinks I am going to land once more on this shore...I am trying to get a little closer to God and to know him better."(28)

Two weeks later, he would write:

"Am gaining strength, but slow work. The bed and bed-side chair are still my habitual place. Have to keep a trained nurse for awhile yet."(29)

He was almost recovered from this illness, when he caught cold and suffered a relapse. This time there was no hope of recovery, and, with Grace and Wyllys at his bedside, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain died, quietly, at his home in Portland, on February 24, 1914. Grace especially was crushed by her loss; her husband Horace came down from Boston to comfort her.

Three days later, on February 27, 1914, a military funeral was held at Portland's City Hall, under the charge of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. Hundreds of people lined the streets as Chamberlain's coffin was taken from his Ocean Avenue home to City Hall. Two thousand people gathered inside City Hall; they included such dignitaries as Maine's governor, representatives of the governor of Massachusetts, officers of Bowdoin College, as well as members of the Loyal Legion and the Grand Army of the Republic. His casket was attended by an honor guard. After two music selections--Beethoven's funeral march "On the Death of a Hero", and Chamberlain's favorite, "The Death of Asa" from Grieg's "Peer Gynt"--the eulogy was delivered by Rev. Jesse M. Hill. He told the crowd, in part:

"There was a texture to his mind, a color to his soul, a certain quality to his personality that would have made him conspicuous and lovable without the titles and robes of the earth...He was the incarnation of the best and manliest qualities of the American character."(30)

Following a prayer, and the playing of "Taps" from the upper gallery, the casket was taken from the hall by the honor guard, to the strains of Chopin's "Funeral March". The funeral procession then made its way through Portland, to the train station, where a special train waited to take Chamberlain home to Brunswick.

Grave of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,

Pine Grove Cemetery, Brunswick, ME.

Photo by Cheryl Pula.

Cheryl took this picture of Chamberlain's grave, on another damp day in Maine. It's always decorated with flowers, flags, small rocks, pinecones, notes--and pennies!

I wonder what it was like, that cold February day, when Chamberlain was finally laid to rest...

In Brunswick, life came to a standstill, as the train carrying Chamberlain's body pulled into the Maine Central station. Businesses closed, classes at Bowdoin were suspended, and flags flew at half-mast. Members of the Grand Army post in Brunswick acted as escorts, and, led by Bowdoin students as a body, proceeded to the First Parish Church for the final service. Cello music was played, a soloist sang two of Chamberlain's favorite hymns: "Abide with Me" and "Nearer My God to Thee", and Bowdoin President William DeWitt Hyde delivered the eulogy. In it, he described Chamberlain's life and career, and attempted to explain why he was such an extraordinary man:

"Whoever, whether as patriot or Christian dares to plant his standards far in advance of present and sustained achievement, runs the risk of ...misinterpretation. General Chamberlain never hauled down his flag to the low level of what he or any man could easily do or habitually be. All he said and did was bright and burning with an ardor of idealism which in the home was devotion; in the college was loyalty; in the State and nation was patriotism; toward humanity and God was religion."(31)

After the service, the funeral procession made its way on the Bath Road, to Pine Grove Cemetery. After a salute of three volleys was fired by the National Guard escort, Chamberlain's casket was lowered into the earth, to lie beside his beloved wife, Fannie. In the days to come, both his daughter Grace and his son Wyllys would also be buried in this family plot.

So ends the story of this great man, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. I want to end this by quoting a passage from "Sunset of the Confederacy", a book written by West Point graduate General Morris Schaaf. It seems an appropriate way to end. In this passage, General Schaaf tries to explain why he thought Chamberlain was selected to receive the Confederate surrender at Appomattox:

"I believe that the selection of Chamberlain to represent the Army of the Potomac was providential in this, that he, in the way he discharged his duty, represented the spiritually-real of the world. And by this I mean the lofty conceptions of what in human conduct is manly and merciful, showing in daily life consideration for others and on the battlefield linking courage with magnanimity and sharing an honorable enemy's woes....Great in the broad and high sense, was the cause battled for and spontaneous and knightly was this act of Chamberlain's {the salute he gave General Gordon}, lending a permanent glow to the close of the war like that of banded evening clouds at the end of an all-day beating rain. It came from the heart and it went to the heart; and when "taps" shall sound for Chamberlain I wish that I could be in hearing, hear Maine's granite coast with its green islands and moon-light reflecting coves taking them up in succession from Portland to Eastport, and as the ocean's voice dies away, hear her vast wilderness of hemlock, spruce and pine repeating them with majestic pride for her beloved son."(32)
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