PREWAR LIFE: 1828 TO AUGUST 1862
Author's note: This biographical section, and the pages following, will consist of photographs of sites relating to Joshua Chamberlain; my own personal observations about the photo; and, where appropriate, a quotation from some of Chamberlain's own writings.
To make things a little easier to follow, I will put the photo captions in green bold; my written text in light type, and Chamberlain's words and direct quotes from letters and books in red bold. Numbers listed at end of quotes are found on the "Bibliography and Notes Page". To return to the Home Page, click on the link at the bottom of the page.
CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YOUTH
Birthplace of Joshua L. Chamberlain,
Main Street, Brewer, ME.
During my October 1997 visit to Maine, my friend Cheryl Pula and I made a stopover in Chamberlain's hometown of Brewer, and looked for his childhood homes. We found this, his birthplace, alongside the very busy "main drag" of Brewer. It is now an antique shop!
LATEST UPDATE: Chamberlain's birthplace now has a new owner! His name is Dan Moellentin, and he moved into the house in July 2006. He is currently doing research on the various properties the Chamberlain family owned in Brewer, and is considering doing some interior restoration.
Thankfully, the house's interior is in good shape.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born September 8, 1828, in Brewer, Maine. His given name was Lawrence Joshua, named so by his father after Captain James Lawrence, a hero of the War of 1812; the captain was best-known for his dying words: "Don't give up the ship!"
Young Lawrence (as he was known to his family and closest friends; he would change the order of his name when he attended Bowdoin College) grew up on a 100-acre farm, the oldest of five children: three brothers--Horace, John and Thomas--and one sister--Sarah, or Sae. His mother, Sarah Dupee Brastow Chamberlain, was a woman of great wit, a gentle but firm hand, and strong Christian faith. His father, Joshua, Jr., was a strict but generous man, who taught his children to think for themselves, but who never let his children forget who was boss:
And he DID IT--with great effort, he managed to free the wheel from the stump--going so far as to startle the "off-ox" and pull everything out of the creek!
Here's a very nice close-up look at Chamberlain's birthplace, in Brewer, ME.
Photo courtesy of Mindy Eckler. Do not use without her express written permission.
Young Lawrence's life wasn't all hard work on the family's farm. Even though he sometimes had to work outside manual labor jobs during temporary family financial difficulties--he worked briefly in a local brickyard and at a rope-walk--it didn't take time away for fun. Sometimes he would ride a favorite mare at a rapid pace over the rocky back fields and through the forests. Or, he would play old-fashioned roundball, or go swimming.
He also came to love sailing. His family owned a sloop they called "Lapwing", and they would spend summer vacations on the Penobscot River after the haying was done. Several home-grown 'hands' crewed the boat, and Lawrence imagined it to be a 'man-of-war'. And, being the oldest, he would order about his younger siblings, Horace and John.
Hunting was, of course, a big part of life in 19th-century Maine. Even though Chamberlain was a good shot and did his share of hunting, he didn't like killing animals for mere sport. On Saturdays, after farm work was done,he would go walking in the woods (taking his gun along, to keep any prying questions at bay). During these walks, he would watch the birds and other forest creatures. He would listen carefully, and noticed the wind making particular sounds through the different-shaped leaves on the trees. He eventually learned how to identify trees by their overhead sounds.
Sometimes the local Indians camped out on his father's farm, and young Chamberlain would join them as they dwelled in their birchbark wigwams. He learned their language, and would listen to the Indians' tales of fearsome Mohawks of old, and of the awesome storm god who sat enthroned on Mount Katahdin -- the highest peak in Maine. Centuries ago, the Indians would not climb beyond Katahdin's timberline, because they believed that those who were foolhardy enough to try would never return. But Lawrence and his father once led a climbers' party up the very same mountain -- and the young man climbed to the very top, and shinnied up the tallest rock, which framed a pillar at the summit.
Religion was a very dominant part of most New England families' lives, and the Chamberlain household was no exception. With Puritan roots on the paternal side, and French Huguenot ones on the maternal side, the faith requirements in Chamberlain's family were strenuous. They worshipped at the First Congregational Church in Brewer -- where, alongside many good works and good fellowship, the rules of conduct were strict. If a member was discovered to be quarreling with neighbors without sufficient reason, or even spending time looking in on a ballroom, they could be confronted before the congregation and chastised.
At the age of sixteen, Lawrence was accepted as a member of First Congregational, after giving the required public testimony of personal religious experience. He described that experience in later life, saying that, after thoughtfully deciding he needed
Even though this testimony was not as exciting as that of a great sinner, or, as he put it, 'sudden saint', he was formally welcomed into the church's fellowship. Even after he left Brewer for Brunswick and Bowdoin College, he remained a member of First Congregational Church until his death.
As a youth, Chamberlain briefly attended Whiting's Military and Classical School; his father intended to fit his eldest son for West Point. But his mother wanted him to study for the ministry. He didn't care to do either--but he especially didn't care to go into the army in peacetime.
In the end, he conceded to his mother's wishes--but only if he could serve as a missionary overseas. In 1846, he decided to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick. But Bowdoin's entrance requirements were strict, and he knew no Greek and little Latin. So, he fitted out a room for study at one end of his parents' attic, and tacked up a daily schedule to the bookcase door. There, he learned Latin from William Hyde, a Bowdoin man who taught at Whiting's--and memorized Kuhner's unabridged Greek grammar, with the aid of a tutor from Bangor. This went on for nine months.
This is Chamberlain's boyhood home in Brewer, showing the attic where he built the solitary room, and studied Greek and Latin, in order to be admitted as a Bowdoin College student. (The house is now in private hands.)
Photo taken by Cheryl Pula.
It was quite exciting to be standing outside Chamberlain's childhood home. The farm itself is long-gone--a neighborhood's grown up around the place. I hoped the current residents didn't think Cheryl and I were nuts, taking all those pictures!
BOWDOIN COLLEGE STUDENT
In February, 1848, Chamberlain and his Latin tutor, William Hyde, headed off to Bowdoin College. After a lengthy examination by a committee of learned professors, he was told he passed all the entrance requirements, and was admitted--much to his relief!
Here's a sign, near the entrance of the Bowdoin College campus.
Photo by David Williamson.
Do not use without his express written permission.
As an incoming freshman student, Chamberlain presented a rather mild-looking appearance -- which somehow spared him any heavy-duty hazing by Bowdoin upperclassmen. Except, however, for one occasion: a 'smokeout' in his room, on the fourth floor of Maine Hall. A group of sophomores sealed his room and filled it with so much tobacco smoke that the room lamp looked like, in Chamberlain's words:
The young Chamberlain somehow managed to outlast that particular college-age prank.
At first, Chamberlain's student days were somewhat lonely: he didn't hear much from his family in Brewer, and the late start did put him at a disadvantage in forming new friendships. But over time, he managed to find some other kindred souls, who took their Christian faith as seriously as he did. And even though he wanted to be liked by his classmates, Chamberlain established his own personal behavior standards, and he declined to get involved in some of the more foolish undergraduate goings-on. Because of this stance, he did find himself lonely on occasion. But over time, Chamberlain gained the respect and admiration of his Bowdoin classmates. He passed his freshman final exams, and headed back home to Brewer for the summer vacation.
When his sophomore year began, Chamberlain found himself hard at work, and learning good study habits. As he went over some of his class weaknesses, he decided he needed to overcome his lack of strength in mathematics--sometimes in all-night sessions, as he fought his way through various complex problems. He seemed to have a much easier time in French, thanks to the instruction of Professor Daniel R. Goodwin. He helped Chamberlain to see into the nature of languages--which eventually led the latter to become fluent in several.
For his Rhetoric class, Chamberlain finally was able to read a novel: "The House of Seven Gables", by Bowdoin graduate Nathaniel Hawthorne. Back home in Brewer, Chamberlain was forbidden to read such books. For some reason, novels were considered immoral. Not even adventure stories such as James Fenimore Cooper's "The Deerslayer" escaped prohibition. Strangely enough: poetry did not fall under this parental ban. Before Chamberlain entered Bowdoin, he could freely quote from the poetry of Lord Byron. And if his parents had managed to read some of the English writer's more romantic verses, it might well have suffered the same fate as those 'immoral' novels!
During Chamberlain's sophomore year, his classmates and others had begun calling him "Jack". That really pleased Chamberlain. He felt it was an indication that they really liked him. As the year went on, he found himself confronted with making more personal behavior choices, which were sometimes difficult. For example, he decided not to drink at all while at Bowdoin, even though that 'occasional glass of cider' had not been prohibited at home. He feared that complications might arise, however, if he decided to drink with one friend, but not with another, depending on the circumstances. When Chamberlain thought the matter over, he decided it was better for him to abstain from drinking altogether, but without displaying any sort of 'holier-than-thou' attitude about it.
These choices, however, didn't protect Chamberlain from the consequences of imbibing too much of the aforementioned cider. One day, Chamberlain and a few classmates, driving a hayrick pulled by two horses, set out to find the customary 'class tree', which would be planted along the border of Bowdoin's campus. That 'perfect tree' could only be found about two miles from Brunswick. And many in the student party (but not Chamberlain) had helped themselves along the way to some 'private refreshments' stores of cider. Their wagon careened wildly around corners in every town on the return trip, colliding with horses, carts and dogs ...and scaring the citizenry out of their wits. Worse, though, was the impudent and drunken behavior shown to more sober citizens by the students -- which eventually made its way back to the Bowdoin faculty. These students were in a lot of trouble now!
The following day, after interviewing several of the culprits (and getting nowhere with their answers), Bowdoin President Leonard Woods summoned Chamberlain to his office. The young man left a solemn group of his fellow students in his room -- at least, those who had sobered up enough to be there. Even though Chamberlain had done his best to discourage the other students' outrageous behavior, his classmates knew that 'their Jack' would neither lie about the incident, and nor would he betray them. Chamberlain did admit to being on the hay-wagon. But Woods didn't believe that Chamberlain had anything to do with what he called the 'disgraceful occurrences'.
Chamberlain agreed with that. But, when he was asked who the guilty students were, Chamberlain refused to divulge names, saying he had 'contentious scruples' about doing so. Woods dismissed Chamberlain's reasons, saying they displayed a "false sense of honor", and he thereupon suspended Chamberlain from the college.
Chamberlain accepted the punishment. But he also protested that he believed that to betray his friends would make him
Even if this stand came from a mistaken, not false, sense of honor, it should be respected. He argued, he said, since
Usually, when a student was suspended, it was considered a disgrace, with the perpetrator eventually suffering parental wrath. But Chamberlain told President Woods that he didn't think that would be the case. He told Woods that
Thereupon, Chamberlain was dismissed, and he returned to his waiting classmates. When he saw his friends, he declared that he was
The offending students decided that "Jack" shouldn't suffer for their misdeeds, and they would at least own up to the public drunkenness. Woods, for his part, was moved by both Chamberlain's arguments, and by the belated confession of the offenders -- the result of which was that all of them were let off with a reprimand by the lenient Woods.
Towards the end of his sophomore year, Chamberlain became one of Professor Goodwin's library assistants -- a reward for his high rank in the Department of Modern Languages. This post gave Chamberlain the privilege of a social relationship with Goodwin and his family. He also became close friends with the son of another Bowdoin professor, Alpheus Packard, and this gave him another family whose social invitations brightened the long study weeks, religious meetings, and other duties, when Chamberlain missed the love and fellowship of his family and friends back in Brewer.
In the summer of his sophomore year, Chamberlain enjoyed teaching a Sunday School class on Sabbath afternoons. He would walk two miles out on the Bath Road to a little yellow schoolhouse. The end of August brought the college year to a close, with a three-week vacation, and Chamberlain's return to Brewer.
Before the beginning of his junior year, however, Chamberlain was struck down with a mysterious illness, which caused him to run a very high fever. The family's doctors did not know what caused it, and things got so serious that they virtually gave him up for dead. His mother, however, refused to accept their diagnosis, and brought in a homeopathic physician instead, who managed to bring the fever under control, thus taking Chamberlain out of danger. He was aided in his recovery by his mother and his teenage sister, Sarah (called "Sae" by the family), who nursed him patiently back to health. But the long illness caused Chamberlain to miss his entire junior year, and he went back to Bowdoin a year behind his classmates.
While at Bowdoin, Chamberlain kept secret a condition that had plagued him since childhood: a stammer, which would occur when he used words beginning with "t", "p" or "b". He was very sensitive about this disability; he was terrified of having to speak in class, for fear of running into a word beginning with those dreaded letters--to say nothing of introducing friends whose names began with those letters! At first, he would scan ahead to prepare himself for any dangerous words, in case he was called on. Or, he would use synonyms, but he felt they sounded stupid. In the end, he discovered two ways to conquer his stammer. One way, he said, was to:
The second method Chamberlain discovered quite by accident. He found that, when he sang in the First Parish Church choir, he realized he didn't stutter! As he explains:
In using these two methods of his own invention, Chamberlain overcame his stammer--and became an accomplished and elegant speaker. By the time he graduated from both Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary, Chamberlain was fluent in nne languages: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. He also picked up Mohawk (learning it from the Indians that camped on his father's farm) and an obscure one called OLD NORSE!
Bowdoin College Chapel, Brunswick, ME.
This is a landmark on the beautiful Bowdoin College campus; Cheryl and I visited it on a lovely day in October 1997. As we sat in the darkened interior, I looked at the organ in the sanctuary, and smiled as I pictured the young Chamberlain as a student, teaching himself to play the instrument. He became so good at it that he became chapel organist!
Chamberlain's years as a Bowdoin student were filled with studies and other activities. Besides Latin and Greek, he mastered Italian and German; he also studied chemistry, physics and mathematics. In his senior year, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and belonged to the Peucinian Society--Bowdoin's oldest literary society--and Alpha Delta Phi social fraternity, and another literary society called "The Round Table". He also studied Hebrew literature in the class of the new Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion, Calvin Stowe--whose wife was the soon-to-be-famous Harriet Beecher Stowe. She would hold "Saturday Evenings" for a group of friends, mostly young (and including Chamberlain) in her home, and read the newest installment of her latest work: "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
First Parish Church, Brunswick, ME.
This is a lovely place, situated near the Bowdoin College campus. Cheryl and I got a couple of chances to visit inside; it's a beautiful Gothic design, with lots of wood and stained glass. We went up into the choir loft--I could well imagine the young music-loving Chamberlain, conducting the church choir here.
It was here, at First Parish Church, that Chamberlain first set eyes on the pretty, dark-haired Frances Caroline Adams--known to friends and family as Fannie. She was the adopted daughter of First Parish Church's pastor, the Rev. George Adams; Fannie had been born and raised in Boston, but was sent at a very young age to live with her father's nephew and his wife. Chamberlain fell head-over-heels in love with Fannie, a very well-educated young woman herself, skilled in both music and art. She was also very strong-willed and rather fond of "fancy things", like elaborate clothes and furs. It was not an easy courtship: it seemed at times that Dr. Adams didn't think that Chamberlain was "good enough" for his daughter, although that would change with time. There also seems some indication that Fannie did not have the same strong feelings towards Chamberlain as he did towards her. It also seems she was even considering a platonic marriage, after the couple finally became engaged in the fall of 1852.
This is the Chapel at the Bangor Theological Seminary campus. Chamberlain would have attended services here, and probably passed by it numerous times during his student days.
Photo taken by Betsy Roche, and used with her most kind permission. Do not copy without her express written permission.
They agreed to marry after Chamberlain's graduation from Bowdoin, and after he completed three years of study at Bangor Theological Seminary. Plus, Fannie herself would be gone; she spent the three years of their engagement in Milledgeville, Georgia, teaching voice at a girls' school, giving private piano lessons and playing the organ at a Presbyterian church.
Interior view of the Chapel at Bangor Theological Seminary.
Photo sent by Betsy Roche, and used with her most kind permission. Do not copy without her express written permission.
Fannie returned from Georgia in August 1855, in time to see her fiancé graduate from Bangor Theological Seminary, and take his Masters' Degree from Bowdoin (he'd received his Bachelor's Degree in 1852). He was also invited to give the Masters' Oration at Bowdoin's commencement in 1855. The speech, entitled "Law and Liberty" was a resounding success--a decidedly marked contrast to his first public speech at his 1852 graduation! At that particular ceremony, the combination of excitement, the presence of distinguished guests (including Fannie), and no text to read from caused his stammer to threaten to return:
Thankfully, his "Law and Liberty" ovation produced much better results!
In the wake of the success of the speech, Chamberlain was offered part of the work in the Department of Revealed and Natural Religion at Bowdoin (Professor Stowe was leaving to take another post at Yale). When the next term opened at Bowdoin, he was an instructor in Logic and Natural Theology and, as tutor, was in charge of Freshman Greek. A modest beginning to his career, and respectable enough.
Chamberlain and Fannie were finally married on December 7, 1855, at First Parish Church by Dr. Adams, despite Dr. Adams' deep reservations about the marriage (although he now regarded his new son-in-law with affection). The newlyweds were ecstatically happy. In October 1856, Fannie gave birth to their first child: a daughter they named Grace Dupee. In November 1857 she gave birth three months early to a son, who only lived a few hours; it was a very sad Thanksgiving in the Adams house that year. But in October 1858 another son was born; after some anxious moments, the boy grew healthily and was named Harold Wyllys. Two other daughters would be born--Emily Stelle in the spring of 1860, and Gertrude Loraine, born in the fall of 1865, but both would die before their first birthdays.
As the Civil War approached, it looked as if Chamberlain's life was almost perfect: he had a beautiful wife, two children he adored, and was considered an "up-and-coming" professor at Bowdoin College. By this time he was teaching Rhetoric at the college, along with German and Spanish--and he was also working hard on some new ideas for teaching his Rhetoric students the uses and appreciation of their native language, while developing their powers of expression by encouragement and stimulation of their undergraduate minds. He'd also bought a house, after years of living in rented rooms: a modest, but roomy, Federal-style 1 1/2 story 'Cape', with a beautiful garden.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Museum, Brunswick, ME.
This is Chamberlain's home as it looks today; it's now owned by the Pejepscot Historical Society.
Cheryl and I took a nearly-one hour tour of Chamberlain's home. The Society has done a marvelous job painstakingly restoring the house to its original state. We saw lots of artifacts: photographs, books, his horse's saddle and blanket--and the bullet that nearly killed Chamberlain at Petersburg, VA, in 1864.
NOTE: TO TAKE A TOUR OF CHAMBERLAIN'S BRUNSWICK HOUSE AS IT IS TODAY, GO TO: 'A VIRTUAL TOUR OF JOSHUA LAWRENCE CHAMBERLAIN'S HOME'
During this time, Chamberlain also suffered a terrible personal loss: his brother Horace, an up-and-coming young lawyer, died of tuberculosis on December 7, 1861--Joshua and Fannie's sixth wedding anniversary. He had a very hard time dealing with Horace's death. He expressed his thoughts about death in a letter to his sister Sae in early 1862:
By this time, however, critical national issues overshadowed personal concerns and sorrows. The issue of slavery, and its westward expansion, caused emotional debate and violence for decades. The 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States signaled to many Southerners the death knell to their way of life. One by one, eleven Southern states eventually seceded and declared themselves a new country: the Confederate States of America. First and foremost in Chamberlain's political beliefs was that the United States was a Union of one people; the people living in the United States constituted the people of the United States, and all formed the Indivisible Union. When secession came, he said:
On April 12, 1861, the guns of the state of South Carolina opened fire on the United States' Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, and the country was doomed to civil war. Thousands of men flocked to President Lincoln's call for troops to preserve the Union and their country.
At Bowdoin College, some upperclassmen enlisted immediately. Other students organized drill companies, such as the Bowdoin Guard and the Bowdoin Zouaves. Bowdoin's alumni flocked to the colors as well; in the end, nearly 300 Bowdoin men would serve the Union cause. As time went on, it was clear this war would not be a short one--and an "irresistible impulse" began to stir in Chamberlain himself, to get involved in the conflict. On July 14, 1862, he wrote a letter to Maine's governor, Israel Washburn, which read, in part:
Washburn knew both Chamberlain's grandfather and father--the former, a colonel of militia in the War of 1812; the latter, a lieutenant colonel of militia in Maine's bloodless Aroostook War. The governor relied on Maine's leading men to raise new companies of infantry to fill the state's quota for new regiments. Chamberlain was confident he could raise the number of men needed for an entire regiment:
For Chamberlain, his desire to be "placed at his proper post" would be faced with personal, and professional, obstacles to overcome. His father, who had wanted him to go to West Point and become a career soldier, would declare the conflict "not our war". Fannie was opposed to his going--she liked being a college professor's wife, and she didn't like the idea that her husband would be risking not only his life, but the entire support of her and their children. And as far as Bowdoin College--well, they didn't want him to go, either!
The College got wind of his plan to use a two-year leave of absence to study in Europe--which was a benefit he'd received as the newly-appointed Professor of Modern Languages--in order to go to war. An uproar ensued, and Chamberlain also found himself in the middle of a religious power struggle for control of Bowdoin. It was feared that, if Chamberlain did not return, his position would be filled by a man not of strict orthodox Congregationalist persuasion--something his friends on the faculty wished to avoid above all other considerations. These friends failed to convince him, so they sent a representative to Governor Washburn, telling him that Chamberlain was, in their words:
One state official, Attorney General Josiah Drummond, warned the Governor that:
In spite of such pressures, however, Governor Washburn assigned Chamberlain as Lieutenant Colonel of Maine's Twentieth Infantry Regiment--the Governor originally wanted him as a Colonel, but Chamberlain declined, knowing that he needed to learn the business of war from a lesser position of authority. So it was done: On August 8, 1862, Chamberlain mustered in as second-in-command to Colonel Adelbert Ames, a Regular Army officer, and a Mainer from Rockland.
"Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain" by Maine artist Ken Hendricksen, from a period photograph.
I took this photo at a Brunswick, ME, restaurant called "Joshua's Tavern". Wonderful place, filled with pictures of JLC. It's also a hangout for Bowdoin College students.
Chamberlain reported to Camp Mason in Portland on August 18, 1862. Here is where the 20th Maine came together--a very unsoldierly-appearing lot, made up of men from all over the state, and from all sorts of occupations. They came from places like Aroostook and Piscataquis counties; they were farmers, clerks, lumbermen, storekeepers, fishermen, builders and sailors. Somehow this independent bunch had to be turned into soldiers, and very quickly. And Adelbert Ames was the man to do it! A graduate of West Point, who had been wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), he had his work cut out for him. As he looked in disgust at this untrained, undisciplined and very unmilitary bunch, Ames was heard to say:
The 20th Maine left Camp Mason on September 2, 1862; after catching a steamer in Boston, they arrived at Alexandria, VA, after a voyage of four days. After camping overnight in Washington, they were marched to join their assigned brigade--the Third Brigade, First Division, of the Army of the Potomac's Fifth Corps--in Virginia. After witnessing yet another ludicrous marching performance, Ames lost his temper and bellowed:
Fortunately, the 20th Maine didn't do that! They were drilled, and drilled--and drilled some more. Ames himself took Chamberlain under his personal wing, trying to cram as much of the regulation drill manual into Chamberlain's head as he could stand! He found Chamberlain to be an excellent and willing student. The men, however, were a different story at first--some thought they would have killed Ames the first chance they got in battle! But in time, the men would see the ultimate benefit of Ames' pushing and prodding. And, that opportunity would come none too quickly...
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