Joshua L. Chamberlain

Joshua L. Chamberlain

A Life in Letters: The Previously Unpublished Letters of a Great Leader of the Civil War

By Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain; Thomas Desjardin (Editor)

Osprey Publishing (UK), Hardcover, 9781849085595, 312pp.

Publication Date: May 22, 2012


Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has been a central character in two feature films (Gettysburg and Gods & Generals), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (The Killer Angels), and an inspiration for Ken Burns's production of the highly acclaimed PBS series The Civil War. Chamberlain won national fame at the Battle of Gettysburg for his key role in fending off the Confederates at Little Round Top on day two of the battle.

This new volume brings to public light 300 never-before-seen letters from Chamberlain's personal correspondence, which comprises letters sent by or to Chamberlain from his college years in 1852 to his death in 1914. The first 100 letters shed light on Chamberlain's formative years and his courtship with Fannie Adams, which has been the source of much speculation by scholars. The final 200 letters reveal insights into Chamberlain the Union commander and the aftermath of the war.

Chamberlain's image can be found on everything from historical art to sculpture, from t-shirts to clocks, from bobble-head dolls to snow globes. Despite all this attention, there is still a lot about Chamberlain that most people do not know. His life is a remarkable story of perseverance, tragedy, and triumph. From an insecure young man with a considerable stuttering problem who grew up in a small town in eastern Maine, Joshua Chamberlain rose to become a major general, recipient of the Medal of Honor, Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin College. His writings are among the most oft-quoted of all Civil War memoirs, and he has become a legendary, even mythical historical figure.

Historian and acclaimed author, Thomas Desjardin, puts Chamberlain's words in contemporary and historical context and uses this extraordinary collection of letters to reveal--for the first time--the full and remarkable life of Joshua Chamberlain. Readers will find this unique portrait of Chamberlain to be entertaining, moving, and inspiring.

About the Author
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914) was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions at the battle of Gettysburg, where he commanded the 20th Maine. A professor at Bowdoin College, Chamberlain volunteered for service in the Union army in 1862 but declined the colonelcy of a regiment, "preferring to start a little lower and learn the business first." Chamberlain also took part in many other important battles, including Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Petersburg, during which he received his fourth serious wound of the war. He later took part in the Appomattox Campaign, and commanded the troops that formally accepted the surrender of the Confederate army. Following his military service, he served as governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College.

Praise For Joshua L. Chamberlain

“Given that the past twenty-five years have seen Joshua L. Chamberlain rise in popularity to almost mythic proportions, this wonderful collection of his previously unknown and unpublished personal letters will be essential reading for his fans. They reveal more of the inner man than anything to come to print to date, and his letters immediately after the battles at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg will be pored over by scholars. A first-rate contribution to the literature of the war.”
—William C. Davis, Professor of History, Virginia Tech University, and author of Battle of Bull Run and Lone Star Rising  

“The bayonet brought Joshua Chamberlain lasting fame, but his pen is why he should be remembered. His beautifully crafted letters convey a deep and resilient love for Union that sustained him in the ranks. While soldiers on both sides succumbed to the brutal indifference of military life, ideas shielded Chamberlain’s soul, preventing him from becoming a cold and callous veteran. The exceptional correspondence contained in Joshua L. Chamberlain—A Life in Letters brings us down from the hero-worshiping altar of Little Round Top to the ground level of war where the Civil War’s most famous Union colonel managed to find higher meaning in the daily struggles of trying to survive a bloody Civil War.”
—Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director, Civil War Institute  
“Tom Desjardin has accomplished something remarkable, excavating afresh treasures from the heavily mined Chamberlain archive. Scholars, fans, aficionados—indeed, anyone interested in the Civil War—will learn much about one of Maine’s favorite sons and a hero to many Americans. The Chamberlain uncovered in these pages is no stereotype, but a complex man, whose virtues and failings vastly enrich our portrait of him. With sensitivity and wit, Desjardin offers us a new Chamberlain—perhaps less heroic than the one we know, but ultimately far more human. In the process, he adds much to our understanding not just of the Civil War, but of American life in the Victorian era.”
—Patrick Rael, Professor of History, Bowdoin College
“Many know Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, the ‘hero of Little Round Top’ and icon of Gettysburg, well, but relatively little about the life of the real Joshua Chamberlain. This marvelous collection of letters reveals to us the person concealed behind the myth and legend. They do not diminish his stature; rather they enhance it. Chamberlain was a remarkable man and lived an eventful, fascinating life. Enjoy the letters and meet the man.”
—D. Scott Hartwig, Historian, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

"...[a] timely addition to the literature of the Civil War, appearing as it does on the 150th anniversary of Joshua Chamberlain's entry into the Union Army."
--Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life, in a review for The Wall Street Journal (July 22, 2012)

"Joshua Chamberlain (1828-1914) may be Maine's most recognized historical figure and for good reason -- he was a selfless man of honor, loyalty, courage and compassion. And his personal correspondence clearly reflects those laudable qualities in this revealing book sponsored by the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA."
--Bill Bushnell, Kennebec Journal (January 17, 2013)

"Numnerous bookshave been written about this American hero, but few have revealed his more human qualities than this collection of letters from his personal correspondence."
--Bill Bushnell, New Maine Times (January 30, 2013)

"This compilation of letters may just be the most important book published on Chamberlain in recent memory."
--Robert Grandchamp, Blue & Gray Magazine

"A valuable volume, primarily for those who wish to know more about Joshua Chamberlain than just his iconic performance at Gettysburg." --Judkin Browning, Civil War Book Review