By Jason Page
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828 – 1914) was a college professor and one of the most highly-respected officers in the United States Army during the American Civil War, attaining the rank of major general by the time he was forced to retire. He was also the recipient of the Medal of Honor by then President Grover Cleveland, and served as Governor of Maine for four terms. He also served on the faculty and later as president of Bowdoin College for 15 years (Weeks 1997). Chamberlain was a devoted son, loving husband and father, war hero, notable scholar and teacher, dynamic and innovative leader, and humble servant and follower of Jesus Christ.
Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain was born to Joshua Chamberlain Jr. and Sarah Dupee Brastow on September 8, 1828 in Brewer, Maine. Chamberlain’s childhood included the addition of three brothers and one sister to the family and both his mother and father were very active in raising him and his siblings “to be moral and upright, with integrity and honor to the forefront, but (also with) willingness, manners and cheerfulness” (Trulock 1992, 31-32). Church and faith were at the center of the Chamberlain household. The family worshipped at the First Congregational Church in Brewer, Maine and at the age of sixteen, Lawrence would become a member of his own standing after giving the required public accounting of his salvation story to the congregation. He remained a member there until he died in 1914 (Trulock 1992, 34).
After attending Whitting’s Military and Classical School as an adolescent, Chamberlain entered Bowdoin College in 1846. He was an exemplary student and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1852. By 1855, Chamberlain had earned graduate degrees from both Bowdoin and Bangor Theological Seminary, married his college sweetheart, Fannie, and began his college teaching career at his alma mater, instructing logic, natural theology, and Greek. During the next six years, Joshua and Fannie would father five children (two of whom died at birth), become well-known citizens of Brunswick, and Joshua himself would become one of the highest paid faculty members at Bowdoin College, teaching every course the college offered except mathematics.
Civil War service
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Chamberlain wished to enlist, but the Bowdoin College administration felt that he was too valuable to the college. Chamberlain asked for a leave of absence (supposedly to study languages for two years in Europe), but instead enlisted and received a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the Union Army of the Potomac (Trulock 1992). He fought with the regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Antietam, and at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where he was promoted to colonel of the regiment. Chamberlain's younger brother, Thomas Chamberlain, was also an officer of the 20th Maine.
Chamberlain’s legend was secured at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of Little Round Top became the focus of many writings and other entertainment outlets, including Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels, and the movie based on that novel, Gettysburg. Sent to defend the hill by Col. Strong Vincent, Chamberlain found himself and the 20th Maine at the far left end of the Union line, with the 83rd Pennsylvania, 44th New York, and 16th Michigan infantry regiments to their right. The men from Maine waited until troops from the 15th Alabama regiment charged up the hill, attempting to flank the Union right. Time and again they struck, until the 20th Maine was almost folded in half.
“At that moment, Lt. Holman Melcher rushed up to ask permission to go forward and rescue some of his wounded who were lying on the ground in front of the line. “You shall have your chance,” Chamberlain answered the impetuous officer; “I am