Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site

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From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862


As news of battles fought at distant places like Bull Run and Shiloh trickled back to Brunswick, Chamberlain grew more interested in the conflict. With the casualties mounting at far off battlefields, including many Maine men, Chamberlain realized that his true patriotic calling required him to offer his services to the Governor Washburn, Maine and the Union. He knew that military experience ran in his blood with the exceptional service of his grandfather in the War of 1812. He rationalized that if he combined this natural military ability with his education and intelligence, he could become a very capable military commander. Chamberlain also had great confidence in his ability to recruit from the alumni of Bowdoin College to fill out the ranks of a regiment. In July of 1862, Chamberlain sent this letter to Governor Washburn offering his services to the state.

Brunswick July 14 1862.

To His Excellency Governor Washburn[1]

In pursuance of the offer of reinforcements for the war, I ask if your Excellency desires and will accept my service.

Perhaps it is not quite necessary to inform your Excellency who I am. I believe you will be satisfied with my antecedents. I am a son of Joshua Chamberlain of Brewer. For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational

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as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not

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want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.

I am sensible that I am proposing personal sacrifices, which would not probably be demanded of me; but I believe this to be my duty, and I know I can be of service to my Country in this hour of peril.

I shall acquiesce in your decision Governor, whether I can best serve you here or in the field. I believe you will find me qualified for the latter as for the former, and I trust I may have the honor to hear a word form you, and I remain,

Yours to Command,

J.L. Chamberlain

To His Excellency

The Governor

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Citation: Maine State Archives, Augusta, Maine, "Records Relating to the Career of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain."

Index Terms: Governor; Washburn, Israel; Bowdoin College; War; Service; Civil War; 20th Maine; Europe; Brewer; Professor


[1] Israel Washburn, Republican Governor of Maine from 1861 to 1863.


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