Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Abner] Coburn,
[n.p.], May 25, 1863

Shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Chamberlain received over one hundred members of the disbanded 2nd Maine at his camp. The 2nd Maine had been disbanded because the two year enlistment of the regiment had run out. However, slightly more than one hundred men in the regiment had actually signed three year papers. The men refused to fight because they believed that they had enlisted to only fight with the 2nd Maine. In this letter to Governor Coburn, Chamberlain explains the plight of these men and asks Governor Coburn to look into what can be done with the situation.

Head Quarters 20th Maine Volunteers

May 25th 1863.

To His Excellency Gov. Coburn[1]


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 20th instant, addressed to Col. Ames[2], and sent to me as the present commanding officer of this Regt. Col Ames having been appointed Brigadier Gen., has taken oath of office + been assigned a Brigade in Gen. Howard’s Corps[3], where he is now on duty.

In reply to your favor I am very happy to say that Dr. Monroe by the efforts of his friends in the Regt. + elsewhere has been reinstated + honorably discharged. We were sorry to lose him, but he felt it his duty to go.

It is very important to the welfare

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of the men that we have a good Surgeon, + it is a matter about which I feel a great deal of anxiety.

We should all welcome Dr. Hersom. I shall act upon your suggestion, + see Col. Roberts of the 17th. I am aware of the difficulty with which transfers between different Corps are made, but it is possible the arrangement you suggest can be carried out. We should all greatly prefer that, to the other course by which Dr. Hersom would be exchanged for Dr. Wescott + neither Regt. Perhaps so well satisfied.

There is another matter, Governor, about which I wish to have a word with you. The transfer of the “three years men” of the 2d Maine has been so clumsily done, that the men are allowed to grow quite mutinous—left uncared for in their old camp after the 2d had gone for several days, + having time and provocation to work themselves up to such a pitch of mutiny that Gen Barnes[4] had to send them to me as prisoners,

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liable to severe penalties for disobedience of his orders. You are aware, Governor, that promises were made to induce these men to enlist, which are not now kept, + I must say that I sympathize with them in their view of the case. Assured as they were that they should be mustered out with the 2d, they cannot but feel that they are falsely dealt with in being retained + sent to duty in other Regts. They need to be managed with great care + skill; but I fear that some of them will get into trouble for disobedience of orders or mutiny. My orders are to take them + put them on duty—which they have already refused to Gen. Barnes + others. I shall carry out my orders whatever may be the consequence; but I sincerely wish these men were fairly dealt with by those who made them their promises. All their papers say they are enlisted for three years—just as men of this Regt. are, + for us in the field there is no other way but to hold them to it. What you may be able to do for them I do not know.

I think with pleasure of your short visit

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to us, + am only sorry I could not do more to make your stay agreeable.

The Regiment was enabled to do good + important service during the fight although we were not allowed to mingle with the rest of the Army. I had a midnight order from Gen Butterfield[5] to take possession of the signal wire from the Battle field to Head. Qrs. of the Army. This gave us enough to do, as the wire was tampered with + broken many times a night, + communication was of the utmost importance. I was in my saddle all the nights inspecting every inch of the line. The Regt. Is in good health—never so free from sickness—small pox entirely disappeared.[6]

I have said nothing about promotions of Field officers in this Regt. I have not supposed that you needed any testimonials; if you wish them they can easily be furnished. But you have seen + known us, + we are willing to leave the matter to your own best judgment.

I am Governor

Very respectfully

Your obdt servt.

J.L. Chamberlain

Lt. Col. 20th Maine Vols.

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

Index Terms: 20th Maine; Howard, Oliver Otis; Chancellorsville; 2nd Maine; Small Pox; Butterfield, Daniel; Gettysburg; Civil War; Ames, Adelbert; Dr. Monroe; Dr. Hersom; Dr. Wescott; Barnes, James; Colonel Roberts

[1] Abner Coburn, Republican Governor of Maine from 1863 to 1864.

[2] Adelbert Ames, former Colonel of the 20th Maine who had been recently promoted to brigade command in the XI Corps.

[3] Oliver Otis Howard, Commander of XI Corps and graduate of Bowdoin College class of 1850.

[4] General James Barnes, Division Commander of the First Division of V Corps, the same division that the 20th Maine was in.

[5] General Dan Butterfield, chief of staff for Generals Joseph Hooker and George Meade. Both of these men at one time commanded the Army of the Potomac.

[6] Over Eighty members of the 20th Maine contracted small pox through defective smallpox vaccines. The faulty vaccinations caused several deaths. Because of this, the 20th Maine was held back from the front during the Chancellorsville Campaign.

Courtesy Maine State Archives.

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