Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Dear Father" [Joshua Chamberlain], Brunswick, February 20, 1865.

During the winter of 1864-1865, Chamberlain's parents strongly urged him to remain in Maine and to take a position as Collector of Customs in Bath. They argued that it would be better for him to stay closer to home in order for his health to be fully restored and to be closer to his family. The following is Chamberlain's response to his family, in which he voices a sincere desire to return to the army and fulfill his obligations to his country. Chamberlain speaks to the soldiers he left back in Virginia as well as a desire not to miss out on "the decisive moment."

Brunswick Feb. 20th, 1865

Dear Father,

I appreciate fully the view you + Mother take of the Collectorship offered me. It is natural and proper advice, + such as I certainly expected. But my own consideration of the subject has not, as yet, brought me to favor the proposal any more than at first.

I owe the Country three years service. It is a time when every man should stand by his guns. And I am not scared or hurt enough yet to be willing to face to the rear, when other men are

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 marching to the front.

It is true my incomplete recovery from my wounds would make a more quiet life desirable, + when I think of my young + dependent family the whole strength of that motive to make the most of my life comes over me.

But there is no promise of life in peace, + no decree of death in war. And I am so confident of the sincerity of my motives that I can trust my own life + the welfare of my family in the hands of Providence.

And then as far as mere human probabilities go, my position + prospects in the Army were never

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 better. I am now among the senior officers of my rank. And after all I have gone through, I am not willing to back out just at the decisive moment, + leave the rewards + honors of my toil + sufferings to others. I had a great deal rather see another man in that Custom House, than see another next commander of the 1st Division.[1] Nor will my claims be any less for an honorable post in civil life after still longer + better service in the Field, nor for having declined advantageous offers for myself personally, rather than to abandon our cause in the hour of its need.

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At all events I must return to the army, and if I find I cannot stand it I shall not be foolish about it but shall take proper care of myself.

I shall leave tomorrow. Have not yet been out of the house, but think I can bear the journey. Am sorry not to have seen you before leaving. Will write as soon as I reach the front.

Your aff. son


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Citation: George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, M27.

Index Terms: Collector of Customs; Bath; 1st Division; V Corps; Providence; Army; Civil War; Customs House

[1] The First Division of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Chamberlain commanded a brigade in this division beginning in the Spring of 1864. He would ultimately command the division by the end of the war.

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