Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My Darling Wife" [Fanny Chamberlain], Burkeville, [Virginia], April 19, 1865.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Much of the Army of the Potomac marched towards Washington for fear of further actions against members of the government. The death of Lincoln came as a crippling blow to a Northern public that had only recently celebrated the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. In this letter from Chamberlain to Fanny, we see Chamberlain's thoughts on Lincoln's assassination and the general feeling of the Union Army at this time as well.

Head Qrs. 3d Brig 1st Div. 5th Corps

Burkeville Apr. 19 1865.

My darling wife, a good morning kiss for you, with big brown eyes + peach-bloom cheeks, and vol- no vel vet lips!

  That, I had written just three weeks ago, seeming like three months or years if you please—so much, + such momentous things have since transpired. That night I had fought a battle—the first of the campaign, and the fiercest—and more than four hundred of my men lay dead or wounded on the field—I too suffering from two wounds either of which was a miracle of an escape. Now I say the same thing to my dearest love, + if I could see her would have many many things to say. What tremendous scenes I have participated in within these three weeks. I told you I think that I fired

Page 1 Image

the first + last gun of this campaign—that I was present at that conference of officers—ever to be memorable—preliminary to the surrender of Lee's army. I had not then passed through the last + most interesting scene. I happened to be designated to receive the formal surrender of the arms of that great Army of Northern Virginia. My Brigade you know is composed of the veterans of the old 5th Corps I have 9 Regts- representing two or three times that number which once made up the 1st 2d Divisions of this Corps- numbering in all some 7,000 men. It is the most magnificent Brigade in the Army, beyond all question. I can't describe this to you now. You can imagine what it was, when those veterans of a score of battles were drawn up to receive the surrender of the

Page 2 Image

army they had faced so many times. They were met with the honors of war- Stonewall Jackson's old Corps, Longstreets[1], + Hill's[2]- 26,000 men surrendered- their arms were stacked, + their colors laid down- 73 battle flags- in front of my lines. I shall have something to tell you of this, as of other matters never to be forgotten. Since then we have marched in complete triumph everywhere. But Fannie, in the midst of all this triumph—in this hour of exultation, in this day of power + joy + hope, when our starry flag floats amid the stars of Heaven, suddenly it falls to half-mast—"Darkness sweeps athwart the sky", + the President of the United States, with his heart full of conciliation + charity + forgiveness is struck down by the assassin's hand. Words will not tell the feeling with which this Army receives this news.

  I wish you could have been present

Page 3 Image

to day at my funeral service for the President—this field—the drooping flags—the dirges of the bands—the faces of the men—the words of the chaplain from his text—"Give me here the head of John the Baptist in a charger"! You should have been here. You of all, I missed. The chaplain is an Irishman, + the celtic soul took fire to day you may, be sure. I ordered this service on my own responsibility, as it is the day of the Presidents funeral, + all duties of a military character are suspended. It will take a life time to tell you all I have to tell. These are terrible times, but I believe in God, + he will bring good at last. We march at 7 in the morning, to make a camp + rest for a little, when I shall write you more fully.

God bless you, sweet love; I thank you for your letters. I learn that some of the { . . . }commend me. For your sake I am glad. I receive many congratulatory letters. Give my love to Auntie, + all , especially to your dear Father. I enclose $10 for you to give Helen. Sae speaks of your "most sweet + beautiful of letters." Thank you darling. What is our baby's name?[3] With a good night kiss + a long one. Your { . . . }

Page 4 Image

Citation: Pejepscot Historical Society, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, Joshua L. Chamberlain Letterbook, Brunswick, Maine.

Index Terms: Lincoln, Abraham; Assassination; Washington D.C.; Lee, Robert E.; Fannie; Civil War; Booth, John Wilkes; Chamberlain, Sae; Longstreet, James; Hill, Ambrose Powell; Jackson, Stonewall; Army of Northern Virginia

[1] James Longstreet, a Confederate General who after Stonewall Jackson's death became Lee's chief subordinate.

[2] General Ambrose Powell Hill was actually killed during the evacuation of Petersburg and therefore was not present at Appomattox.

[3] Fanny named the child Gertrude Loraine after Chamberlain left in February. However, the child lived for less than a year.

[ « back to previous page ]

Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College web site:

Search | A - Z Index | Directory