Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Fanny" [Fanny Chamberlain],
New York, New York, August 8, 1885.

In 1885, President Grant passed away of throat cancer and Chamberlain attended his funeral in New York City. According to Grant's wishes, Chamberlain found himself towards the front of the procession as Grant's body moved towards a position in Riverside Park. Chamberlain deemed his position in the procession not befitting a man of his relatively unknown status. The following letter details Chamberlain's impressions of the funeral and commentary on the other prominent Civil War generals present.

New York 8 Aug. 85

My dear Fanny;

The great scene is over. Grant is laid in his tomb. You may imagine—few others can—how strange that seems to me. That emblem of strength + stubborn resolution yielding to human weakness + passing helplessly away to dust.

I wish you could have seen the faces of Sherman + Sheridan + Hancock as they stood over that bier before the body was laid away.

What thoughts—what memories—what monitions passed through those minds! The pageant and the tribute of honor were grand—worthy of a great nation. I wish now very much that I had brought Wyllys with me.

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This is the last of the great scenes. At least for this generation. I will tell you more about it when I get rested a little, or after I come home. By Genl Hancock's kind attention I was treated with marked distinction—too much in fact.

I had a carriage directly in the group of Cabinet Ministers + the most distinguished men of the Country. It chanced that I was far ahead of the Governors of States + officers of the Army. I would not have chosen that position because it was too much. But Genl Hancock's staff officer did not seem to understand that I was only a private citizen.

I was also in the same line with the Senators chosen as chief mourners. It strangely happened that Governor Coburn[1] of Maine was left out without notice + without provision by carriage for a place in the procession.

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I stopped my carriage when I saw him + took him + the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army into my carriage + my place—far ahead of that to which they would have fallen if they had had a carriage!

By this means they had a chance to see the whole ceremony + at the burial service they were with me not ten feet from the central scene. The casket before the tomb-door, while the last service were paid—the last prayer offered—the bugler stepped to the front + sounded with trembling lips the tattoo! The evening roll call—you remember—the end of the day—the signal of silence + darkness. They who stood about – most of them—could not feel all that said to me. I looked in vain for a face that seemed to express what I was feeling.

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But not till I saw ^ the faces of Sherman + Sheridan + Hancock did I meet that response, + that deepened all my own feelings.

The great men of the nation were there. But nothing seemed great to me—but what was gone; except the multitudes that crowed miles on miles, + the tokens of mourning that overshadowed the city.

Grant himself seemed greater now than ever. And he is.

I am glad I saw it all, + was admitted to a near place.

Do not think me foolish + egotistic. It is not that spirit that prompts me to speak of myself: but you know I have had great + deep experiences-- + some of my life has gone into the history of the days that are past.

I shall probably go to Phila. + West Virginia next. Address care of M.C.C. Church Parkersburg West 2{ . . . }. Good night + all blessings.

Yours J.L.C.

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Citation: Maine State Museum, Augusta, Maine.

Index Terms: Grant, Ulysses S.; New York; Philadelphia; Sheridan, Philip; Sherman, William; Hancock, Winfield Scott; Coburn, Abner; Chamberlain, Wyllys; Retirement; Maine; West Virginia; Grand Army

[1] Governor Abner Coburn was Governor of Maine from 1864 to 1865.

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