Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


Bowdoin College, May 5, 1848

From Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My Dear Pastor"
Chamberlain stayed quite pious at school, opting to focus on his studies and devotion to God.

Brunswick, April, 21, 1859

From Joshua L. Chamberlain to F.O.J. Smith
Chamberlain writes to a concerned father about why his son was denied promotion to the senior class.

Bowdoin College, October 14, 1859

Joshua L. Chamberlain to Nehemiah Cleaveland
Chamberlain provides his view of what College, and education more generally should entail.

Brunswick, January 31, 1860

From Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Dear Mother" [Sarah (Brastow) Chamberlain]
Chamberlain describes the current health of the family, and the "plotting and counterplotting" taking place to attain the position of Professor of Modern Languages.

Brunswick, July 14, 1862

From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn
As news of battles fought at distant places like Bull Run and Shiloh trickled back to Brunswick, Chamberlain realized that his true patriotic calling required him to offer his services to the Governor Washburn, Maine and the Union.

Head Quarters 20th Maine Volunteers [n.p.], May 25, 1863

From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Abner] Coburn
Shortly after the Battle of Chancellorsville, Chamberlain received over one hundred members of the disbanded 2nd Maine at his camp. The men refused to fight because they believed that they had enlisted to only fight with the 2nd Maine.

Brunswick, February 12, 1865

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Dear Father" [Joshua Chamberlain].
Chamberlain writes his father describing his family and his future plans, which he hopes include a return to the Union Army.

Brunswick, February 20, 1865.

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Dear Father" [Joshua Chamberlain]
Chamberlain voices a sincere desire to return to the army and fulfill his obligations to his country. He speaks to the soldiers he left back in Virginia as well as a desire not to miss out on "the decisive moment."

Hatcher's Run, March 9, 1865

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Sae" [Sarah (Chamberlain) Farrington]
Despite his sincere desire to return to the front, he confides in his sister the desire to return home. This letter also reveals Chamberlain's adherence to Victorian ideals of manhood and honor. These values steered Chamberlain toward the war, and kept him coming back each time he was wounded.

Appomattox Court House, April 13, 1865

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Sae" [Sarah (Chamberlain) Farrington]
U. S. Grant selected Chamberlain, now a Brigadier General, to receive the surrender of the Confederate infantry at Appomattox. In the following letter, Chamberlain describes to his sister the surrender of the forces led by General John B. Gordon.

Burkeville, [Virginia], April 19, 1865

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My Darling Wife" [Fanny Chamberlain].
Chamberlain's thoughts on Lincoln's assassination and the general feeling of the Union Army at this time as well.

Augusta, Maine, November 14, 1867

1867-11-14 - Joshua L. Chamberlain to W.W. Rice.
Chamberlain detested the capital punishment law in Maine. In a letter to a prison warden, he emphasizes the fact that there is a clear distinction between inmates sentenced to death and those given a lighter sentence. He stresses that all is to be done in order to avoid the issue of executions in the State and that there were acceptable alternatives.

Augusta, November 20, 1868

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Dear Fanny" [Fanny Chamberlain].
Joshua and Fanny Chamberlain had a unique and at times challenging relationship. At some points, the two would not see each other for weeks at a time. The long distance relationship led to strains in their marriage.

Augusta, Maine, July 20, 1870

Joshua L. Chamberlain to King William of Prussia.
Even after Chamberlain had served as Governor of the State of Maine and as President of Bowdoin College, he insisted for the rest of his life that he be referred to as "General Chamberlain." In this interesting piece of correspondence, Chamberlain offered his services to the King of Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.

Brunswick, Maine, October 9, 1872

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "Miss Low" [C.F. Low]
This letter is from Chamberlain to a female student applying to enter the Medical School in 1872. Chamberlain advocated for women to be admitted to Bowdoin College, a full one-hundred years before co-education became a reality.

Bowdoin College November 12, 1873

Boards of Trustees and Overseers to "Dear Sir" [Joshua L. Chamberlain]
Perhaps the most controversial element of Chamberlain's Presidency at Bowdoin dealt with the institution of military drill at Bowdoin. Problems arose from the beginning. The students finally submitted a petition in the fall of 1873 to end the drill.

Bowdoin College, May 28, 1874

Joshua L. Chamberlain to Mother of Horace Reed Patten
Conflict between the students and Chamberlain led to a boycott of the military drill on May 26, 1874. Chamberlain expelled all who refused to participate. He offered the possibility of return to the college on the condition that they would return to military drill. All but three of the students ultimately returned.

Cherryfield, [Maine], March 2, 1875

Harrison Hume to Joshua L. Chamberlain
Although all but three students eventually returned to Bowdoin College as a result of the "drill rebellion," many were initially denied readmission or had their readmission delayed. Letters such as these written at the behalf of various students are quite common in the Chamberlain Collection.

Brunswick, Maine, March 22, 1875

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Mr. Longfellow" [Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
When the famous Bowdoin class of 1825, which had such notable alumni as Henry Longfellow and Nathanial Hawthorne, celebrated its fiftieth class anniversary, Chamberlain extended an invitation to Longfellow to stay at his house for the reunion, offering it as a "base of operations."

Gardiner, [Maine], October 12, 1877

J.M. Larrabee to "Dear Sir" [Joshua L. Chamberlain]
As President of Bowdoin College, Chamberlain dealt with a wide range of concerns, including the apparently trivial matter of class pranks. Yet, despite the apparent humor of the subject, it spoke to a larger and more serious issue, that of the severe financial problems that plagued many families in sending their sons to Bowdoin.

[n.p.], January 15, 1880

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Fanny" [Fanny Chamberlain]
A crisis emerged in the fall and winter of 1879 over the winner of the Maine gubernatorial election. The issues were referred to the Maine State Supreme Court. Armed mobs soon arrived in Augusta to support their respective candidates. The state militia, under the command of Militia General Chamberlain mustered at the State House to maintain order.

Farmington, N.H., October 6, 1880

J.F. Stafford to Gen. J.L. Chamberlain
The decade of the 1880s witnessed a resurgence of popular interest in recalling the Civil War. Chamberlain became a much sought after name for both his "Gettysburg" story and his "Appomattox" story on the lecture circuit. The Chamberlain Collection is full of invitations for him to speak all over the northeast.

Brunswick, Maine, February 6, 1884

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Professor Johnson" [Henry Johnson]
Insight into Chamberlain's feelings on being a college president. Just three years into his Presidency, Chamberlain wrote this letter to Henry Johnson, a Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin.

New York, New York, August 8, 1885

Joshua L. Chamberlain to "My dear Fanny" [Fanny Chamberlain]
Chamberlain's impressions of the funeral of President Grant in 1885, in New York City, and commentary on the other prominent Civil War generals present.

Brunswick, Maine, February 27, 1897

Joshua L. Chamberlain to Hon. William C. Oates
Following the Civil War, Joshua Chamberlain and William C. Oates led somewhat parallel lives. The two men also corresponded, reliving the details of their clash at Little Round Top.

Brunswick, Maine, January 18, 1899

Joshua L. Chamberlain to Frank A. Garnsey
Chamberlain repeatedly found himself asked to publish his Civil War experiences, especially those regarding Gettysburg and Appomattox. He had not always been so willing to. Initially, he was more interested in the profits made from lectures on his experiences. Publishing would have deprived him of a lucrative source of income.

Washington D.C., December 4, 1899.

Ellis Spear to Hon. Amos Allen
In his retirement years, Joshua Chamberlain was offered and accepted a position as Collector of Customs at the Port of Portland. Many lobbied on Chamberlain's behalf for the position, including Ellis Spear, who greatly aided Chamberlain on Little Round Top on July 2nd. Although the two men would bicker in later years over the details of the famous "charge" at Little Round Top, at this point they were still friends.

Portland, Maine, January 31, 1911

Joshua L. Chamberlain to Samuel Abbott
Even as Chamberlain's life drew to a close, he often reminisced about his time in the army. Once again, we can see the repeating Victorian ideals of "manhood" and "brotherhood" which Chamberlain frequently spoke to. This is one of the most stirring letters that Chamberlain wrote; it speaks to his respect for his Southern foes and their dedication to the cause.

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