Celebrating Maine's 200th- Joshua Chamberlain

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 5:13 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Joshua Chamberlain is best known for his military leadership during the Civil War.

In particular, his command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the battle at Little Round Top that eventually drove back the Confederates.

But Chamberlain's prominence in Maine's 200 year history may actually be the years leading up to the war.

As Joy Hollowell tells us, this larger than life war hero started life with a battle of his own.


"He was born and raised in Brewer, Maine," says Tom Desjardin, a Maine historian who has written several books about Joshua Chamberlain and the Battle at Gettysburg."He actually grew up with a bad stuttering problem. Was very reserved and quiet as a result. He was today, we'd say, a nerdy guy."

After high school, Joshua Chamerlain attended Bowdoin College.

"He overcame the stuttering problem to get into Bowdoin," explains Desjardin. "You had to recite and know and number of languages including German as part of the entrance exam in those days. He literally locked himself away in his family's attic in Brewer and studied 12 hours a day until he just mastered it. And he actually learned to sing his way through the syllables that hung him up."

Chamberlain did well, graduating at the top of his class.

"When he was a young adult, Chamberlain had to make a choice between going to the seminary to become a minister, which is what his mother wanted him to do, and joining the military which is what his father wanted him to do," says Desjardin. "He chose the ministry partly to please his mother and partly because there was no war going on and that would be a boring profession.

But Bowdoin wanted Chamerlain back. This time as a professor.

"He taught at Bowdoin almost everything in the curriculum except math," says Desjardin with a chuckle, "he hated math."

And despite Chamerlain's early years of stuttering=

"He became fluent in 7 languages," says Desjardin. "He taught religion, revealed religion, rhetoric, speech, public speaking."

While at Bowdoin, Chamberlain applied for and was granted a two year sabbatical to study in Europe.

"And instead he took the time to go join the U.S. Army," says Desjardin with a smile.

At this point, you could safely say the rest of history. Chamberlain's valient efforts at Little Round Top that would earn him the U.S. Army Medal of Honor.

"Gettysburg is the most famous part," says Desjardin. "In the larger scheme of things, it is a very small piece of what he did."

In fact, Chamberlain only spent about three years in the military. After returning to civilian life, the Maine Repbulican party asked him to run for governor.

JOY STAND-UP Chamberlain would go on to serve four terms as Governor of Maine.

After politics, Chamberlain would return to Bowdoin a third time, serving 13 years as the school's president.

"He tried to modernize Bowdoin College," says Desjardin. "In 1872, he went to the board of overseers and said- we should allow women to the school. And Bowdoin promptly did so, 100 years later."

Joshua Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85.

"I always thought the relevance of his story is that he came from such simple beginnings like all of us who were born and raised in Maine, but went on to do these tremendous things," says Desjardin.