Army Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain: Medal of Honor Monday

By Katie Lange

Medal of Honor Monday

USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Anyone who knows the Civil War history of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg likely remembers the name of the man who held the hill, Army Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain. His actions July 2, 1863, were pivotal to the Union winning that crucial battle, and, years later, they earned him the Medal of Honor.

Army Brevet Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, circa March 1865.
Army Brevet Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, circa March 1865.

Chamberlain was born on Sept. 8, 1828, near Bangor, Maine. As the eldest of five children, he grew up helping his father work on their family farm. He also got an education, graduating from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1852.

Three years later, Chamberlain went back to the college to teach languages and rhetoric (persuasive speaking and writing). He married his wife, Fannie, around the same time. They went on to have five children, but only two survived to adulthood.

Civil War Service

Chamberlain's family had served in wars dating back to the American Revolution, so he had a great appreciation for the military. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he wanted to do his part for the Union. College administrators didn't want to allow him to leave his studies, so he asked for and was granted a leave of absence to study abroad. Instead, he joined the Army.

By autumn 1862, Chamberlain was appointed lieutenant colonel of the newly created 20th Maine Infantry. The regiment saw limited action at the battles of Antietam in Maryland, and Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Virginia, over the following months. By May 1862, Chamberlain had been promoted to colonel and given command of his infantry unit.

Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.
A painting depicts Union Army Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain ordering the men of the 20th Maine Infantry to run down Little Round Top and push back the Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.

Chamberlain's fame grew out of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On July 2, 1863 — the second day of the three-day campaign — the colonel's regiment had been ordered to occupy critical land between two hills, Big and Little Round Top. Their mission was to hold the far left flank of the Union line at all costs. If they didn't, the entire Union position was in jeopardy.

The Confederate soldiers knew that, too.

Soon after they got into a defensive position, the 20th was bombarded with attacks from the Confederacy's 15th and 47th Alabama regiments. They managed to fend off the enemy six times, but they were running low on ammunition.

Chamberlain knew the regiment wouldn't be able to withstand a seventh barrage, so he ordered the 20th Maine Infantry to go on the offensive. With bayonets drawn, the soldiers charged down Little Round Top, startling enemy forces so much that they were able to force the enemy back and capture hundreds.

Thanks to their charge, the Union's line, which had grown flimsy, was once again secure. A win at Gettysburg helped turn the tide of the war in the Union's favor.

A monument stands near Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa.
A monument stands near Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa.

A Storied Career

Afterward, Chamberlain was nicknamed the “Lion of Little Round Top,” and he continued to move up in the ranks. In June 1864, he was commanding a brigade at the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, when he was seriously injured in the hip and groin. He survived and, after months of hospitalizations, returned to the battlefield in November 1864 as a brigadier general.

When the war ended, Chamberlain was chosen to receive the Confederate surrender of arms at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. According to the National Park Service, the then-brevet major general “ordered his men to attention as the Confederates passed as a sign of respect for their defeated foe.”

Soldiers mill around the outside of Appomattox Courthouse, Va., in 1865.
Soldiers mill around the outside of Appomattox Courthouse, Va., in 1865. Dozens of Civil War soldiers holding muskets stand in front of a two-story building. More men sit on a fence, while others stand on a second-story balcony.

Chamberlain left the Army in 1866 and returned to Maine, where he continued his military career as a major general in the Maine National Guard. Thanks to his wartime popularity, he was elected to four terms as the state's governor. Chamberlain went on to become the president of Bowdoin College from 1871 to 1883. He spent his last decades writing and speaking about the Civil War.

Two Medals

In 1893, Chamberlain received the Medal of Honor — which had been created during the Civil War — for his tenacity and heroism at Gettysburg. He was awarded two medals — one in 1893 and a second in 1904 — after Congress authorized a new design that all recipients were to receive.

Chamberlain died Feb. 24, 1914. His death was attributed to the wounds he suffered during the siege of Petersburg, making him the last Civil War veteran to die of war-related wounds. He was 85.

A Civil War-era version of the Medal of Honor.
A Civil War-era version of the Medal of Honor.

Chamberlain's original Medal of Honor resides with the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns and operates the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum near Bowdoin College. According to the school, an anonymous donor found the medal in the back of a book the donor had bought at a church sale. That church had been gifted the estate of Rosamond Allen, Chamberlain’s granddaughter and last surviving descendant when she died in 2000.

The second Medal of Honor given to Chamberlain is on display at the college.

Bowdoin College is also the alma mater of another Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Corps Capt. Everett Pope, who attended the school in the 1930s and earned the medal during World War II.


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U.S. Department of Defense

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Ansel HazenEj harbetKnuteWild BillStWayne Recent comment authors
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Ansel Hazen
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Ansel Hazen

That’s our Man.
Proud Mainer, and a Son of Liberty here actively training for the boog.

Ej harbet
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Ej harbet

One of the heros all sons of liberty should know. That fight was even sung about by a metal band named iced earth.

Deplorable Bill
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Deplorable Bill

If memory serves, the motto for the S.A.S. is; He who dares, wins.”

Arm up, carry on.

Wild Bill
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Wild Bill

@DB, Just “Who dares, wins.”

crazy joe
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crazy joe

I WAS GLAD TO SEE MY GREAT GREAT UNCLE’S FEAT POSTED,

Deplorable Bill
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Deplorable Bill

To charge the enemy when your ammo is low, to effect a startle upon them so great as to turn the tide of battle is genius. Desperate yes, but genius. That is the stuff that real heroes are made of.

Arm up, carry on.

Knute
Member
Knute

Just as it did for the USN in1944 at the battle of Samar. And yes indeed, Real Hero is none too strong a word for the likes of Hathaway, all of “Taffy Three”, and, basically, everyone in the Phillipines, who would have paid the price had they not been so heroic. Hell, one could even extend it to the lab coats back home who invented radar. Without fire control radar, which the Japanese at that time did not have, or had an inferior version of, like as not Hathaway’s charge straight into the teeth of the beast would have been… Read more »

Knute
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Knute

Now what in the world is in there that someone would downvote? Marines that just hate the letters USN? 🙂

Dave in Fairfax
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Dave in Fairfax

Knute, I doubt that it was a Marine who did it. All Military understand the concept of “Force of Violence”. More likely it was one of the trolls or an errant snowflake.

pigpen51
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pigpen51

The only thing I can figure is that someone didn’t like that they posted something other than that which pertained to Chamberlain. But I think there is room for all heroes here.

Knute
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Knute

The Marine remark was just tongue-in-cheek. I was just trying to play off of their well known hatred of the navy, and vice-versa. But that doesn’t rise to this level. They will poke fun at each other, but not something this petty. Hatred of heroes? To my mind, it has to be either haters of absolutely everything, or else a troll that I exposed sometime in the past with a personal axe to grind. I’m used to downvotes, but not for praising extreme bravery under fire! Even I, as pessimistic as I am about human nature, thought that that one… Read more »

loveaduck
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loveaduck

Spent 20 in USN. Teased the Jarheads regularly. But if I had to march through hell I’d want a squad of US Marines with me.

Knute
Member
Knute

Exactly. The Navy and Marines might tease each other, or even get into fist fights, from time to time, but I can’t really picture any Marine voting down praise for Taffy Three, which is just about the most heroic thing I’ve heard tell of, and in a war absolutely chock full of US heros.

StWayne
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StWayne

Knute — I at least got you back to zero. I wish Ammoland (are you even listening?) would do away with the voting system. And, I absolutely hate it that every time I logon I have to click off my screen, an advertisement that promises everything in return for my email address so that they can then inundate my in box with whatever it is they have to offer. Three times should be enough to get the message across that I’m not interested. When I was in the military (both Air Force and Army for a total of eight years,)… Read more »

Dave in Fairfax
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Dave in Fairfax

StWayne, IGNORE the voting system. It doesn’t mean anything other than counting the volume of the various threads. It’s part of the system. Think of it as wide white walls on your car. They came with it(remember them). They don’t hurt anything and they go around when you move. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

StWayne
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StWayne

Sage advice that I will take to heart. Thank you for caring enough to share it. And yes. Not only do I remember whitewalls, but had cars with them. I even had one with, get this: a curb finder. Now those, were the days.

Knute
Member
Knute

I’ll bet whoever just voted you down is the same silent troll. Well, at least he’s silent. The very best way a troll can ever be!
I’ll get it back to zero anyway. All his hard work… FUBAR’d. 🙂 Couldn’t happen to a nicer troll.

Wild Bill
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Wild Bill

DP, Uhh… yeah. Real corpses, too. We fight with interlocking fields of fire, fire and maneuver, bounding overwatch techniques, and above all (no pun intended) close air support. Combat is just another form of work.