Maine Native Seeks to Place Historical Marker at Virginia Site Where Joshua Chamberlain Was Shot

By Koenig, Seth | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), June 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Maine Native Seeks to Place Historical Marker at Virginia Site Where Joshua Chamberlain Was Shot


Koenig, Seth, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Joshua Chamberlain surveyed the scene at Petersburg, Virginia, where he had been ordered to help launch one of the last key battles of the Civil War, and knew the siege could kill him.

His concerns would turn out to be justified. Now, 150 years to the month after the gunshot wound that would eventually cause Chamberlain's death, a Maine native wants to post a marker in Petersburg commemorating the site.

"He saw a high bluff to the west. He saw bayonets gleaming in the light -- 3,000 of them in front of him," described Dean Clegg, a guide at the Chamberlain House Museum in Brunswick. "There were cannons lined up to the left and to the right. It was so serious -- so suicidal -- that a lieutenant wrote that it was enough to 'freeze your blood.'"

Chamberlain nonetheless led the First Brigade, First Division, V Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac in a charge through the open ground surrounded on all sides by Confederate firepower.

Chamberlain, a Brewer native and Bowdoin College graduate who's buried in Brunswick, was hit in the right hip by a musket ball, which grazed his bladder and exited the left side of his body.

He propped himself up with his sword as his fellow soldiers charged by him and were gunned down, but ultimately lost too much blood and collapsed on the battlefield.

"This was what they called a 'gut wound' back then, and you didn't survive gut wounds," Clegg said. "They thought he was dead. An obituary was sent home from this."

Thinking the war hero's death was a foregone conclusion, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who would later become president, gave Chamberlain a battlefield promotion from colonel to brigadier general. But while this year marks the 150th anniversary of the gunshot that killed Chamberlain, it's only the 100th anniversary of his death.

"He ultimately died from complications from the bullet wound 50 years after he suffered the wound," said Clegg, a Standish native who now lives in Rochester, New Hampshire. "He lived in a lot of pain the rest of his life."

In part because Chamberlain went on to accomplish much more after the wound -- he was shot twice more before the end of the war, spent four years as Maine's governor and 12 as president of Bowdoin College, among other accomplishments -- that fateful moment on the Petersburg battlefield has often been overshadowed.

But Clegg argued the gunshot was a crucial pivot point in the history of Maine and the United States.

Chamberlain would go on to order his soldiers to salute their Confederate counterparts during the South's surrender at Appomattox Court House, a moment Clegg said "began the healing of the country."

He visited Paris to learn about European advancements in education and brought those lessons back to America in 1879, and in 1880, quelled an uprising over a disputed Maine gubernatorial election which Clegg said could have easily boiled over into a state civil war.

"If he hadn't survived that [gunshot at Petersburg], things could've been very different," the historian said. …

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