A blog of the Chamberlain variety

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.

There is a new book coming out that has me quite interested. I haven’t seen a new Chamberlain book come out in several years, probably because the three main biographers have covered his life very well and there haven’t been any new revelations. However, this new book called Joshua L. Chamberlain: The Life in Letters of a Great Leader of the American Civil War is coming out next month. It’s edited by Thomas Desjardin, who previously wrote Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign and Joshua L. Chamberlain and he served as the historical adviser to Jeff Daniels, who played Chamberlain in the film Gettysburg.

The description of the book on Amazon says:

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has been a central character in two feature films (Gettysburg and Gods & Generals), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (The Killer Angels), and an inspiration for Ken Burns’s production of the highly acclaimed PBS series The Civil War. Chamberlain won national fame at the Battle of Gettysburg for his key role in fending off the Confederates at Little Round Top on day two of the battle.

This new volume brings to public light 300 never-before-seen letters from Chamberlain’s personal correspondence, which comprises letters sent by or to Chamberlain from his college years in 1852 to his death in 1914. The first 100 letters shed light on Chamberlain’s formative years and his courtship with Fannie Adams, which has been the source of much speculation by scholars. The final 200 letters reveal insights into Chamberlain the Union commander and the aftermath of the war.

Chamberlain’s image can be found on everything from historical art to sculpture, from t-shirts to clocks, from bobble-head dolls to snow globes. Despite all this attention, there is still a lot about Chamberlain that most people do not know. His life is a remarkable story of perseverance, tragedy, and triumph. From an insecure young man with a considerable stuttering problem who grew up in a small town in eastern Maine, Joshua Chamberlain rose to become a major general, recipient of the Medal of Honor, Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin College. His writings are among the most oft-quoted of all Civil War memoirs, and he has become a legendary, even mythical historical figure.

National Civil War Museum

So basically a massive amount of letters that weren’t public before are going to be public in this book. This is a big deal, especially to me, and I suspect it may be the most significant book to come out since Fanny & Joshua by Diane Monroe Smith about twelve or thirteen years ago. There was a piece on this book in the latest Civil War Times magazine (I’m probably the only female subscriber under 40!) that printed five different letters from the newly released material. It seems the letters were part of the collection belonging to the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and were released as part of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Actually, we’re in the 150th anniversary of the second year now, which was when Chamberlain volunteered. The National Civil War Museum is very well done from what I remember of it in 2007. It’s like a bigger version of the Civil War exhibit here at the Atlanta History Center. I recommend it if you’re ever in Pennsylvania and you need something interesting to do.

A book like this is going to help me a lot because, if you’re aware of my reincarnation case, there is quite a bit that I haven’t been able to document just yet and some of the things I know don’t quite agree with the way history interprets. Such a hefty number of letters being released can help confirm or deny certain facts in my memory. Mind you, I haven’t been looking to prove my case in several years. I became satisfied with its validity a long time ago but I do still have personal curiosity about some things. For example, last year I had seen some chatter about Lawrence being a Mason but I had absolutely no inclination to think he was before and I found it confusing, so I asked (the author of this book, actually) if it was true. As it turns out, he became a Mason in a hush-hush ceremony the night before he left for the war and became a pretty high ranking member. Certainly Fanny/I was aware of it at some point but men never really talked about being Masons – at least in my present family – so it’s probable that it wasn’t on my radar enough back then to be easily remembered now. As I’ve said many, many times, most of what I know and remember is centered on the home, the family, art, music, relationships, etc., not what he was doing every day of his life. Sometimes, however, there are little nuggets of information in Lawrence’s letters and things that can clue me in on what was happening to me at different times and that’s why publications of letters like these are rather important. Most of my written material has disappeared over the years, so I have to rely on the documentation of people around me to paint the picture for me and tell me if what I remember is right or wrong.

This book isn’t going to be a dry collection of letters if I know Lawrence’s style either. He wrote in a beautiful way but he was also cheeky, affectionate, stern, critical, and he had the ability to make you feel like you were there. I’ve spent many hours buried in his letters at Bowdoin College, the Pejepscot Historical Society, and the Maine Historical Society. There were times when he had my friends and me laughing out loud and times when we were moved by the things he saw and felt. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most quoted primary sources on the Civil War. He had a way with words that showed much more than the dullness of military tactics and policies against the enemy. He was charming, even for today’s standards, and very compassionate and intelligent. People I know who aren’t interested in the nineteenth century still find his writing thought provoking, so I think more people will find a collection of his letters more interesting than they think.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

I have spoken to Thomas Desjardin a few times concerning research and found him to be very helpful and considerate. I’m sure he knows the real reason for my occasional research inquiries but he has never been unkind or dismissive, which makes me respect him all the more. I never said why I ask questions and he never said anything about it either. That works for me! The approachability and willingness to share information is why I recommend his books to you all. Some historians can be quite unwilling to help people who aren’t themselves known as scholars. I’m just a woman in Georgia. Sometimes I need a little guidance because I didn’t get to finish college due to illness (I will eventually go back). It’s nice when respected people in the field take a few minutes to answer questions once in a while. I don’t care if people believe or understand my perspective in these matters (it took a long time to get there) but common courtesy is important in all areas of life.

In short: buy his books because I said so! Pre-order it here http://www.amazon.com/dp/1849085595 in hardcover or for your Kindle. The book will be released May 22.

One response to “A blog of the Chamberlain variety”

  1. Jonette says:

    Sounds like it’s going to be a really good read! Thank you for sharing it! I loved your blog about it to! Since I’m a civil war nut I love to read your blogs about being Fannie and your memories of General Chamberlain! Keep up the good work Jessica!

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