Chamberlain Joshua Chamberlain---True Story

connecticut yankee

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I never knew this. Thanks for sharing
You're welcome. Perhaps someone on the forum can add to the story as dramatic as it is. I forgot the name of the soldier and who he fought with, but if I remember correctly Chamberlain shared the letter with others at various times on proper occasions. I can picture him relating the story to his comrades in various GARs where he was an active participant and orator until the end of his life.
 
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Nathan Stuart

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Here's a video that tells a true but little-known story of how a Confederate infantryman spared Joshua Chamberlain's life on Little Round Top, July 2, 1863.


That’s an intriguing story, and true too.

The unidentified marksman probably belonged to the 15th​ Alabama assaulting Little Round Top and he likely carried a .577 Enfield rifle. He was securely perched in the rocks nearby and had a clear view of the standing fully exposed figure of Colonel Chamberlain giving directions to his units.

The rifleman later admitted in a letter to Colonel Chamberlain after the war, that he knew the rank and importance of his chosen target. In this correspondence, he revealed to Chamberlain that he sighted and took careful aim at his target twice, but refrained from pulling the trigger both times.

Interestingly, Colonel Chamberlain would be wounded five times during the war, but not by this sniper’s shot at this time and place on that day.
 

Scott1967

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I doubt this even if it was true the man involved not only let down his fellow soldiers but betrayed them and their sacrifice in trying to take the hill , If this was modern times he would be shunned if not booted out of the service.

This guy had no qualms about shooting your everyday soldier but had a rush of guilt about shooting an officer and all of a sudden he felt honourable and noble with his friends dying all around him what utter rubbish.

Chamberlain had a habit of elaborating stories i would not be surprised if this is made up.

If i was a soldier then and my unit was in a tight spot you can be dammed sure i would take that shot for the sake of my comrade's.

In my view of course.
 

Fairfield

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I doubt this even if it was true the man involved not only let down his fellow soldiers but betrayed them and their sacrifice in trying to take the hill , If this was modern times he would be shunned if not booted out of the service.

This guy had no qualms about shooting your everyday soldier but had a rush of guilt about shooting an officer and all of a sudden he felt honourable and noble with his friends dying all around him what utter rubbish.

Chamberlain had a habit of elaborating stories i would not be surprised if this is made up.

If i was a soldier then and my unit was in a tight spot you can be dammed sure i would take that shot for the sake of my comrade's.

In my view of course.
As I said earlier, it is a nice story that has circulated in Maine--but I am inclined to agree with you: it's hard to imagine a soldier doing such a thing. Apparently such a letter hasn't been found but Thomas Desjardins (who has biographied General Chamberlain) is said to have located a letter in which a private sprang in front of the general to take the shot--and be killed. If true, the soldier probably was a fellow Mainer. The sparing Alabaman seems to have been one of those events penned by William Randolph Hurst.

i like stories about good deeds and reconciliation--but you are right: this doesn't seem likely.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Here's a video that tells a true but little-known story of how a Confederate infantryman spared Joshua Chamberlain's life on Little Round Top, July 2, 1863.

This story seems plausible to me. From a momentary position of relative safety, a soldier had a brief time to reflect or consider the consequences of his proposed action or entertain feelings of ambivalence. There are numerous battlefield accounts of soldiers on both sides during the war pausing or refraining from shooting an exposed enemy officer, due to feelings of admiration for their heroic deeds.

On the other hand, it seems odd that this soldier is not identified. If he penned a letter to Colonel Chamberlain and presumably signed it, there is no evidence in its purported contents or indeed from Chamberlain himself, that the document writer wanted to remain anonymous. But I could find nothing in my primary or secondary sources about his name. Perhaps the story was a fabrication or distortion by some imaginative author or newspaper reporter at the time.

Overall, though, if the letter existed, I think it improbable that an opposing soldier would have gone to all that effort to construct a letter with such graphic detail and send it to Colonel Chamberlain after the war, unless it was true. It is quite possible that this story is factual.
 

Scott1967

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There are numerous battlefield accounts of soldiers on both sides during the war pausing or refraining from shooting an exposed enemy officer, due to feelings of admiration for their heroic deeds.

Not sure that is right , Its easy to to romanticise war after it has ended with accounts of honourable actions the reality is rather different and not very noble.

One stand out account for me was a CSA major trying to rally members of the 33rd Virginia on Culps Hill and stop them surrendering he was alone on his horse swinging his sword in full view of 60 or so Yanks but that didn't stop them showring him with lead and then robbing him of all his personal belongings and sword.

As an ex serviceman i was in command at section level doing two active tours of duty and the last thing you want to hear out of any of your men is their inability to do their job not only does it put them at risk but it risks the lives of everyone in the section thankfully i never had the problem of a man struggling with the emotions of regret or questioning why we were doing what we did , If i had he would have been on COs orders and out of my section in a flash.

I'm pretty sure it worked the same way in the ACW small groups of men 6-10 sharing a tent and fire would have got to know each other pretty well the inability of a soldier to do his duty would have been the same as in my day which is why most of these honourable deeds are noted after the war has ended as any soldier admitting he could not pull the trigger more than likely would be shunned or transferred out regardless if it was a brave officer or not.
 

Nathan Stuart

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Not sure that is right , Its easy to to romanticise war after it has ended with accounts of honourable actions the reality is rather different and not very noble.

One stand out account for me was a CSA major trying to rally members of the 33rd Virginia on Culps Hill and stop them surrendering he was alone on his horse swinging his sword in full view of 60 or so Yanks but that didn't stop them showring him with lead and then robbing him of all his personal belongings and sword.

As an ex serviceman i was in command at section level doing two active tours of duty and the last thing you want to hear out of any of your men is their inability to do their job not only does it put them at risk but it risks the lives of everyone in the section thankfully i never had the problem of a man struggling with the emotions of regret or questioning why we were doing what we did , If i had he would have been on COs orders and out of my section in a flash.

I'm pretty sure it worked the same way in the ACW small groups of men 6-10 sharing a tent and fire would have got to know each other pretty well the inability of a soldier to do his duty would have been the same as in my day which is why most of these honourable deeds are noted after the war has ended as any soldier admitting he could not pull the trigger more than likely would be shunned or transferred out regardless if it was a brave officer or not.

Appreciate your insights and respect your viewpoint. Thank you for your service.

One has to also consider their behavior in the context of that era. Many (of course, not all) soldiers in the civil war were still imbued with old-fashioned notions of honor, gallantry and chivalry in fighting. These notions were pervasive, especially in southern society, at the time. Obviously, though, soldiers were impacted differently by such existing ideas.

I am not saying that this marksman refused taking the shot twice because of some conscious or subliminal thought of admiration for Colonel Chamberlain’s senior rank and/or gallantry, but it’s possible. Maybe he had too much time to think and just froze. Or perhaps he overthought it or was overwhelmed by some sudden rush of conscience. We will probably never know the reasons.

The purported explanation he gave for his hesitation in his post-war letter to Colonel Chamberlain was:

…..”I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me. Then I got ashamed of my weakness and went through the same motions again. I had you, perfectly certain. But the same queer something shut right down on me. I couldn’t pull the trigger, and, gave it up – that is, your life.”…..

According to his own explanation he does not know why he hesitated, or if he does, he is not willing to admit it.

There are battlefield accounts of soldiers deliberately resisting shooting exposed enemy officers, due to admiration for their bravery or heroic acts.

One such instance involves the death of Confederate Brigadier General John Adams at the battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864). Adams was mounted and prominent at the front of his infantry brigade leading an assault on entrenched Union works. He was allowed to ride right up to the parapets of the works, as Union soldiers refrained from shooting at him. Inside the works, Colonel W. Scott Stewart of the 65th​ Illinois commanded his men to hold their fire in the witness of such bravery. Another Union soldier present in the 65th​ attested, “We hoped he would not be killed. He was too brave to be killed”. Unfortunately Adams overstepped the mark. When he entered the Union works he reached down to try and seize the regimental flag from the color guard of the 65th​ and was then shot down instantly. Ironically, it was Federal soldiers upholding a notion of honor (protecting their colors) that finally led to his death.
 

Fairfield

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The purported explanation he gave for his hesitation in his post-war letter to Colonel Chamberlain
But that's the problem: where is the letter? The only indication of such a letter is in an account edited by William Randolph Hearst, a "yellow journalist" (whose improvements on the general's story have earned Chamberlain the inaccurate description of "embellisher" and caused a problem with Ellis Spear.

 

Nathan Stuart

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Good point!

Yes, I read that the learned and scholarly Chamberlain tended to embellish and romanticize his accounts after the war.

Apparently Chamberlain received many letters during his lifetime. From what I can ascertain, however, there is no evidence or confirmation of the existence of this particular letter. The publisher, Hearst, may well have published dramatized versions of Chamberlain’s recollections in a complete letter form to sell more publications.

I suspect, though, that there would be some basis of truth in any reported story, even if it was exaggerated.
 

Scott1967

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One such instance involves the death of Confederate Brigadier General John Adams at the battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864). Adams was mounted and prominent at the front of his infantry brigade leading an assault on entrenched Union works. He was allowed to ride right up to the parapets of the works, as Union soldiers refrained from shooting at him. Inside the works, Colonel W. Scott Stewart of the 65th​ Illinois commanded his men to hold their fire in the witness of such bravery. Another Union soldier present in the 65th​ attested, “We hoped he would not be killed. He was too brave to be killed”. Unfortunately Adams overstepped the mark. When he entered the Union works he reached down to try and seize the regimental flag from the color guard of the 65th​ and was then shot down instantly. Ironically, it was Federal soldiers upholding a notion of honor (protecting their colors) that finally led to his death.

This is where we get different accounts from the romanticised version to this.

Quote:

Though wounded severely in his right arm near the shoulder early in the fight and urged to leave the fields he said: “No; I am going to see my men through.” He fell on the enemy’s works, pierced with nine bullets. His brigade lost on that day over 450 in killed and wounded, among them many field and line officers.

Source: Confederate Military History, vol. X, p. 285

End Quote

A Colonel from an Indiana regt noted his gallant charge but stated his horse tried to vault the breastworks and failed landing on top of him , When the charge was repulsed men from the regt leaped over the works and found him riddled with nine bullets but still alive and gave him water before he died.

So Adams never made it into the works let alone grab some federal colours and it seems he was shot nine times before his horse tried to vault the works a much more believable version of events , Their is no mention of any Union troops holding fire to allow him to approach and we can plainly see he had already been shot before he even made it to the works.

There are battlefield accounts of soldiers deliberately resisting shooting exposed enemy officers, due to admiration for their bravery or heroic acts.

Like i said most of these accounts Nathan were written well after the war to embellish stories or make the war sound more noble and civilised.

Sherman summed it up quite nice "War is Hell you cannot refine it" .
 

Fairfield

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This is where we get different accounts from the romanticised version to this.

Quote:

Though wounded severely in his right arm near the shoulder early in the fight and urged to leave the fields he said: “No; I am going to see my men through.” He fell on the enemy’s works, pierced with nine bullets. His brigade lost on that day over 450 in killed and wounded, among them many field and line officers.

Source: Confederate Military History, vol. X, p. 285

End Quote

A Colonel from an Indiana regt noted his gallant charge but stated his horse tried to vault the breastworks and failed landing on top of him , When the charge was repulsed men from the regt leaped over the works and found him riddled with nine bullets but still alive and gave him water before he died.

So Adams never made it into the works let alone grab some federal colours and it seems he was shot nine times before his horse tried to vault the works a much more believable version of events , Their is no mention of any Union troops holding fire to allow him to approach and we can plainly see he had already been shot before he even made it to the works.



Like i said most of these accounts Nathan were written well after the war to embellish stories or make the war sound more noble and civilised.

Sherman summed it up quite nice "War is Hell you cannot refine it" .
I like nice stories and happy endings but, alas, there are many instances where historic reality and positive spin clash. Recently I did historical research for a forensic historian who demolished one good story after another with findings such as "the trajectory is inaccurate" or "there was no moon that night, how could he see so far?". 🥺
 

Scott1967

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I like nice stories and happy endings but, alas, there are many instances where historic reality and positive spin clash. Recently I did historical research for a forensic historian who demolished one good story after another with findings such as "the trajectory is inaccurate" or "there was no moon that night, how could he see so far?". 🥺

Exactly , I don't dispute the fact not all soldiers are killing machines their is a difference from doing your duty and taking pleasure in doing said duty.

I would like to think most soldiers are decent people with values and what we have to remember is in the ACW these were not professional soldiers but conscripts and volunteers who had never been trained and had to learn on the job.

I think Nathan is right in a roundabout way their are many cases of weapons with 2-3 bullets in the barrel and never fired or soldiers not firing their weapon because of religious beliefs that i can believe and we know for a fact these cases happened and are quite common.

What i don't believe is that a soldier from the 15th Alabama i presume the 15th would not shoot his weapon at what he thought was the commanding officer even though he was more than a 100 yards away as Chamberlin states none of the 15th got even close to the summit (We know this because Chamberlin refused a 15th monument near the summit and had a war of words with Oates the CO of the 15th ).

Their is also the fact that only 170 men survived from the 15th Alabama im pretty sure if this letter was signed they would know who it was which leads me to believe its a fabrication their was no love lost between Oates and Chamberlin unless of course the letter was written by the 15th Alabama telling Chamberlin that they spared his life now can we build our monument where we want it?.
 
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Nathan Stuart

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Apr 14, 2020
This is where we get different accounts from the romanticised version to this.

Quote:

Though wounded severely in his right arm near the shoulder early in the fight and urged to leave the fields he said: “No; I am going to see my men through.” He fell on the enemy’s works, pierced with nine bullets. His brigade lost on that day over 450 in killed and wounded, among them many field and line officers.

Source: Confederate Military History, vol. X, p. 285

End Quote

A Colonel from an Indiana regt noted his gallant charge but stated his horse tried to vault the breastworks and failed landing on top of him , When the charge was repulsed men from the regt leaped over the works and found him riddled with nine bullets but still alive and gave him water before he died.

So Adams never made it into the works let alone grab some federal colours and it seems he was shot nine times before his horse tried to vault the works a much more believable version of events , Their is no mention of any Union troops holding fire to allow him to approach and we can plainly see he had already been shot before he even made it to the works.



Like i said most of these accounts Nathan were written well after the war to embellish stories or make the war sound more noble and civilised.

Sherman summed it up quite nice "War is Hell you cannot refine it" .

I acknowledge that many civil war veterans tended to embellish to a degree their postwar accounts. Similarly, some later writers, who were not present at these events, wrote romanticized versions according to their own interpretation or preconceptions of the subject.

Yes, I am well aware of the horrific aspects of this conflict. Apart from the deprivations and sufferings experienced, there was the human butchery and carnage, as well as coping with the consequences of loss. One only has to read numerous firsthand battlefield accounts of the fighting by soldiers on both sides to recognize how savage and terrifying the fighting was. The practice of ‘total war’ by Sherman and others only worsened the hardships for everyone, including the non-combatants.

In my view, not enough has been written on the psychological effects of this war on both soldiers and civilians. There seems to be much more literature covering the physical and material losses of the conflict.

Notwithstanding, this is not to deny that there were moments or even episodes during the fighting, where brutal thoughts , hatreds and survival instincts were set aside and other nobler notions took hold in a soldier’s mindset, if only briefly.

In relation to the events immediately preceding the death of General Adams at Franklin, below are pertinent excerpts from identified secondary sources authored by leading historians:

…..”A Union soldier who saw Adams remembered how he expected to see the general fall at any moment, but ‘luck seemed to be with him’. Apparently a number of Yankees actually held their fire as they watched the surreal drama play out right in front of them. According to a soldier in the 65th​ Illinois, Lt. Col. W. Scott Stewart actually called on his men not to fire”…..

(for Cause for Country by Eric A. Jacobson and Richard A. Rupp, pp 342-343)

…..”Although a conspicuous target, Adams seemed to be immune to the whizzing storm of projectiles. An amazed Federal soldier wrote. ‘We looked to see him fall every minute, but luck seemed to be with him.’ Intent on inspiring his men by personal example, Adams spurred his gray mount, ‘Old Charley’, faster and faster toward the blazing earthworks. The colonel of the 65th​ Illinois , astounded by the rash bravery of this enemy officer, shouted amid the dinfor his men not to fire on him.”…..

(The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword, p 227)

…..”A Union soldier of Casement’s brigade, Tillman Stevens, watched Adams and his men approach the outer works. At first the young general was riding back and forth along the rear of his line, urging his men forward. Perhaps the brigade faltered amid the incredible onslaught of Casement’s repeating rifles. For whatever reason, General Adams urged his bay horse to the front of the brigade, spurred his horse, and rode headlong toward the works. Another Union soldier, James Barr of the Sixty-fifth Illinois Volunteers, watched as Adams crossed the ditch and rode his horse onto the parapet. Colonel W. Scott Stewart of the Sixty-fifth Illinois shouted for his men to hold their fire in the face of such a courageous act, and a Union soldier who watched Adams ride astride the works remembered, ‘We hoped he would not be killed. He was too brave to be killed.’..”…..

(Five Tragic Hours by James Lee McDonough and Thomas L. Connelly, p 147)

More significantly, are the extracts from reported first-hand witness accounts, shown as follows:


GENS. CLEBURNE AND ADAMS AT FRANKLIN.

In the Southern Bivouac for October, 1885, James
Barr, of Company E, Sixty-Fifth Illinois Volunteers,
writing from Barwell, Kans., states:
I was somewhat interested in that terrible affair at Franklin.

I was a prisoner near the cotton gin for
about three or four minutes ; was ordered to the rear
by some Confederates, and would have had a trip to
Andersonville had it not been for that "devil-maycare" counter charge made by Illinoisans and Kentuckians. Our Col. Stewart (Sixty-Fifth Illinois) tried
hard to save the life of Gen. Adams, of Mississippi.
Col. Stewart called to our men not to fire on him, but
it was too late. Adams rode his horse over the ditch
to the top of the parapet, undertook to grasp the "old
flag:" from the hands of our color sergeant, when he
fell, horse and all, shot by the color guard.

(Extract of Union soldier James Barr’s account from Confederate Veteran 10, page 155)



The Battle of Franklin.

Just then, for the first
time, we noticed Gen. Adams conspicuously. He was
mounted and in the rear of his line. He rode along
the line urging his men forward. He then rode
through the line and placed himself in front and rode
straight toward the colors of the Sixty-Fifth Illinois.
We looked to see him fall every minute, but luck
seemed to be with him. We were struck with admiration. We hoped he would not be killed. He was too brave to be killed. The world had but few such men.
His valiant soldiers were close behind him, though
each second of time reduced their numbers. On
they came, determined as ever. Gen. Adams no doubt
felt encouraged, as he was so near our line. He
spurred his horse and made the last heroic effort to
carry his line forward and to drive us out of our line,

(Extract of Union soldier Tillman H. Steven’s account from Confederate Veteran 11, page 166)



For me, this combination of information is clear and sufficient evidence of an instance where soldiers refrained from shooting an enemy officer out of admiration for their bravery or heroic act. I’m sure there would be other examples if I searched for them. In making my point here, I am only focusing on the short period during which there occurred a hesitation of fire, not on those events before or afterwards.

Upon further inquiry, I have so far been unable to find any evidence that the purported postwar letter from the Confederate soldier to Colonel Chamberlain did in fact exist. At this stage it seems likely that the complete letter is a dramatized or partially fabricated version by a publisher intent on selling more publications. There may still be a basis of truth to the concocted story though. Given the close quarters of the fighting, I think it’s quite conceivable that a Confederate marksman (probably an Alabamian of the 15th​ Alabama) sighted and took aim at Chamberlain on Little Round Top that day and that this account may have been transmitted orally after the war to several persons before being recorded. In this process of multiple transmission, the facts of the story could easily have got distorted or exaggerated from the core truth along the way. In my view, the real doubt must be cast over the alleged reason why the shot was not made. After taking aim, the rifleman could have got wounded or distracted beforehand which prevented him from completing the shot at his target. The reason given in the supposed letter does seem odd to me now. I have doubts that a veteran soldier inexplicably froze, especially if he continued in the fighting. The fact that he was anonymous and remained unidentifiable also makes me suspect the entire account.
 

Scott1967

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I acknowledge that many civil war veterans tended to embellish to a degree their postwar accounts. Similarly, some later writers, who were not present at these events, wrote romanticized versions according to their own interpretation or preconceptions of the subject.

Some good accounts there Nathan on Adams death however if their true or not i don't know , Most historians when describing Adams death merely state he was very brave leading his men from the front before his horse was shot from under him.

The colonel of the 65th Illinois giving the order not to shoot seems strange i would have thought he would be more concerned about the Brigade following Adams if that was me i would be ordering my men to shoot Adams at the earliest opportunity after all he's encouraging his brigade forward and the safety of your men is the number one priority.

I have seen other accounts that state Adams did not even make it to the Federal Works who are we to believe? I think the Truth as always is in between.

You're welcome. Perhaps someone on the forum can add to the story as dramatic as it is. I forgot the name of the soldier and who he fought with, but if I remember correctly Chamberlain shared the letter with others at various times on proper occasions. I can picture him relating the story to his comrades in various GARs where he was an active participant and orator until the end of his life.

If the letter was written in 1913 and only 170 men from the 15th Alabama survived in 1865 that narrows down the field considerably their could only have been a handful of men still alive , However if the letter was written at the time or near to when the 15th Alabama were trying to get a monument on Little Round top that might explain a lot as mentioned before both Chamberlain and Oates had a war of words over the placement of the monument , The letter could have been sent to melt Chamberlains heart and change his view on the monument , It could have been written by a family member or someone involved with the 15th Alabama.

In my view.
 
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