Chamberlain Lt. Colonel Joshua L Chamberlain's letter to his wife after Antietam

kholland

Captain
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 13, 2011
Location
Howard County, Maryland
Four days after the Battle of Antietam, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote his wife Fanny about the epic battle his new regiment luckily was not heavily engaged in.

jlconestar.jpg

'On picket on the banks of the Potomac near Sharpsburg, Sunday morning Sept. 21, 1862:

"My dear Fanny, Since I wrote you last, we have gone through a good deal. I wrote you a few lines a day or two ago which I have had no opportunity to send, so I enclose. Just after writing those we were called up to defend a new position on the left, where the terrible storming of the bridge over the Antietam took place. We did not find ourselves much exposed however. But the next morning we started in pursuit, & on the second reached the ford at dam no. 4 the only place left the enemy to recross. Here our batteries pounded their rear, & our Division was ordered to cross. Of all the unearthly din I ever heard that was the worst. The banks on both sides were high the rebels were in line of battle to meet us across & 25 or 30 pieces of artillery on our side shelling them over our heads as we forded leg deep.

The Col. Mr. Brown & I on horseback. The rebel sharpshooters were hard at work. I was ordered to stand in the middle of the river & urge on the men who halted for fear of the fire. The balls splashed all around me during the whole time & just as I reached the shore two struck just over my head in a tree. Sometimes our own shells would explode right over out head, & scare the men dreadfully. No sooner had we got over, & in line than we were ordered to recross. The General sent Col. Ames with six companies to defend the ford by lying behind the bank of the canal, & me with four companies to support the batteries on the heights. We had four wounded, not seriously. At dusk we were sent out as pickets & we have been lying here all night -- the whole Regt. -- crouching along the banks of the river.

The rebels firing every time they saw a head, & we doing the same for them. The river is narrow. At about mid night I rode softly along examining our pickets, & whenever the horse stumbled -- whiz -- would come a bullet in the dark. All this morning, & at least as often as every three words I have written, a bullet of a shell has hissed over my head either from our own sharpshooters or the rebels -- 5 in that last line. I am lying in a hollow where I am not much exposed, & really not at all disturbed. Glancing down at this moment I see a rebel ball that had struck right by my side, but I suppose, before I came. I hoped to be relieved soon, & get somewhere I can live like a civilized being. Our eating, drinking & sleeping arrangements are not remarkable for comfort. I can see plenty of dead & wounded men lying around, from where I sit. As soon as it can be done we are going to rescue some wounded who are calling to us from the rebel shore. Our Regt. has not done much yet, but we feel as if we could. I am very well, & happy as one need be, not all at sorry I came, I assure you. I think I did right & whatever comes of it, I have no fears.

Some of our Regt. have just crossed the river at the risk of their lives to bring away the wounded we can see, some have died since we were looking at them. The poor fellows some 8 or 10 we have got are badly hurt in all sorts of ways. They belong to our brigade & were shot in our crossing yesterday. Two were dead when they got over. I took some letters about them to find out who they were, affectionate letters from wives, & answers written but never sent. I sent the letters to the Col. of the 118th Penn. Regt. which they belonged to. I do not pretend to write much of a letter. You know under what circumstances I am writing. Tell all my friends that I have so much to do, & in such places that writing is out of the question. We have to go in places no body would ever think of going into were it not for the necessities of war.

"I must hurry, for we are in a critical moment & expecting some move.
"Don't worry about me & take all the comfort you can. Give my love to Dear Daise & to the old Myllys & to Aunt Pattie and Helen. Tell {?} that I carry her dressing case strapped on my saddle wherever I go. My horse I keep a little in the rear. I should have been killed if I had ridden him in the crossing of the Potomac.

"I hope that dreadful night in Portland did not make you sick. I am very well. Hyde got out of the battle alive--but two Bowdoin boys in his Regt. fell. H.P. Brown; & Haskell may. survive. L.

http://www.joshua.lurker00.com/jlc3letters.htm
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
I like these from him, when he simply doesn't have enough time to insert the flowing sentences which quite frankly distract me in some of his other writings. It's an amazing picture of troops and man as he writes.

There's this wierd Chamberlain 'backlash', like he didn't do what he did somehow, or wasn't really much of a soldier in the end. Ellis Spears spent a lot of time wierdly attempting to discredit him- like there wasn't enough sheer courage in both of them for history. He did what he did, he was what he was- a college professor who for one thing looked at bullets like so many annoying bugs. Kind of helpful it one is a military leader.

Thanks for posting this. I realize Chamberlain has 'self promoter ' thrown at him frequently, kind of have to take that in context given a. he ran for office and b. had his reputation under attack so frequently it was necessary to at least keep his head above water.
 

lakertaker

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 14, 2012
Nice letter - has some nice informational value. Can't help but feel uncomfortable reading a man's letter to his wife as they were never mean't for public viewing. Pickett's letters to his sweetheart, Sallie, are available in various references, and he obviously had a knack for over-the-top emotional melodrama. And in some ways ya just wanna tell him to quit whining, and give her the facts! But, then again - they were personal letters, perhaps the style of prose for that time period, and never intended to be historical documents.
 

JerseyBart

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 19, 2006
Location
New Jersey
Good letter. Sounds like even skirmishing during the Antietam Campaign was more difficult and deadly than daily skirmishing and picket duty.

I have Spear's book. I plan on reading it soon. Killer Angels and Gettysburg lifted Chamberlain to legend "wait for it" dairy...legendary status. Heck, even I wrote my junior year (1995) high school final English paper on him, using Gettysburg and the Civil War Journal episode on him and the 20th as two of my major sources.

Turns out, he was just as much a shameless self-promoter as other civil war heroes and vets. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with that, but his version of Little Round Top seems to differ from Spear, Melcher and even Col. Oates. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, until attempts to suppress others' versions takes place. That seems like what Chamberlain did with Melcher and Oates. Spears says...cool it. There's enough credit to go around.
 

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
Good letter. Sounds like even skirmishing during the Antietam Campaign was more difficult and deadly than daily skirmishing and picket duty.

I have Spear's book. I plan on reading it soon. Killer Angels and Gettysburg lifted Chamberlain to legend "wait for it" dairy...legendary status. Heck, even I wrote my junior year (1995) high school final English paper on him, using Gettysburg and the Civil War Journal episode on him and the 20th as two of my major sources.

Turns out, he was just as much a shameless self-promoter as other civil war heroes and vets. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with that, but his version of Little Round Top seems to differ from Spear, Melcher and even Col. Oates. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, until attempts to suppress others' versions takes place. That seems like what Chamberlain did with Melcher and Oates. Spears says...cool it. There's enough credit to go around.

Heck, some of Chamberlain's accounts differ from one another.

R
 

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
Nice letter, the man could write. I've always felt he was an excellent soldier and a leader of men. I also feel that the importance of the LRT fight has been wildly exaggerated as to it's importance in the Gettysburg campaign.
 

tmh10

Major
Joined
Mar 2, 2012
Location
Pipestem,WV
I enjoyed reading the letter as I think we get a good insight of the time from letters. His writing style is easier to read in the letter than his book, Passing of the Armies.
 

JerseyBart

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 19, 2006
Location
New Jersey
I often tell my students that although I'd love it that the Civil War never occurred, that I would love to just stand in the middle of the battlefield and watch. Rufus' account of the battle gives me almost that feel.
 

tdftdf

Corporal
Joined
Aug 14, 2015
Location
washington, dc
Good letter. Sounds like even skirmishing during the Antietam Campaign was more difficult and deadly than daily skirmishing and picket duty.

I have Spear's book. I plan on reading it soon. Killer Angels and Gettysburg lifted Chamberlain to legend "wait for it" dairy...legendary status. Heck, even I wrote my junior year (1995) high school final English paper on him, using Gettysburg and the Civil War Journal episode on him and the 20th as two of my major sources.

Turns out, he was just as much a shameless self-promoter as other civil war heroes and vets. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with that, but his version of Little Round Top seems to differ from Spear, Melcher and even Col. Oates. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, until attempts to suppress others' versions takes place. That seems like what Chamberlain did with Melcher and Oates. Spears says...cool it. There's enough credit to go around.

Can you provide the name of Spears' book? Was it a good read ?
 

civilken

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 25, 2013
That man could sure right . I have read one of his books and a book written about him he was an incredible individual.
 

Llewellyn

Corporal
Joined
Feb 17, 2020
Location
Britain
It's the sort of letter that a soldier in action should not write to his wife.
It's good for history, but details and descriptions of going through great danger should be confined to his diary.
You write to the missus and tell her everything is tickety-boo, even when that's not true.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Good letter. Sounds like even skirmishing during the Antietam Campaign was more difficult and deadly than daily skirmishing and picket duty.

I have Spear's book. I plan on reading it soon. Killer Angels and Gettysburg lifted Chamberlain to legend "wait for it" dairy...legendary status. Heck, even I wrote my junior year (1995) high school final English paper on him, using Gettysburg and the Civil War Journal episode on him and the 20th as two of my major sources.

Turns out, he was just as much a shameless self-promoter as other civil war heroes and vets. To a certain extent, there's nothing wrong with that, but his version of Little Round Top seems to differ from Spear, Melcher and even Col. Oates. Again, there is nothing wrong with that, until attempts to suppress others' versions takes place. That seems like what Chamberlain did with Melcher and Oates. Spears says...cool it. There's enough credit to go around.
That soldiers under fire differ in their accounts is only to be expected. General Chamberlain's dispute with Ellis Spear boils down to one source: Randolph Hearst (who "improved" the General's account for publication). The acclaim by recent books of Joshua Chamberlain has elevated him to the status of target, putting him in the company of Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant.
 
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