Chamberlain Spear Vs Spear (Warning Graphic)

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
JerseyBart had mentioned wanting to hear the true story from Ellis Spear. So I have been making a collection of Spear quotes for him.
Spear would write of Chamberlain after Chamberlain's death that he, "was absolutely unable to tell the truth." This is an interesting accusation considering Chamberlain was rather consistent in his statements but Spear's own testimony varied greatly over the years. I'll start with a comparison of Spear's statements of Chamberlain's Petersburg wound. ( For those unfamiliar with Chamberlain's wound, the best place to start before looking at Spear's statements below would be the description of the wound by one of Chamberlain's doctors. See 1883 Sickness and Operation)

1885 Spear at the Dedication of Bowdoin’s Memorial Hall. "A terrible fire was opened upon them. Three times was General Chamberlain’s horse shot under him. Then he himself received a shot, going completely through both hips. He was unhorsed, but he stood his ground, though unable to walk. He was bleeding copiously. His boots filled with blood and his pantaloons were saturated. As he grew weaker, he thrust his sword into the ground and leaned upon it, still holding his position and encouraging his men. Becoming weaker still from loss of blood, and unable to stand with that support, he sank upon his knees, but still kept the upright position and encouraged his men. Then he fell prostrate entirely, wholly unable to keep erect. Soldiers came to his aid. “No,” he said, “I am too far gone. You can do nothing for me. Help the others.” But they lifted him on a stretcher and carried him away."
- General Chamberlain's Courage.​

1896 Spear to Tom Chamberlain "Of course the injury which he received was internal. no bones were broken or muscles impaired. The scar of course shows nothing and I suppose the Surgeons who made the examination saw nothing and they so reported. I said to the Commissioner that such an examination was manifestly incomplete and that nothing could be learned of the real condition of Genl. Chamberlain by one mere physical inspection, and that his condition could be ascertained only by testimony as to his ordinary health. That observations running through a series of months could be the only satisfactory proof as to the result of his wounds. I asked if such evidence could not be introduced to supplement or take the place of the report of the examining surgeon. This was denied, very unjustly as I think. All this we should avoid by going to Congress. But whether his disability be great or little I think it is time that liberal pensions should be given such officers."​
(Spear was not alone in his frustration over the small pensions given to patients with conditions similar to Chamberlain's. This can be seen in the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, "There are now at least thirty-eight sufferers from urethral fistules consequent on shot wounds received during the war of the rebellion. In Germany, pensioners with urinary fistules receive the largest sum accorded to any class of sufferers. In this country, no discrimination has yet been made in behalf of these unfortunates. It has been suggested, on page 362, that they should be assembled, to receive such succor as art can afford, from some one skilled in this branch of surgery."

1899 Spear to Amos Allen " I was with him when he was wounded, and I know how severely it was. The common belief was that he would not recover from it. His is the most conspicuous and singular case in the State of distinguished service in the war, old and poor".​

1916 Spear to O. W. Norton "Of his wound at Petersburg I know, as I went back to the Hospital after dark and was with him. He was sitting up, but making some fuss. He was wounded in the penis. Of course I made no examination but the surgeon explained the wound to me. It was a painful wound of course, as a catheter had to be introduced to carry urine past the wound. That was the only time he was touched by iron or lead. He artfully made much out of that wound, by adroit and persistent lecturing and writing after the war. His literary ability was of a high order and he always had a gracious manner, but was absolutely unable to tell the truth and was of inordinate vanity. As far as he could, he robbed Vincent. Did I ever tell you the true story of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg? I wrote it for the National Tribune two or three years ago."​

It is clear that in one of these accounts Spear found himself "unable to tell the truth." What is not clear is his reasons for changing his story. Spear's "True story of the 20th Maine at Gettysburg" also changed over the years.

The Twentieth Maine at Gettysburg (newspaper clipping attributed to Spear circa 1865)
"...in the hottest part of the fight, when it was perhaps uncertain whether we should hold the place assigned us, the Colonel ordered a charge!"

1896 history printed in Maine at Gettysburg
"At this crisis, with the quick and resolute instinct to strike before he was struck, Chamberlain staked all upon a desperate counter-charge. He repaired to the left centre to advise Capt. Ellis Spear who, acting as field officer was in charge there, of this new purpose. Great responsibility was to fall upon this officer, as his flank was to start the movement, and moreover to become the wheeling flank, as the movement must swing on the right as a pivot; otherwise the regiment would be cut in two by the enemy, massing on the centre, as they naturally would do."
Personal Memoranda of the War of the Rebellion
In 1896 Spear also started writing his personal memoirs, however, the story presented in this unpublished account is very different when compared to his Maine at Gettysburg account. Because Spear wrote it over the course of a number of years it is hard to determine when Spear wrote the section on Gettysburg; but it is clear that after the section was complete Spear went back and added a passage marking with an X where he wanted it to be inserted into his work. The inserted passage reads in part,
"...In explanation of the charge I add here the story told by the men at the time, for it seemed strange that I did not get orders or notice, seeing that I was in my duty as Acting Major in command of the left of the line & the extreme flank. We had gone into position on the slope of the hill facing to left & rear. The line on the left bending back from the colors. On the first appearance of the enemy, coming down the opposite hill, Big Round Top, & scattering themselves through the trees & bushes, I went to Col. Chamberlain & told him that they seemed to overlap us, & asked him if I should not bend back the left a little more to meet this flanking movement He assented. As the sharp fire continued the ranks & turned & the men readjusted themselves amongst the rocks, thus drawing back the line about the center, and the men wounded by the earlier fire, were lying in front, side exposed and calling to their comrades to take them back out of the fire. Some men in Co. K. suggested that they "advance & cover them" & therefore started the shout to advance. The shout & corresponding movement immediately spread to the left, (and I suppose to the right also.) But the cause & nature of the movement was not also transmitted with the shout, it was understood to be an order to charge - I repeated the order, which came "in the air," though I had received none directly, as it seemed to be the only thing to be done - Fortunately it resulted well."
- The Civil War Recollections of General Ellis Spear pg 315
As he had decades earlier here Spear again insists that it was he and not James Nichols who reported to Chamberlain with news of the flanking movement. In this version not only did Spear report of the Confederate advance but he also told Chamberlain what actions to take. In his 1889 address Chamberlain had attempted to settle the dispute claiming both men came to him. Spear, apparently still refusing to share the credit with Nichols, decides in this account to give Nichols' Company K credit for starting the charge. When rewriting his memoirs yet again sometime after 1905 Spear states "A brave fellow in the company on the left of the colors, proposed to his fellows to advance and cover [the wounded]" this statement no longer gives Nichols the credit.
It is possible he is alluding to Melcher, who was in command of company F, the color company, or he is possibly referring to someone in company A to their left.
While neither of Spear's two memoirs were published during his lifetime, Spear did publish a similar account in 1913....
The Left at Gettysburg - National Tribune, June 12, 1913
"...I returned immediately to my place on the left, and almost immediately thereafter I heard a shout of “Forward!” on the right and progressing to the left, and, looking saw the center advancing. Wondering for an instant what this might mean (as I received no orders), the next impulse was that if any part of the regiment was charging all must, we all shouted “Forward!” and plunged down the hill into the enemy. Some of them, nearer, crouching behind the boulders, threw down their guns and we ran over them. The main body yielding easily, as it seemed, ran among the trees behind them. Then we discovered Morrill and Co. B. They had been behind a stone wall in rear of the enemy, and had been paying their respects to him in true backwoods fashion. They were all sharpshooters, Captain and all, and loved a gun. . . . But how did we happen to charge? I give the story as told by the men at the time and on the spot. It appeared that on the left of the colors there were men wounded by the earlier fire and left in front as the line readjusted itself among the rocks. They were calling upon their comrades to get them back out of the fire. Comrades will understand that that involved cessation of fire on the part of the men attempting it, and danger and disturbance to the line at a critical moment. But some enterprising and undaunted fellow said, “It’s a damned shame to leave the boys there; let’s advance and cover them.” And those in the immediate vicinity joined the cry of “Forward!” Then the wounded would be in the rear and in reach of the stretch-bearers. The shout was heard and the movement seen to right and left further than the explanation of the original purpose of the 26 movement, and every comrade also will understand that those were good men who made that proposition and carried it out."​
So there you have it, the "true" story as told by Ellis Spear
 
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IcarusPhoenix

Sergeant Major
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Location
Albuquerque, New Mexico
My apologies for the mild necro-post, but I was just rereading the thread:

According to Trulock - the only Chamberlain biographer to really examine the soured relations between the men in later life - Spear's own family claimed that he became a bit unhinged and/or senile later in life (or at least that was their implication). Of course, with modern "scholarship" such as the Styple work - which takes Lt. Melcher's writings which essentially corroborate Colonel Chamberlain's and then-Captain Spear's accounts (at least then) and somehow reads into them Spear's interpretations above, though Melcher made no such claim - trying to create an unsupported narrative, it's no surprise that later-life Spear statements have returned to prominence in recent years.

Indeed, when reading Chamberlain's works - which were, in the main, written after Spear's change-of-heart - there's something of a sadness and reticence when he discusses wartime encounters with Spear that becomes noticeable when read in this frame.

The best work I've seen discussing the Chamberlain/Melcher narrative is one I found online by accident some years ago and written in 1996; while it omits some information and fails to analyze the nature of the charge and the ground (which, when combined, make the right-wheel movement possible only if specifically ordered, as it is not the natural direction to move from that position), it is a concise summary of the problems with the Spear-promoted Melcher theory.
http://www.gdg.org/Research/People/Chamberlain/flash.html
 

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
The best work I've seen discussing the Chamberlain/Melcher narrative is one I found online by accident some years ago and written in 1996; while it omits some information and fails to analyze the nature of the charge and the ground (which, when combined, make the right-wheel movement possible only if specifically ordered, as it is not the natural direction to move from that position), it is a concise summary of the problems with the Spear-promoted Melcher theory.
http://www.gdg.org/Research/People/Chamberlain/flash.html

I have read that as well, thanks for posting! The one comment I should like to add on Mr. Morgan's article is that it seems most historians were not aware that the second report, as Mr. Morgan calls it, was actually written in 1883. Tom Desjardin uncovered correspondence between Chamberlain and the War department where, the War department having lost the original report asked Chamberlain for a copy, he did not have one so he recreated it from his "memory and notes." Chamberlain's original report, that Mr. Morgan calls his first report, was found, fortunately Chamberlain has sent a copy to the Adjt. General of Maine it can be seen here http://www.gdg.org/Research/People/Chamberlain/jc11-4-63.htm

That information only adds to Mr. Morgan's point though, in his original report Chamberlain states, "As a last, desperate resort, I ordered a charge" Years later not having his original report and perhaps unable to recall if he ever said charge or if he was only able to get as far a bayonet, he states, "at that crisis, I ordered the bayonet."
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Location
Central Pennsylvania
Thanks for this. I never had the time to look into it, but at one point swore off all Chamberlain/20th Maine writings because you just never knew which take you were going to get. Spears tainted so MUCH of the ' documentation ' out there that you can just tell when an author has used it. Extensively, too- there are 2 books out there I will not name which I literally pitched- they were not bios nor tales of events concerning the 20th Maine- what they are, would be anti-Chamberlain rants pasted between an introduction and index. Plus- the thing is, Spears was himself a truly heroic, beyond brave and typically ' Maine ' soldier- gee whiz. Didn't seem to require this wierd need to go for Chamberlain the way he did- he sure as heck had all the makings of a genuine legend all by himself- kind of shot himself in the foot to me, by getting this bug up his nose.
 

BillO

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Location
Quinton, VA.
IMO Chamberlain and the 20th Maine's' role in the Battle of Gettysburg was and is way overblown in it's role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain was a very soldier and apparently an even better politician or salesman. The skill sets for both jobs seem to be the same.
 

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
IMO Chamberlain and the 20th Maine's' role in the Battle of Gettysburg was and is way overblown in it's role in the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain was a very soldier and apparently an even better politician or salesman. The skill sets for both jobs seem to be the same.
I'm pondering that statement, "better politician." He certainly didn't succeed past his four years as governor, but that possibly could just be due to his bad luck of being in competition with James Blaine. I do wonder how far he could have gotten if it wasn't for that, or if it wasn't for his insistence of staying in the Republican party. He had strong support among the veterans, both democrats and republicans liked him and he was popular in the South. It could make for an interesting what if question. Could Chamberlain have won the presidency if Blaine had supported him instead of running himself. It would have required Chamberlain letting Blaine call the shots, which was not something Chamberlain was willing to do.

Better salesman, this I doubt, he was too generous a person. When he was made president of a railroad company in Florida he ended up doing all the work but did not manage to get himself a cut of the big money that the railroad eventually made. His son wrote to Fanny something along the lines of, "Well, we found one thing dad is not good at."
 

godofredus

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Chicago
Couple of observations. First, the pension for ordinary soldiers (enlisted men) for wounds was $25.00 a month. For officers it was more, of course, but there was no "percentage of disability" like there is to day. See all my stiff here:
ALFRED STRATTON double amputee
Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by godofredus, Mar 29, 2014.

Second, some place on this board someone posted photographs of the ground on Little Round Top. The ground is so broken and rocky the idea of a sweeping turn is just an idea,, physically it would be impossible. That there was a wheel/turn there is no doubt, but it was not an easy thing. Everyone in the 20th Maine had to be brave to do this.

Third, opponents tend to minimize wounds. There is a whole literature about Charles Sumner, that after Preston Brooks caned him he was perfectly well and was shaming his injuries. There is really a lot of documentation on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's medical condition. He had to wear a catheter for most of his life, he leaked a lot and had to wear diapers, he had recurrent urinary infections which must have been extremely painful.

Fourth, he was politically on the wrong side in Maine. It wasn't just that James G. Blaine was a more powerful politician, it was that Blaine was a firm proponent of Congressional reconstruction with the army enforcing voting rights; Chamberlain was opposed to that in no uncertain terms. I don't want to say Blaine believed in Negro equality, all I know is that Chamberlain didn't.
 

IcarusPhoenix

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Location
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Kinda stinks to think Spear had it in for Chamberlain after what they'd been through.
Well, according to Spear's own family, he started going somewhat senile around the turn of the century, which is why his story for the latter decade or so of his life was markedly different from what it was thirty-five years prior.
The ground is so broken and rocky the idea of a sweeping turn is just an idea,, physically it would be impossible. That there was a wheel/turn there is no doubt, but it was not an easy thing. Everyone in the 20th Maine had to be brave to do this.
Well, not impossible, clearly (as the presence of prisoners from the 4th and 5th Texas - who were well to the 20th Maine's right - can attest), but it is one of about half-a-dozen factors that demonstrate why the late-life Spear theory of a spontaneous rush is impossible; with the rough terrain and the direction of the slope, a right wheel movement could not happen spontaneously; it had to be ordered.
There is really a lot of documentation on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's medical condition. He had to wear a catheter for most of his life, he leaked a lot and had to wear diapers, he had recurrent urinary infections which must have been extremely painful.
I've been trying for a long time to find a modern-day medical paper on Chamberlain's condition that I read several years back, but for the life of me, I can't find it again. It discusses the fistula at the base of Chamberlain's Corpus Spongiosum as a result of the surgery and the long-term effects of it. At least a couple of biographers have examined the effects it had on his marriage; Fanny was certainly a rather more liberated woman than was typical of the Victorian era, and she probably wasn't terribly content with the sudden cessation of martial relations.
I don't want to say Blaine believed in Negro equality, all I know is that Chamberlain didn't.
Er, I'm going to have to ask for some documentation on this one... Chamberlain in general didn't speak much about former slaves at all (being as their relevance in Maine politics was negligible at best, this is unsurprising), so I don't recall any statements in one direction or the other.
 

suzenatale

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May 25, 2013
I don't want to say Blaine believed in Negro equality, all I know is that Chamberlain didn't.
I won't deny that after federal troops left the south following the compromise of 1877 Chamberlain gave speeches recommending peace rather than a war to enforce their continued presence. But not not wanting to obtain something by violence is not the same thing as not believing in that thing.

"We who went into the war saw the dear old flag insulted and disgraced, and did not stop to think how right we were till God slowly revealed His purpose to us, and made us to see we were not working out our own petty wills but His great purpose. We learned many things in that war. We went in as boys and came out men. We then knew we had many things to do, but did not realize all God required of us. The best has not yet been done. Great evils cannot be cured in a day. The true education of the people will not be hastened by hate. Our brethren of the South must learn that violence never gives strength but the reverse. The South is full two centuries behind what it ought to be in enlightenment, but you cannot fight men into civilization, and we shall not hasten anything by anger."
http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/boothbay.php
While he was governor Chamberlain illustrated that he was very much in support of equality. He like Thadeus Stevens expressed displeasure at the 14th Amendment for not going far enough in protecting the right to vote for all.

"The Constitutional Amendment submitted to the people at the last session of Congress
has been received at the Executive Department, and it will become my duty to lay it before you. Imperfect as this was, as hazarding one of the very fruits of our victory by placing it in the power of the South to introduce into the Constitution a disability founded on race and color, still as it was the best wisdom of our Representatives in Congress, and at least a step in the right direction, at the same time that it smoothed the way for the returning South, and especially as it was the declared issue in the recent elections, good faith doubtless requires us to support it." http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/inaugural1867.php
 
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capt13th

Private
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Nov 20, 2014
Location
Nashville, TN
Couple of observations. First, the pension for ordinary soldiers (enlisted men) for wounds was $25.00 a month. For officers it was more, of course, but there was no "percentage of disability" like there is to day. See all my stiff here:
ALFRED STRATTON double amputee
Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by godofredus, Mar 29, 2014.

Second, some place on this board someone posted photographs of the ground on Little Round Top. The ground is so broken and rocky the idea of a sweeping turn is just an idea,, physically it would be impossible. That there was a wheel/turn there is no doubt, but it was not an easy thing. Everyone in the 20th Maine had to be brave to do this.

Third, opponents tend to minimize wounds. There is a whole literature about Charles Sumner, that after Preston Brooks caned him he was perfectly well and was shaming his injuries. There is really a lot of documentation on Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's medical condition. He had to wear a catheter for most of his life, he leaked a lot and had to wear diapers, he had recurrent urinary infections which must have been extremely painful.

Fourth, he was politically on the wrong side in Maine. It wasn't just that James G. Blaine was a more powerful politician, it was that Blaine was a firm proponent of Congressional reconstruction with the army enforcing voting rights; Chamberlain was opposed to that in no uncertain terms. I don't want to say Blaine believed in Negro equality, all I know is that Chamberlain didn't.
If you have visited the battlefield. you will see that the part of the hill that the 20th Maine is positioned on the lower slope of the hill near the base of Big Round Top. On that side the boulders are much more scarce than the pictures of the front side show which could make a "wheeling manuever" possible. What really gets to me about the after action accounts of the battle, Chamberlain says that all he had to do was give the word "bayonet" and it spread like wildfire through the line and then they charged. He says he ordered a "wheel", but most accounts claim that they just took off running down the hill because orders could not be heard which really makes his "wheeling" order questionable. My belief is that maybe it turned into a "wheel" because they had to go in the same direction the rebs were running. Where Spear was positioned with his wing of the regiment, he was facing the side of Big Round Top. No one in their right mind is going to run up hill to avoid a charge. They will follow the path of least resistence which would be down hill back towards Devil's Den which would mean that the left wing of the regiment would naturally have to turn right to chase them. There is no doubt that these were brave men, just that the official report may have been fudged a little.
 

suzenatale

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May 25, 2013
If you have visited the battlefield. you will see that the part of the hill that the 20th Maine is positioned on the lower slope of the hill near the base of Big Round Top. On that side the boulders are much more scarce than the pictures of the front side show which could make a "wheeling manuever" possible. What really gets to me about the after action accounts of the battle, Chamberlain says that all he had to do was give the word "bayonet" and it spread like wildfire through the line and then they charged. He says he ordered a "wheel", but most accounts claim that they just took off running down the hill because orders could not be heard which really makes his "wheeling" order questionable. My belief is that maybe it turned into a "wheel" because they had to go in the same direction the rebs were running. Where Spear was positioned with his wing of the regiment, he was facing the side of Big Round Top. No one in their right mind is going to run up hill to avoid a charge. They will follow the path of least resistence which would be down hill back towards Devil's Den which would mean that the left wing of the regiment would naturally have to turn right to chase them. There is no doubt that these were brave men, just that the official report may have been fudged a little.
The guy who would know if he got advance warning or not was Spear and unfortunately in one account he says he did and in another he says he didn't.

I should like to see someone try to reenact it, because I do wonder if it is possible to get out of such a bent back position into a line without advance warning. It seems to me like without warning the left would end up running behind the right rather than next to them. I'd imagine it would look something like this


I don't think he says that he ordered a right wheel just that it happened. The report that you see in the OR is actually recreated by Chamberlain from his notes years later, the original report was thought lost, a copy of it was found in Maine though, its worded slightly different than the report you quote above, in the original report Chamberlain says,

"Our gallant line writhed & shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last, desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word "fix bayonets" flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the (enemy?) except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna."
 

capt13th

Private
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Location
Nashville, TN
The guy who would know if he got advance warning or not was Spear and unfortunately in one account he says he did and in another he says he didn't.

I should like to see someone try to reenact it, because I do wonder if it is possible to get out of such a bent back position into a line without advance warning. It seems to me like without warning the left would end up running behind the right rather than next to them. I'd imagine it would look something like this


I don't think he says that he ordered a right wheel just that it happened. The report that you see in the OR is actually recreated by Chamberlain from his notes years later, the original report was thought lost, a copy of it was found in Maine though, its worded slightly different than the report you quote above, in the original report Chamberlain says,

"Our gallant line writhed & shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last, desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word "fix bayonets" flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the (enemy?) except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna."
The report i found was actually dated July 6, 1863 to Lt. George B. Herendeen the A.A.A.G. of the 3rd Brig., 1st Div., 5th Corps. I reviewed it again and there is no mention of the wheel manuever, so i still believe the terrain played a part in the "wheel". I guess his memory got a little fuzzy as the years passed. http://www.civilwarhome.com/chamberl.html
 

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
The report i found was actually dated July 6, 1863 to Lt. George B. Herendeen the A.A.A.G. of the 3rd Brig., 1st Div., 5th Corps. I reviewed it again and there is no mention of the wheel manuever, so i still believe the terrain played a part in the "wheel". I guess his memory got a little fuzzy as the years passed. http://www.civilwarhome.com/chamberl.html
I think that's the same report as the one that was reconstructed for the OR
http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/gettysburgreport.php
 

amweiner

2nd Lieutenant
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Location
Monterey, CA
I think another complicating factor is what we think we know about human memory, especially in a chaotic, fluid situation like combat. The common belief is that memory is a book that can be opened at random, with accurate details present for recall when they're needed. Research has shown that it doesn't take much to influence memories; in fact, it is entirely possible to convince someone they remember events that never happened!

Add the noise, smoke, sights, and raw emotion present in combat, all of them compounded by fatigue, and you have a recipe for confused recollections and highly emotional responses.

As an example, headed home after the 4th of July, there was a guy on the freeway in front of us whose tire exploded. He fishtailed across three lanes and I had to thread through him and another car to avoid being hit. When I called 911 to get some help for the driver, I ended up getting a bunch of details wrong, primarily because my attention was focused on getting through the chaos with my family intact. My wife and I saw very different things, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for the men and officers at Gettysburg.

None of this is meant to say this person is right and this one wrong. I think Chamberlain and Spear probably had very different perceptions and experiences, both of which have merit. Their pride, and probably their response to trauma, may well have influenced their recollections as well as their postwar interactions.

Just a thought,
Adam
 

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
I think another complicating factor is what we think we know about human memory, especially in a chaotic, fluid situation like combat. The common belief is that memory is a book that can be opened at random, with accurate details present for recall when they're needed. Research has shown that it doesn't take much to influence memories; in fact, it is entirely possible to convince someone they remember events that never happened!

Add the noise, smoke, sights, and raw emotion present in combat, all of them compounded by fatigue, and you have a recipe for confused recollections and highly emotional responses.

As an example, headed home after the 4th of July, there was a guy on the freeway in front of us whose tire exploded. He fishtailed across three lanes and I had to thread through him and another car to avoid being hit. When I called 911 to get some help for the driver, I ended up getting a bunch of details wrong, primarily because my attention was focused on getting through the chaos with my family intact. My wife and I saw very different things, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for the men and officers at Gettysburg.

None of this is meant to say this person is right and this one wrong. I think Chamberlain and Spear probably had very different perceptions and experiences, both of which have merit. Their pride, and probably their response to trauma, may well have influenced their recollections as well as their postwar interactions.

Just a thought,
Adam
While I think that's true for a lot of things, I don't think you can go from remembering a friend was near death to remembering it was nothing and he was making a fuss. Some say Spear was just going senile, but I don't know that was it.
 

amweiner

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Location
Monterey, CA
I was speaking about the discrepant recollections of the fight at LRT. It is entirely possible by the time Spear spoke about Chamberlain's wounding at Petersburg he was so anti-JLC that he could have felt that he was just being a baby whining about a stubbed toe.

I got the sense from the earlier postings that much of what was said between Chamberlain and Spear was influenced by negative emotions rather than different views. Even so, you might be surprised at the fallibility of human memory. I've seen studies, as mentioned before, that demonstrate the relative ease with which a person's memory can be influenced. People have provided vivid details about events that never actually happened, and only with great difficulty could some be convinced that their memories were false. I doubt that applies here, but I think my points about trauma and memory may apply to the LRT situation.
 

suzenatale

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 25, 2013
I was speaking about the discrepant recollections of the fight at LRT. It is entirely possible by the time Spear spoke about Chamberlain's wounding at Petersburg he was so anti-JLC that he could have felt that he was just being a baby whining about a stubbed toe.

I got the sense from the earlier postings that much of what was said between Chamberlain and Spear was influenced by negative emotions rather than different views. Even so, you might be surprised at the fallibility of human memory. I've seen studies, as mentioned before, that demonstrate the relative ease with which a person's memory can be influenced. People have provided vivid details about events that never actually happened, and only with great difficulty could some be convinced that their memories were false. I doubt that applies here, but I think my points about trauma and memory may apply to the LRT situation.
I agree. I mention the Petersburg discrepancies because I think it shows that Spear was intentionally lying, for we know for sure about Chamberlain's wound. That to me suggests that other changes in Spear's story such as not remembering getting orders to charge might also be intentional alterations. The not being able to decide who he wanted to give credit for starting the charge is curious as well. Especially given the Spear letter the LOC sends me,
"I never before heard of Melcher suggesting an advance. For myself, as I said, the only orders I had were from you directly."
 
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