Was Chamberlain honest about Little Round Top in his memoir?

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

LilRhody

Private
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Messages
52
Location
Bellingham, WA
Here is what General Sherman said about memoirs and such.

In this free country every man is at perfect liberty to publish his own thoughts and impressions, and any witness who may differ from me should publish his own version of facts in the truthful narration of which he is interested. I am publishing my own memoirs, not theirs, and we all know that no three honest witnesses of a simple brawl can agree on all the details. How much more likely will be the difference in a great battle covering a vast space of broken ground, when each division, brigade, regiment, and even company, naturally and honestly believes that it was the focus of the whole affair! Each of them won the battle. None ever lost. That was the fate of the old man who unhappily commanded.

General Chamberlain wrote what he wrote and others wrote what they wrote. They are all equal now.
Great Sherman quote. Did a Google search because I want to cite it in my book. Can you pls provide a source??
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
10,880
Chamberlain wrote five accounts of the fight at Little Round Top over fifty years. The one that Spear objected to was the final one. He thought that Chamberlain had exaggerated his part in the action. After 50 years, who can say what was the truth and what was a "Fishing" story that grew proportionally with the telling.
As to the monument for the Alabamians, Chamberlain's objection was that Oates had the monument for his regiment behind the 15th Maine's Position, which was a bit odd.
 

Belfoured

Corporal
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Messages
472
Chamberlain wrote five accounts of the fight at Little Round Top over fifty years. The one that Spear objected to was the final one. He thought that Chamberlain had exaggerated his part in the action. After 50 years, who can say what was the truth and what was a "Fishing" story that grew proportionally with the telling.
As to the monument for the Alabamians, Chamberlain's objection was that Oates had the monument for his regiment behind the 15th Maine's Position, which was a bit odd.
Sure, but Chamberlain (with Gordon's company) also appears to have embellished the Appomattox surrender ceremony. He was, after all, a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin. It's also important to separate what he wrote from the mythology that Shaara/Burns/Maxwell perpetrated.
 

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
10,880
Sure, but Chamberlain (with Gordon's company) also appears to have embellished the Appomattox surrender ceremony. He was, after all, a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin. It's also important to separate what he wrote from the mythology that Shaara/Burns/Maxwell perpetrated.
Do we really? He is not changing the facts, like Dan Sickles did. He is just making it into a great story.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Belfoured

Corporal
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
Messages
472
Do we really? He is not changing the facts, like Dan Sickles did. He is just making it into a great story.
Read Marvel's account of the surrender. "Making it into a great story" can involve "changing the facts". Regarding Sickles, if you're referring to July 2 Dan didn't "change the facts" so much as he mounted a vigorous defense of what turned out to be a bad decision - and one can still argue that what he did ended up interfering with Longstreet's design. I'm not necessarily agreeing with the conclusion that Sickles' ill-advised decision led to the Union left holding its position at the end of the day but it did force some Confederate adjustments.
 

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
10,880
Read Marvel's account of the surrender. "Making it into a great story" can involve "changing the facts". Regarding Sickles, if you're referring to July 2 Dan didn't "change the facts" so much as he mounted a vigorous defense of what turned out to be a bad decision - and one can still argue that what he did ended up interfering with Longstreet's design. I'm not necessarily agreeing with the conclusion that Sickles' ill-advised decision led to the Union left holding its position at the end of the day but it did force some Confederate adjustments.
I have.
Sickles did indeed change the facts. He lied and impugned Meade's reputation in order to further his story.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

John S. Carter

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
Messages
1,519
View attachment 324601
by Mort Kunstler



In honor of this legendary man's birthday, I think a good thread evaluating an action he is most famous for, and the discontent among the 20th Maine with his version of events is in order. Now some may look at this and say, "A thread trying to discover if he was a liar or not on his birthday is real classy." or with some folks "What makes you think he was lying?" but this isn't to bash him, or try to destroy his incredible legacy, its just to see if his version of events were skewed. Plus being the Trans-Mississippi nut I am, that doesn't really delve into such things back east, I'm curious to hear what other folks more in the know than myself will say. I think the best way to go about dissecting this is to take many factors into consideration, and compare them with other accounts:

The beginning of the fight in Chamberlain's reports-of which he wrote several in days after the fight-"The artillery was replaced by a vigorous infantry assault upon the center of our brigade to my right, but soon involved the right of my regiment and gradually extended along my entire front. The action was quite sharp and at close quarters. In the midst of this, an officer from my center informed me that some important movement of the enemy was going on in his front. beyond that of the line with which we were engaged."

As the beginning of the battle is not in question, lets skip on over to the end.

Chamberlain had "sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements" and according to Chamberlain "One-half of my left wing had fallen and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or badly wounded" and in the midst of all this is when Chamberlain said one word was enough: "BAYONNETS!!!" writing in one his multiple official reports "The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line...we made an extended right wheel, before which the enemy's second line broke...until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of the entire brigade."

Its at that point things get convoluted, Captain A.M. Judson of the 83rd Pennsylvania confirmed the 20th Maine swung like a pivot and charged down the valley, but various memoirs of soldier in the 20th Maine make no mention of a right wheel, though Co. B in the woods away from the main body of the regiment did a right wheel joining the rest of the regiment. Chamberlain himself is inconsistent with his multiple official reports, and never mentions other officers, just himself, and he was always in complete control according to him, but the captain of Co. G, soon to be Major Ellis Spear was seemingly vehement in disagreeing with Chamberlain's version of the fight, he said:

Chamberlain was on the right...I went quickly over to him and advised him of the situation, suggesting that it seemed best to bend back two companies to meet the threat on the flank. He assented... I'm aware of a report that we were out of ammunition. That was not the case on the left. It has also been reported that the charge was ordered, because of that, but of this I have no knowledge. I received no such orders. Sergeant Thomas of Co. I, was at the time acting as a sort of messenger for the Colonel and has subsequently told me he knew of no such orders." He continued "Suddenly, on the right I heard the shout of "advance" "forward" I saw the line begin to move, I had received no orders to charge and there was no time to deliberate on the result. The whole line, as far as I could see it, was moving and shouting, or appeared to be and if any were going forward, all must and I shouted "forward" and down the slope we plunged, and in not a very orderly line, but with a great deal of momentum and no small bit of noise"

Now lets recap, Chamberlain paints a picture of him in complete control, giving the order to fix bayonets, and Major Spear, knew nothing of his version events, never mentioned hearing the order to fix bayonets or charge and just reacted to what he saw going on. (well that fights depiction in the movie "Gettysburg" is now flying out the window with a vengeance) Plus looking around more, Captain Howard Prince in his history of the 20th Maine sided with Spear to some extent, but still makes mention of Chamberlain saying "forward" and says very few actually heard the order, but it spread along the lines. So a third version of events comes to play.

I'm curious about this, what are everyone else's thoughts.
(Also a disclaimer, as said previously I'm not a big Gettysburg student, I'm mainly aware of this from reading an article about this in an article when I was a kid about what really happened at Little Round Top in a August 2005 "Civil War Times" and luckily I still had the copy for reference, which I really relied on it for source material.)
There is a term that is used when soldiers recall actions in a battle which did not occur but due to the horrific events which are occuring about them they become confused or lost in the actions of the battle.They will tell of the battle from that perspective when it really did not occur ;another soldier will tell a different story from his perspective .I think that it is called THE FOG OF WAR,Just as the war itself is told from a Southern vs a Northern outlook or remembrance.dealing with the causes and the reason for the outcome of the war.That is why we have do research from both sides of the issues surrounding these events,thank you for those who do that .But then can it be done with out a prejudice report?.That is why one must allow time to pass before writing on emotional scenes which I do hold the fact that stories written by those involved as Chamberlain and Early may be in question from a sense of glory for themselves ,their side,or did not happen but the FOG covered their view.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Lubliner

Sergeant Major
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Messages
1,839
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Time itself and situational awareness during heavy periods of stress will fool your comprehension of the facts, and the release of PTSD can also be assuaged by writing 'round-about' over the most distressing moments.
Lubliner.
 

Rhea Cole

Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Messages
849
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
'Seeing the elephant' was a Civil War soldier's way of saying that they participated in a battle. Describing what happened in a battle is like the story of the blind men & the elephant. It all depends on which part of the beast you have a hold on. I don't read memoirs as objective history. Any two people sitting side by side at a football game will describe a touchdown play differently. That any two soldiers could agree totally on an event as fraught as Little Roundtop would be a miracle. Chamberlain & Spear are both undoubtedly objectively right & wrong. That does not mean that either man is lying.

I find that when memoirists get it wrong or fill in their story can be very revealing. After Missionary Ridge, veteran Confederate officers reported that the A.o.C. attacking force was as much as ten times larger than it actually was. That tells me a lot about the morale of the men defending the ridge.

Sam Watkins was not at the battles of Franklin or Nashville. It wouldn't be much of a story to end his book that way; not to mention that his odds of surviving would have been very small. Instead of telling the objective truth, Watkins chose to write a vivid narrative based on what his comrades told him about the battles. Watkins was not a liar, he was a storyteller.

Regimental histories, often written 20 or 30 years after the war, are riddled with factual errors & gross exaggerations. These are simple errors of objective fact or the product of decades of imaginative retelling. That is both understandable & forgivable. What is not forgivable are memoirs such as Hood's that are replete with gross errors of fact. In his memoir, for example, Hood repeatedly claims to have made decisions during the Nashville Campaign based on information he could not possibly have had access to. Joseph Wheeler's wartime reports were works of fiction. He grossly misinformed General Bragg over & over again. His long postwar writing career wandered ever farther from objective fact. To my way of thinking, Hood was a liar, Wheeler a fanticist. In all three case, you have to fact check every word they wrote.

I used to keep a chunk of a saltblock near my desk as a reminder to double check original sources. The temptation to use a particularly vivid recollection is almost overwhelming. I do have to admit, the liars are often the most entertaining read.
 
Last edited:

Rick Richter

Private
Joined
Dec 6, 2012
Messages
134
I believe that Chamberlin has been elevated to a higher status in the modern times than in his era by TV, paintings and movies and to some he's a hero and others he's not. No doubt he used whatever events occurred that day to further his career and ambitions and he can't be faulted for that because by any measure he was a good officer. Whatever occurred that day took place in the fog of war and probably the complete and unvarnished truth will never be known and I doubt that if you had asked any two people (North or South) what actually occurred that afternoon so long ago on that hill that they probably couldn't/wouldn't have agreed. To sum it up, whatever he is to you; he will continue to be that and nothing that is written or said will probably ever change that.:D
Agree 100%. Yes, Chamberlain was an excellent officer, and also an excellent self-promoter, so probably all his accounts need to be taken with a grain of salt.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Rusk County Avengers

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Messages
2,051
Location
Coffeeville, TX
I could see it being a matter of age and "fog of war" if it weren't for Ellis and others going on record against Chamberlain, especially their versions matching up and Chamberlain's not. The most damaging point thrown out by the men under his command being that his most famous serious woundings, were false and never happened.

Age, and fog of war, or not that does point to Chamberlain outright lying. I may have never been shot, but I've known many who have, and I've yet to meet someone who was mistaken about being shot, and never was unless they were lying. That's a traumatic enough happening that it ought to be clear.

Besides, Chamberlain was a college professor and man of political ambition. In today's world that would automatically make him suspect.:D
 

Gentizzy

Private
Joined
May 4, 2017
Messages
42
I'm wondering - did I dream this?
Seem to remember reading in a Civil War mag a few years ago that Chamberlain got really upset after submitting memoirs to a publisher. Someone decided that Chamberlain's account needed more "oomph" so doctored it up. That gussied up account got Spear upset.
 

Fairfield

Private
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Messages
182
Chamberlain wrote five accounts of the fight at Little Round Top over fifty years. The one that Spear objected to was the final one. He thought that Chamberlain had exaggerated his part in the action. After 50 years, who can say what was the truth and what was a "Fishing" story that grew proportionally with the telling.
As to the monument for the Alabamians, Chamberlain's objection was that Oates had the monument for his regiment behind the 15th Maine's Position, which was a bit odd.
Because no one from my town in Maine served in the 20th, I did not start reading about Gen. Chamberlain until recently. But, from what I've found, his last two accounts were published by Hearst--who loved a good story, if only to make money. Chamberlain himself was displeased with the hatchet job on the last article. This is a problem for non-fiction writers in general: usually the small print of contracts is arranged in such a way that the writer loses copyright ownership (there was a woman on one of the other forums of CWT who complained that this is what happened to her work). This is why many non-fiction authors often choose to self-publish which was an option not open to Chamberlain.

To be honest, I have no military expertise and wouldn't dare to make a military assessment. However, as a person, I like him tremendously. I am reading "Passing of the Armies" right now and while I find that his intense detail and skill as a linguist do not make him a quick read, his deep empathy and forthrightness are impressive. I don't think it likely--looking at his character, not the military situation--that he was a liar, an embellisher or a self promoter.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

rpkennedy

Major
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Messages
9,998
Location
Carlisle, PA
I used to be a lot more critical of Chamberlain and his accounts but I've mellowed some in recent years. Who doesn't love an old man spinning yarns even if they aren't entirely accurate? I think we've all met that person and Chamberlain was just as human as any of them. That said, as a general rule of thumb, take accounts from decades after said event with a grain of salt without more contemporary corroboration.

Ryan
 

Fairfield

Private
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Messages
182
I'm wondering - did I dream this?
Seem to remember reading in a Civil War mag a few years ago that Chamberlain got really upset after submitting memoirs to a publisher. Someone decided that Chamberlain's account needed more "oomph" so doctored it up. That gussied up account got Spear upset.
Yes!
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top