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Monday, October 15, 2012

One of My Personal Heroes: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

(Thanks Wikipedia for the pic!)



Yep, this gentleman is one of my personal heroes, and I am willing to bet only a very small percentage of you have ever heard of this man.....but without him, we would not be living in the United States of America.

I even have a shirt with his picture on it....REALLY!  

This all ties in to a book review I have wanted to do for a while, The Traveler's Gift, by Andy Andrews.  It's an uplifting book about a down and out man who gets to go back in time to learn seven important decisions/lessons from people in history so that he might go forward in his life and make a difference.  The great people he meets range in fame from Biblical to Presidential, to key people from our history books, and even an angel, but the one you probably won't recognize unless you were one of my English students, one of my dad's history students, or a total Civil War nerd is Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

His lesson to our protagonist, David,  is "I am a person of action."  David learns this lesson right in the middle of the most pivotal battle in the Civil War, The Battle of Gettysburg, and at the most crucial moment of the battle taking place at the top of Little Round Top.  It was Chamberlain's action that saved his men, saved the Union's position, won the battle for the Union, and broke the spirit of the Confederate Army.  If he had not acted, the Union most surely would have lost that battle, the war, and the Confederacy would have succeeded in it's quest to separate itself from the Union.  

You would think that a military man was made for such a moment, but here is the kicker, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, up until the war, was a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine!  No military experience, no personal experience with slavery, but he and his brothers joined the Union Army based on the fact that this war was like no other war....He wasn't fighting for a king or for land or revenge; he was fighting to set other men free.  Chamberlain was a man of principle, and this is what made him a beloved leader on the field and later in his political life.  

Chamberlain's 20th Maine was the absolute far left of the Union army's line up Little Round Top.  If they were to be defeated, the Confederate troops would come down the mountain and collapse the entire Union line.  At the breaking point of the battle, with little to no ammunition left, he gave the order to his men to fix their bayonets and they would execute a Right Wheel Forward, basically swinging down the hill to the right at full charge and push the Confederate troops back into the rest of the Union army.  It was a gutsy move, it was a huge risk, and it worked!  The Confederate troops either turned and ran or surrendered on the spot.  This all happened because Chamberlain's men had faith in his leadership; he was a man of action.  

I hope you get a chance to read this book by Andy Andrews.  It has a very strong message.  If you are a closet history buff, please please please go out and read The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara.  This is one of the most moving books you will ever read about war, friendship, and the conflicts it all brings on.  These men were real, their tragedies and successes were real, and it is a lesson we all need to remember. 

In the weeks to come, as we listen to debates and statements being made, I hope to hear a voice rise above the others that will speak to me as a person of action, of noble action, just like my hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.


  1. I've not heard of this man but he sounds worth knowing. I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Almost every step I took fell on a battleground with many stories to tell. Thanks for introducing him! I so agree that we need people like this right now. I wish I could name some but, alas, I can't.


  2. Great review, Lana! And if your readers do go out and get Killer Angels, they will finally also learn of General James Longstreet (my hero), General Lee's senior subordinate officer! Love that book!
    My daughter is a huge Chamberlain fan, by the way. :-)

  3. And you know I have a HUGE soft spot in my heart for General James Longstreet. His story broke my heart! I knew this one would get you ;-)

  4. What an awesome story. What an interesting man he seems to have been! I'll have to look up that book :)

  5. This is a great review! You have me intrigued.



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