The Lion of the Union is No More
February 24, 2014 8:56 AM   Subscribe

One hundred years ago today, General Joshua L. Chamberlain - the "lion of the union" - linguist, professor, mason, soldier, Medal of Honor winner, public servant, and author -- died at the age of 85, from the lingering wounds he had suffered at the Siege of Petersburg, fifty years earlier.
posted by anastasiav (12 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
If you're also wondering when Chamberlain took up recreational bricklaying, that's probably supposed to be a capital M Mason, with the special aprons and the Lodges and all.
posted by zamboni at 9:06 AM on February 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a small Don Troiani print hanging in my office that was a gift from my brother-in-law, who is something of a Civil War buff and a particular expert on Gettysburg. It's one of my prized posssessions, and depicts Chamberlain leading the charge down Little Round Top.

Before we made a trip to Gettysburg, my BiL insisted I read The Killer Angels, which I did, and Stars In Their Courses, which also covers Gettysburg and is excerpted from Shelby Foote's three-volume set.

Chamberlain was by far and away my favorite figure (hence the gift). I thought he was masterfully played by Jeff Daniels in Gettysburg.
posted by jquinby at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I will raise a pint of Chamberlain Pale Ale to him in my General Chamberlain pint glass this very eve!
posted by rollbiz at 9:20 AM on February 24, 2014

If you go to Brunswick, Maine there's a shitty bar named after Chamberlain. There's also a statue that re-imagines him as a hydrocephalic palming an invisible basketball. You can also visit his house, which had a second story added onto it the hard way-- by jacking up the existing structure and building under it.

His death was a huge blow to the state: Maine would not see another son so great until the birth of Judd Nelson.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:46 AM on February 24, 2014

I hadn't heard the story about his lost and now (2013) found Medal of Honor.

The story of the 12 days in Maine is amazing, when Chamberlian helped resolve the crisis over the 1880 Maine gubenetorial election which threatened to break into armed conflict.
posted by Jahaza at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Quaker Road! Little Round Top! See, this is generally what they mean by "hold the line" - and he did it, not only holding until reinforcements arrived, but driving back the enemy while outnumbered and wounded in two critical battles, and fought the enemy to a draw in a third.

The great Confederate generals are these marble gods, cursed by fate to a futile cause. The great Union generals were inventors, cartographers and manic-depressives, college professors and drunkard saddle clerks. The martial marble gods of the North were all cowards or incompetents, so the mere mortals took over to preserve the Union and free the enslaved.

Lee and Jackson were called by destiny to greatness. U.S. Grant marched men like Chamberlain at destiny until it got the hell out of the way.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:18 AM on February 24, 2014 [17 favorites]

This thread needs more Steve Earle.
(First two minutes is a history lesson, the song proper starts later).

Mr. Chamberlain is probably responsible for taking a potshot or two at my Great-great grandfather when he charged up Little Round Top. I bear him no ill will for that, I've dreamed of taking potshots at some of my relatives on occasion, especially when they get all het up over politics.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:56 AM on February 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you've ever read The Twentieth Maine by Pullen, the maddest thing is that the defense of Little Round Top isn't the craziest, most cinematic thing about Chamberlain's career. Among other things, he stopped a premature charge that would have decimated his men by galloping back and forth across the line in full view of the enemy, shouting for them to hold off. Even after as he was nearly mortally shot at Petersburg, he propped himself up on his sword so he could prevent a retreat. A bunch of his men refused to fight because they thought they were being treated unfairly by the change in enlistment terms, and he couldn't bear to send them to execution them as military law said, so he literally got on a box and orated until most of them were convinced to go on, and the ones that didn't he put in chains and took along with the troops, until they got to Little Round Top, where they demanded to be released and given rifles to fight with their friends.

Chamberlain was just awesome all the way around.
posted by tavella at 11:58 AM on February 24, 2014 [9 favorites]

His ordering his men to salute at the Confederate surrender was a mark of true class.
posted by Gelatin at 5:52 PM on February 24, 2014

The great Confederate generals are these marble gods, cursed by fate to a futile cause.

If they'd had the resources of the Union, they wouldn't be seen like this: they'd have been plodding, safe generals just like most of the Union ranks. Plodding, safe generals acting from a stance of superior resources win. Lee and Jackson are considered great military leaders because, in an impossible position, they found victories; the Union generals were never really in impossible positions, so they didn't have to—in the terminology of Go—"complicate the game" so much.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:58 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Plodding, safe generals acting from a stance of superior resources win.

Plodding, safe generals were losing the war - without definitive victories, and unable to defend Union abolitionist strongholds like Pennsylvania, Lincoln would have been out on his ass, the South allowed to go its own way, and Slavery to continue indefinitely. Without Grant and Meade - Vicksburg and Gettysburg - the war was lost. Von Clausewitz, man - politics by other means.

(Interesting to note that prior to the war, Meade's military career after the Mexican American war involved building lighthouses featuring a lamp he invented. He wasted no time in kicking ass once he was put to the test, and was slandered and demeaned for his troubles. Grant knew the score, tho.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:27 AM on February 25, 2014

If you're also wondering what kind of linguistics Chamberlain might have studied/taught, he was actually a professor of rhetoric, which while it certainly involves language does not mean, as the linked piece says, that he "taught linguistic studies and dialects."
posted by languagehat at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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