Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Brewer Maine on September 8, 1828. A Bowdoin College professor, Joshua L. Chamberlain went to the Maine state capital to offer his services to the Union in 1862. Offered the colonelcy of a regiment, he declined, preferring to "start a little lower and learn the business first." He was made lieutenant colonel of the regiment on August 8. He was eventually promoted to Colonel of the 20th Maine on May 20, 1863. With the regiment, Chamberlain took part in the battles of Antietam, Shepherdstown Ford, Fredericksburg (wounded), and Chancellorsville. At the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment, then commanded by Chamberlain, was placed by Col, Strong Vincent at the extreme left flank of the Union Line on Little Round Top. There, Vincent ordered Chamberlain to “….hold the line at all costs!”.
Chamberlain had just enough time to place his men into position along a ledge on the Southern slope of the hill. “Ten minutes had not passed” before the Confederate assault approached them. The battle moved from right to left across the Union brigade front. The 20th Maine fell under attack from the 47th and 15th Alabama Regiments, under the command of Col. William C. Oates. The 47th was greatly understrength and ultimately withdrew, leaving only the 15th to carry on the fight.
“My ammunition was soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to “club” their muskets. It was imperative to strike before we were struck by this overwhelming force in a hand-to-hand fight, which we could not have withstood or survived. At that crisis I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line from man to man, and rose to a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the enemy, now not thirty yards away. The effect was surprising; many of the enemy’s first line threw down their arms and surrendered. An officer fired his pistol at my head with one hand while he handed me his sword with the other. Holding fast by our right, and swinging forward our left, we made an extended “right wheel”, before the enemy’ second line broke, and fell back, fighting from tree to tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade.” Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, Emmitsburg, July 6, 1863
The oncoming rush of Maine men so shocked and stunned the equally tired and battle weary Alabamians, that they threw down their weapons and surrendered or broke into full retreat. The fight for Little Roundtop was over. The 20th Maine had held, “at all costs”, the end of the Union line. Col. Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Roundtop that day. In November 1863 he was relieved from field service and sent to Washington suffering from malaria. Resuming command of the regiment in May 1864, he led it in the battle of Cold Harbor. Assigned to brigade command in June of 1864 he was wounded 12 days later in the assault on Petersburg. He was promoted to Brigadier General on the spot by General Grant, then carried to the rear, where a surgeon declared that he would certainly die from the wound. He recovered to rejoin the army in November but was forced by his wound to return to Maine to recuperate. He came back again during the Petersburg siege during which he was wounded for a fourth time. Chamberlain took part in the Appomattox Campaign and was given the honor of commanding the troops that formally accepted the surrender of the Confederate Army.
After the war he served as governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. Chamberlain succumbed to the long term effects of his Petersburg wound on February 24, 1914.