Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born Sept. 8, 1828 in Brewer, Maine. Chamberlain worked on his father's farm until 1848, when he entered Bowdoin College, where he showed particular skill in languages. He met Fannie Adams, who he would marry in 1855 after a long courtship. Chamberlain graduated Bowdoin in 1852, and continued his studies at Bangor Theological Seminary. After 3 years of study at the seminary, he turned down the opportinity to become a minister, instead opting to teach languages at Bowdoin. In 1862, Chamberlain turned down a years sabbatical in Europe and offered his military service to the Governor of Maine.

Chamberlain was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry. The first action the regiment saw was at Fredricksburg, where they attacked well defended Southern positions. Several months later, at Gettysburg, the 20th Maine was assigned to the far left of the Union position, on a small hill called Little Round Top. Little Round Top was a crucial position, occupying high ground on the Union flank. Chamberlain led the 308 men of the 20th against almost 1000 Confederate soldiers who repeatedly charged the Union positions. When the Maine soldiers ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain led the regiment on a bayonet charge down the hill and to the right, driving the Confederate troops toward stronger Union positions. Despite casualty rates of 30%, Chamberlain's troops captured some 400 troops, including 2 officers, and held Little Round Top. This action is regarded as having saved the battle for the Union, since losing Little Round Top would have forced the Army off of Cemetary Ridge where they were entrenched. Chamberlain's actions were the turning point in a battle that was a turning point in the war. If Chamberlain had not held Little Round Top, there is a very good chance the Union would have lost the battle and possibly the war. Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry at Gettysburg in 1893. Chamberlain continued his distinguished military career, leading a brigade of Pennsylvanians against heavily fortified Southern positions at Petersburg in 1864. One charge forced a Rebel battery and supporting infantry to retreat. Chamberlain then led a charge against River's Salient, where he was shot through both hips. General Grant immediately promoted him to Brigadier General, the only battlefield promotion to General of the Civil War. Chamberlain was hospitalized for weeks, but returned to duty in August 1864. In 1865 while leading the attack on Confederate forces near Petersburg, Chamberlain was again wounded, but still led his men over Confederate breastworks. In another action 2 days later, Chamberlain again led his men over Confederate fortifications. For his leadership in these 2 actions, he was promoted to Brevet Major General. On April 9, he was designated by General Grant to receive the formal capitulation of the Confederate forces. On April 12, he ordered the Union troops to salute the defeated Southerners, a chivalrous gesture of respect for the valor of the defeated Confederate Army.

In all, Chamberlain had been in 24 battles, been wounded 6 times, and had 5 horses shot from under him. Troops under his command had captured 2700 Confederate soldiers.

After the war, Chamberlain briefly returned to teaching at Bowdoin, but was soon elected Governor of Maine for four terms. After that, Chamberlain became President of Bowdoin College in 1871, a position he held until 1883 when poor health from his war wounds forced him to retire. He died in 1914 from reinfection of his old hip wound.

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