Fannie and Joshua Chamberlain (Dale Gallon)
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I have been catching up one work around the house, working on my book so hopefully I can have it ready to send to my agent no later than this time a week from now. So tonight I am reposting a portion out of one of my incomplete Gettysburg series dealing with an American Hero and icon with feet of clay, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He became one of my heroes when I first read about his stand with the 20th Maine at Little Round Top back in Junior High school. At that time I only knew the basics of his biography, which did not include the struggles he had after the war dealing with combat trauma, a marriage on the rocks, his disappointment at not being retained in the post-war downsizing of the Army, and his attempts to serve in other ways, which did nothing for his health or marriage.
The impact of war on those who go to war and the loved ones that they return to is often incredibly difficult, I know from experience. I am lucky, first I survived war, then I at least until now have survived its aftermath, finally, I have a wife who survived it with me and in spite of all the trauma our marriage not only survived but has become better. I hope that you appreciate this account of the post-war life of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain.
Joshua Chamberlain’s accolades were at Little Round Top certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent, who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day. Of course their were his subordinates that get little attention. But today is about what happened to Chamberlain and his wife Fannie after he came home.
After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither he or Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend. The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.” 
When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter”  and who had returned home, but it was not to be.
Army life had given Joshua Chamberlain a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his fellow professors when he left his professorship at Bowdoin College to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine. His colleague told him that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” 
Upon his discharge, Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience.  In his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:
“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” 
In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:
“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” 
Chamberlain then set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. However, the marriage continued to suffer and Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.”  Eventually Chamberlain returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. 
He then became a champion of national reconciliation who was admired by friend and former foe alike. However, he was filled with bitterness towards some in the Union who he believed did not care for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than many Northerners, willing to forgive the South, admire it’s heroes and despise their own, and the cause for which they fought:
“Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism – those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” 
His experience of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction era North, was felt by many Union Veterans as the twin myths of The Noble South and The Lost Cause swept the whole country. Thus his bitterness, not toward the enemy soldiers he faced, but the citizens that he suffered so much to defend and the causes that they fought. Today his bitterness towards his countrymen, political and business leaders, academics and others, through their foul treatment of Union soldiers and fawning admiration of Heroes the Confederacy and the South, would be called Moral Injury.
Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory and be with his former comrades was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.”  The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.
These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war, suffered from immensely. His wounds which nearly killed him on the front lines at Petersburg never fully healed, and he was forced to endure the humiliation of wearing what would be considered an early form of a permanent catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.”  Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.
He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.”  Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.”  His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” 
By 1868 the issues between he and Fannie were so deep that she threatened him with divorce, and went about accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as her issues which included:
“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” 
The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:
“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.
You never take my advice, I am aware.
But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” 
His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.
The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.”  The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.”  Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt Fannie over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.”  The anguished widower wrote after her death:
“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”
Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.”  He was alone.
Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.
Sadly, the story of the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war and struggles to readjust to civilian life. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of soldiers as well as their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.
The Battle for Little Round Top which is so legendary in our collective history and myth was in the end something more than a decisive engagement in a decisive battle. It was something greater and larger than that, it is the terribly heart wrenching story of ordinary, yet heroic men like Gouverneur Warren, Strong Vincent, Chamberlain and Paddy O’Rorke and their families who on that day were changed forever.
Chamberlain, ever the romantic, spoke about that day when dedicating the Maine Monument in 1888; about the men who fought that day and what they accomplished:
“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” 
The one thing none of us who return changed by war and military service seem to really master, is how to fully be present in the lives of those we love when we return.
 Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.282
 Ibid. Smith Fanny and Joshua p.182
 Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260
 Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua pp.178-179
 Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.181
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.
 Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.245
 Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180 It is interesting to note that Chamberlain’s commentary is directed at Northerners who were even just a few years after the war were glorifying Confederate leader’s exploits. Chamberlain instead directs the attention of his audience, and those covering the speech to the atrocities committed at the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864 and to the hellish conditions at the Andersonville and Belle Isle prisoner of war camps run by the Confederacy.
 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.203
 Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.289
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.259
 Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.288
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.285
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.268
 Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014
 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.227
 Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.297
 Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.290
 Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.290
 Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond PPP.342-343
 Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014
4 responses to “When Heroes Return from War: Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain and the Complicated Lives of those Changed by War”
I have always liked that passage of Chamberlain’s, on the consecration of the Main veteran’s monument. I think he would feel the power in the Vietnam Memorial, and I certainly felt it at Gettysburg and Fredericksburg.
That’s the second time this week I’ve heard “Moral Injury”. Apparently I have a “Moral Injury”. Though to my mind, Padre, it sure seems that a whole lot of other people are the one’s with moral injuries—by their lack.
I’m not at all sure why I ought to be content with the poor quality of care from the VA, with the purposeful efforts by the Federal Government to force me to live in agony because some people kill themselves with fentanyl.
I digress. Good article, as always with your Civil War stuff.
Thank you for a beautiful piece. In fact, this is one of the better (and few) articles I’ve see touching on PTSD and the Civil War. That’s valuable in quite a number of ways, as the historical context may encourage understanding and compassion. Chamberlain was a hero, deservedly so, and he and his wife suffered for that, but it was never in his nature to do less.
Thank you for you kind words, and for sharing. Be safe out there.
Reblogged this on CRAIN'S COMMENTS and commented:
Great article about the cost of heroism. The very opposite of modern “celebrities” who stand for words only and want to suffer no cost to themselves