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The Fame of Joshua Chamberlain

Posted September 19th, 2013 at 01:22 PM by Salah

The Bowdoin professor-turned Union officer was definitely one of the more brilliant figures of the American Civil War. His bravery on the second day of Gettysburg has become an American legend, but even during the final year of the War he earned a promotion to the rank of major general, as well as an array of painful wounds. I've even come across a story about Chamberlain leading several Confederate soldiers into captivity by pretending to be a Southern officer, fake accent and all.

Added to this was the fact that he was tall for his era, was apparently very eloquent, and had a luxurious mustache even by the standards of his era. Chamberlain was also one of the last prominent Union soldiers to die, just barely missing the outbreak of World War I.

When I last visited Gettysburg, I was amused - as always - by the degree to which Chamberlain is commemorated. Practically every store had at least one Troiani painting of his famous bayonet charge on its walls, along with t-shirts, key-chains, even bobble-heads immortalizing the famous Mainer. Along with R.E. Lee, Chamberlain is one of the foremost celebrities of the Battle - I suppose we can thank Michael Shaara for that.

But when I was also at Gettysburg, I did a little bit of research on the other boys in blue who fought on Little Round Top. Another regiment won immortality on that hill - the 140 New York Volunteers. Their colonel, Patrick O'Rourke, also behaved with conspicuous bravery. Unlike Chamberlain, however, he didn't survive to write about the Battle.

Today, O'Rourke is best known for his monument on Little Round Top. People rub the nose of his portrait for good luck, having caused it to change colors. A park ranger told me that he and his cohorts ask tourists - often in vain - to refrain from honoring this superstition.

Joshua Chamberlain and Patrick O'Rourke, along with their commands, were instrumental in saving Little Round Top for the Union. I've seen people argue (I recall our Viperlord being one of them) that Chamberlain's role in the Battle has been blown out of proportion to begin with.

Yet Chamberlain is an American icon, practically the poster boy of Gettysburg. O'Rourke, on the other hand, is the guy with the funny nose on that one monument.

Doesn't seem fair, does it?
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  1. Old Comment
    LZRD WZRD's Avatar
    Yes, O'Rourke certainly does deserve more recognition for his and the 140th New York's actions at Little Round Top. If he had survived, who knows what his legacy would have been? Chamberlain's role is definitely overstated due to The Killer Angels and Gettysburg, but he and the 20th Maine deserve to be celebrated nonetheless. Chamberlain also had such a notable career after Gettysburg and the war that it's very easy to build him up a little too much. Anyway, good post (and sorry for the late response lol).
    Posted July 16th, 2014 at 10:57 AM by LZRD WZRD LZRD WZRD is offline

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