Of “Promotion,” Camp, Gossip, & Flirtation in August 1863

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, c. 1864 or 1865

In late August 1863 – after returning from medical leave and a visit home – Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote a letter to his wife Fanny, giving a glimpse of the “quiet days” of war. The moments at Gettysburg created only a tiny fraction of the years of this citizen’s military service.

For those readers particularly interested in Chamberlain at Gettysburg, this letter provides follow-up details of his unofficial promotion in the weeks after that battle. More of a promotion by necessity since field commanders were needed. His official promotion to brigadier general would not arrive until summer 1864, after his horrific wounding at Rive’s Salient (Petersburg).

Not in the Chamberlain Fan Club? Then just read the letter as an example of a Union officer giving details of his life and service in the late summer of 1863. This missive – typical of J.L. Chamberlain letters – moves rapidly from subject to subject, scattering military details, gossip, and flirtation with his wife on the pages.

Punctuation and emphasis is original.

Head Quarters Brigade

1st Div. 5th Corps

Beverly Ford, VA

Aug 25th 1863

My darling,

How lonely it is! Here I am in a new place – a new tent – new surroundings – new duties – I feel like one making his debut. I have left the noble “20th” having been assigned by Gen. Griffin to the command of this Brigade which he says is a “permancency” for a long time, that is.

Brigadier General Charles Griffin

This makes me virtually a Brigadier General, but I feel badly to leave the 20th and shall be glad when I can return to it. I have a pleasant staff and shall get routed in a few days.

When I got here my Regts were on Battalion drill. I went down to look at them and if you though there was any noise in the church that Thanksgiving evening you should have been within a mile or two of this uproar and judge of that.

Your spearhead glitters above our battle-torn flag and your big little heart would swell to see it. The Rebs stand and look at it with admiration I dare say; for they are just across the river only a stone’s throw from us and we are all in full view. Right over our heads are a goodly number of Rodman’s Guns, not quite so formidable as those opposite Fredericksburg which you saw, but very good friends and quite as good enemies.

We do not think Lee means to attack, but we are ready for him though our numbers are so reduced.

This evening we had some of the sweet pickles, and it was universally agreed that they were the beau ideal of soldier’s sweet meals. Many thanks went forth to Aunty. But, oh, Fan, the big jar – the square bottle – was smashed into 10,000,000 pieces and the contents! And the spectacle! One side of my valise was mashed into a medley never before seen. A “sweet pickle” surely was there. Buy paper collars, books, clothing (but that will wash) the packages sent to men in the Regt all in the “dye pot.”

I went to call on a certain lady friend two or three times very late in the evening two successive eves and found a certain financial general there and though he was very polite, I could not fail to see that they were waiting for me to go. My opinion is not favorably modified. You will not hear any boasts of conquests over me, I can tell you.

Fanny Chamberlain

How the rain falls on the tent roof! Like the glorious nights before. Only now you can hear the roar of water at the falls close by and in full night by day. The spot is too lovely for war, and me alone. Do you want to see me? Ah, you little rogue you are glad I am off, I know. When you were peering into the cars with that queer hat, although it was a familiar face, “By George,” I said, “that is a pretty face a little faded (owing wholly probably to this dim window pane) but mighty bold, I fancy. I’ll just step out and take a look at that girl.” When, lo! I have much to say but will write again soon.

Your own loving one.


Joshua L. Chamberlain, edited by Thomas Desjardin, Joshua L. Chamberlain: A Life in Letters, (2012), Harrisonburg, PA: National Civil War Museum. (Pages 205-206)

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!