JULY 1863 LETTER BY FAMED COL. JOSHUA LAWRENCE CHAMBERLAIN OF THE 20TH MAINE

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This letter comes from the hand of famed Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of the 20th Maine and is written to his wife from his shelter tent in the Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal. Dated July 24th 1863, Col. Chamberlain details the fight of Manassas Gap in the pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He writes:

Your noble “5th Corps” is up here with the 3d to take this important pass from the Rebels. Well my dearest, they have done it; so don’t worry. We have just returned from the final pursuit. One of the very hardest we ever had in the way of natural obstacles. Craggy ascent – deep ravines – mountain torrents – treacherous morasses – wild vines and wood thickets – all  these in the burning sun and at the “double quick.”

As interesting as the battle content is, the poetic nature of Chamberlain’s words to his wife is even more interesting. His words give us insight into not only his nature as a commander but personally as well.

How happy I should be with my darling here for a little while just to enjoy this with me. You know I am not well yet and that will account for my slight unsoundness of mind in a remark I just made to Col. Rice about a sweet smelling valley between the soft blue hills. “It is a vale of love between the breasts of the Mountain.” Shall I be forgiven? And yet I half believe I should have said it to you, if you had been here – a soldier is bold, you know.

A full transcription follows below.

This letter is written on lined paper which measures approximately 8 inches by 5 inches and is written in period pencil. The letter contains six full pages. The letter has three crease marks from folding (likely to insert in a cover for mailing) but has been flattened and the creases are only slightly noticeable. No damage is present on the creases; there are no breaks, tears, or chips to note. However, it is worth noting that the final page is separate from the first two pages. Also worth noting is the fact that this letter is unsigned. However, the handwriting is a positive match to other known examples which are identified.

 

Hd Qrs. 20 Maine Vols

Manassas Gap

Near Front Royal!

July 24th 1863

My Dear Girl

You must be astonished to see where my successive letters are dated; especially if you happen to have (as once suggested) a tolerably minute map of the theatre of war. Here, for once – in this famed “Gap” of the Blue Mountains. Your noble “5th Corps” is up here with the 3d to take this important pass from the Rebels. Well my dearest, they have done it; so don’t worry. We have just returned from the final pursuit. One of the very hardest we ever had in the way of natural obstacles. Craggy ascent -- deep ravines—mountain torrents – treacherous morasses – wild vines and wood thickets—all these in the burning sun and at the “double quick.” I tell you it wears men out to encounter all these for twelve or may be twenty four hours. Last night the 3d Corps had a fight – a pretty severe one in carrying a crest. Murderously shelled by the Rebels. At sunset we went up to relieve them and this morning Griffins’ Division was ordered to clear them off a very steep and densely wooded hill at the outer throat of the pass. The pleasant duty of taking the front was assigned to the 3d Brigade and the left the most exposed to a flank attack was given to the 20th up we went like tigers. Your friend and servt. about twenty five yards ahead of his gallant boys with a good solid company on the flank as skirmishers to prevent surprise. Up a mountain side of the roughest sort the Rebs left we got only two as specimens. We had to bury half a dozen of them afterwards but the last stronghold was free from them, and so we have just marched back a little and gone in to camp – tired to death completely wet through as a result of toil and heat.

What a lovely shot this is where I am camped on a smooth mountainside overlooking all the beautiful valleys. On one side the valley of the Shenandoah lying like a sweet meadow as seen from here in the distance an immense Rebel column moving rapidly down toward some lower pass of the mountains, but too many are too far away for us to attack. On our side twenty thousand men in sight encamped in their little white tents, or winding down the hill sides opposite. What a magnificent scene. Would that you might lie here under my one little piece of shelter tent in a cosy cleft of rocks. The glorious stars and stripes our loved color—the 20th’s more battle-bent than ever, but the fringe still on, clinging like true love, because fastened by time and loving hands, marking my head quarters and gaily streaming out by the mountain breeze. How happy I should be with my darling here for a little while just to enjoy this with me. You know I am not well yet and that will account for my slight unsoundness of mind in a remark I just made to Col. Rice about a sweet smelling valley between the soft blue hills. “It is a vale of love between the breasts of the Mountain.” Shall I be forgiven? And yet I half believe I should have said it to you, if you had been here – a soldier is bold, you know. I am writing you though I shall not have a chance to send this letter for several days.

Night—moonlight—

We move very early so I try to send this to Washington.

Good night darling I shall lie looking at the moonlight in the mountains. and in that “vale” and dream myself there.

A kiss and a thousand thoughts of you till the early bugle call.

[CLA] [ph:L]

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