After three years spent searching, I finally “found” Joshua L. Chamberlain, just not where you’d expect him to be.
Recently I wrote about using primary sources when doing Civil War research. Among such sources unique to Maine are the Soldiers Files found on microfilm at the Maine State Archives in Augusta.
Sometime after the war, someone recorded on white index cards important information about every man enlisting in a Maine cavalry or infantry battery or artillery battery. The information included his name, unit(s), where born, where living, when mustered in and out of federal service, and personal information, such as height (no weight), complexion, eye color, hair color, marital status, and civilian occupation prior to military service.
A Soldier’s File provides a treasure trove of information about a man, such as Chamberlain, whose file I first sought three years ago.
The index cards were microfilmed in alphabetical order, more or less, so during the initial search, I looked for the Brewer/Brunswick brigadier general under “Chamberlain,” which appears before “Chambers.”
That first search, I found all sorts of Chamberlains, but no Joshua L. It’s no big deal; maybe I missed something
Twice more I have scoured the Chamberlains to no avail. Then this past January 30, I looked again while in Augusta for a Maine Press Association meeting (I represented the local news-focused, Machias-based County Wide News, for which I freelance).
Through the C’s the microfilm flitted, then stopped amidst the Chamberlains. Slowly I advanced the microfilm reader. No Joshua, but suddenly “Lau-” appears: Could it be “Lawrence Joshua”?
Of course, not. It’s Lauriston Chamberlain, a private and musician in Co. F, 19th Maine Infantry.
Onward the microfilm crept, stopping at Thomas Chamberlain so I could grab his Soldier’s File. Back the microfilm rewound, stopping somewhere around the “A” Chamberlains. Forward the microfilm crept again as I looked for the Joshua card.
No luck. Maybe Joshua’s like the enigmatic Col. Charles Tilden, heroic colonel of the equally heroic 16th Maine Infantry Regiment. Learn here what he and his boys did at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
I have not yet found Tilden’s Soldier’s File. Is it actually here at the Archives?
Wondering about J.L. Chamberlain, I wondered, “What if?” He’s a big wig, a general; what if an archivist made Joshua the leader of the pack?
Back the microfilm rewound, stopping shortly before “Cham-.” Forward the microfilm crept, file by file, until lo! and behold!, there’s the Soldier’s File for Joshua L. Chamberlain, leading off the Chamberlains!
After copying a PDF to the thumb drive, I hastily read his card. How tall was he? What color eyes did he have? Color hair? What was his complexion?
Blank, blank, blank, and blank: All four boxes are empty.
But there’s the notation “(over”) at the card’s bottom, indicating there’s a Side 2. Forward crept the microfilm to stop on the first “A” Chamberlain. Backward went the microfilm to stop on Joshua L.’s file. Forward crept the microfilm, past the “A’s” to the very last Chamberlain.
Side 2 is missing. I have found Joshua L. Chamberlain, but only half of him.
Where would you put half a general, if you were microfilming Soldiers’ Files?
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Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.