Wherefore art thou, Joshua Chamberlain?

Mainers associate the surname “Chamberlain” with Joshua and Thomas of Civil War fame, but 25-year-old James A. Chamberlain of Milltown (Calais) served in the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment. A note at the card’s bottom indicates this hero “went in” with the 6th during the November 7, 1863 nighttime charge at Rappahannock Station in Virginia. James was probably no relation to the famous Chamberlain brothers. This card is the Soldier’s File for James A. Chamberlain. (Courtesy Maine State Archives)

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.

The Soldier’s File for Thomas Chamberlain reveals that he stood 5-8 and had blue eyes, black hair, and a light complexion. This file, which also lists information pertinent to his Civil War service, is found on microfilm at the Maine State Archives in Augusta. (Courtesy MSA)

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.”

Lauriston Chamberlain was a private and musician in Co. F, 19th Maine Infantry. His Soldier’s File should lie between “Joshua L. Chamberlain” or “Lawrence J. Chamberlain,” depending on how the general was identified when his written file was created. (Courtesy MSA)

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!

Joshua L. Chamberlain’s Soldier’s File actually leads off all the “Chamberlains” whose files appear on microfilm at the State Archives in Augusta. Unlike the other files, Joshua’s does not list his height, eye color, hair color, and complexion! Oh, the researcher’s agony! (Courtesy MSA)

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?

If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.