Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Unforgotten Sons of God"

As you will come to know by following and reading my blog, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has been a hero of mine for about as long as I remember. I know Chamberlain and his story have been over-commercialized at Gettysburg. I know that you can't go five feet there without someone trying to sell you a t-shirt, painting, bookmark, coffee mug, coaster, or anything else with his image on it. Yet, I remain fascinated. His story is so incredible. A college professor from Maine who ignored the counsel and wishes of his fellow faculty members and left to enlist in a war which was hundreds of miles away. He did not have to go, but he did. I find that simple fact to be quite compelling about so many of those who volunteered to fight, sacrifice, and endure the American Civil War so that freedom itself could endure.

I recently picked up a copy of Chamberlain's account of his experiences with the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, titled "Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg." Originally published as an article in 1913 by Hearst's Magazine, this short selection is a wonderfully written first person account of Chamberlain's experience at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Reading this short volume impressed me with several things, but chief among them was the power of Chamberlain's pen. He is not alone in this regard, as when one considers the literature that the veterans of the war produced in the years which followed it, the quality, style, and messages of it put to shame most anything that 21st Century Americans may claim as literature. In reading the final segment of the narrative, I found Chamberlain's words to be so powerful I thought I would use them in a blog post, combined with some pictures of Little Round Top that I have taken over the course of my visits stretching back through the years.

Here, Chamberlain is writing of the ground at Gettysburg where many of his men from Maine were buried. Chamberlain describes the aura of a place which saw such amazing sacrifice 148 years ago:

They did not know it themselves--those boys of ours whose remembered faces in every home should be cherished symbols of the true, for life or death--what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, soul, on that tremendous day.

Unknown--but kept! The earth itself shall be its treasurer. It holds something of ours besides graves. These strange influences of material nature, its mountains and seas, its sunsets and skies and nights of stars, its colors and tones and odors, carry something of the mutual, reciprocal. It is a sympathy. On that other side it is represented to us as suffering. The whole creation, travailing in pain together, in earnest expectation, waiting for the adoption--having right then, to something which is to be its own. 


And so these Gettysburg hills, which lifted up such splendid valor, and drank in such high heart's blood, shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light--they, too, have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God!

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg (Gettysburg, PA: Stan Clark Military Books, 1994), 28-9.

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