September 15, 2013

Another medal for our hero Joshua Chamberlain

Maine's history community gets excited about news of the discovery of Civil War general Joshua Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Joshua Chamberlain in the uniform of the Union Army.

Photo courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society

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Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor was donated anonymously.

Photo courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society

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In a statement, Michael A. Ries, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and assistant chief of the Army’s awards and decorations branch, said, “Based upon the documentation submitted and the historical documentation available to this office, we are able to confirm that (the) Pejepscot Historical Society medallion is the 1862 United States Army Medal of Honor design. ... It is an honor to authenticate the Medal of Honor bestowed upon Colonel Chamberlain for his extraordinary heroism on 2 July 1863.”

The hard part was keeping the news under wraps until it could be fully verified. Turns out, the very week that Blanchard received the medal, Brunswick was teeming with Chamberlain buffs in town for the historical society’s annual Chamberlain Days celebration. This being the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and all, it was a particularly busy event.

Blanchard kept her silence until she had full and final confirmation from multiple sources and the confidence to make a public statement.

Tom Desjardin, a Chamberlain expert and Maine Department of Conservation historian, called the discovery “just amazing.” It completes the entire Chamberlain story in Maine, at least as far as his military honors are concerned. Between Bowdoin and the Pejepscot Historical Society, Maine now is home to both of Chamberlain’s Medals of Honor.

It also is home to the two ribbons associated with the medal, which play an important role in the story of the medals themselves.

According to Blanchard, the medal in Pejepscot Historical Society’s collection came to Chamberlain in 1893. In 1896, the design changed, with a new ribbon. Previous recipients received a new ribbon. Chamberlain, apparently, affixed the new ribbon on top of the old ribbon.

“When he got the replacement ribbon, rather than replacing it, he had someone carefully stich the new one on top of the old one,” Desjardin said. “So not only do we have his original medal, we have the second ribbon and the second medal. We have every piece of the puzzle.

“The one at Bowdoin is still great, and it’s probably the one he wore more. He had it longer. This one probably went into a box when the new one came,” Desjardin said. “It’s in great condition. It’s not dinged, bent or frayed.”

The story of how it was found is equally amazing.

Because the donor wishes to remain anonymous, details cannot be confirmed. But the donor told Blanchard that he found it in the back of a book that he bought several years ago at First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass. Chamberlain’s last surviving descendant, his granddaughter Rosamond Allen, left her estate to the church when she died in 2000.

Allen also left many artifacts to the Pejepscot Historical Society, including his saddle and boots.
How the medal ended up in the book, as well as the title of the book, are mysteries that even the historians might not solve.

“You wonder how many people passed by the book or put it down,” Desjardin said. “And you wonder how much they paid for it. Probably a buck. You also wonder what book it was, just as a trivia question.

“It’s just amazing. The story of how it was found is really truly amazing. It’s always fun. You always sit around with your fingers crossed thinking someday someone’s going to find something. And it happened.”

Maine historian and author Diane Monroe Smith has written several books about Chamberlain, and interviewed Allen before she died. But Allen was elderly, and her memory wasn’t great. So the credibility of her information was suspect.

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Additional Photos

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This 1893 letter from the War Department informed Chamberlain of his honor, “for distinguished gallantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 2, 1863.”

Image courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society

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Joshua Chamberlain in later years

Image courtesy of Pejepscot Historical Society


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