Last Campaign of the War
Many Southerners still to this day will argue that because the reasons the North had for fighting the war were not always slavery, therefore the war
was not about slavery. Chamberlain examines why Northerners entered the war in Tribute to our Nation's Dead
Most Northerners, while they disliked slavery, had no plans of invading the South to put an end to in, but
when they saw the South attempt to secede and break apart their beloved nation they reacted.
This by no means indicates that the war was not about slavery.
Perhaps because Chamberlain was incredibly gracious to his vanquished foe, and at times had commented on their bravery, some
historians have suggested that he was a reconciliationist, that is someone who was trying to focus on both sides being equally brave, and
cover up the notion of slavery as the cause of the war. We see here that Chamberlain did not try to mince words about it when
speaking of Longstreet and Gordon,
They were sincere honest men, who were persuaded that they were right. You many ask how did they justify their belief?
They were fighting for their rights under the constitution. What rights? Property rights. Slaves came under the law of
property rights and we were meddling with that right.
No the North did not go to war to fight against slavey, as Chamberlain recalls in Tribute to our Nation's Dead
But that doesn't mean the war did not start because of slavery as Chamberlain eloquently would say in that speech,
No; we did not take up arms for the conscious purpose of fighting
slavery down; but God, - in his providence, in his justice, in his mercy to this country, consecrated to freedom,
allowed the champions of slavery to set it in the fore front of their defiance, and it was swept aside
from the path as the mighty pageant of the people passed on to its glory.
This was not a concept Chamberlain developed later in life. We see in one of his first speeches, Loyalty
given to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion in 1866, that Chamberlain after
reviewing the country's long history with slavery notes that even
President Lincoln declared "that they had not the power, the right nor the intention to meddle with slavery where it was."
"But when slavery was put above the Union- when the energies of war were turned against the
defenses of the Country; when the flag was shot down and trampled on, which stood not only for what had been done under it
for man, but what should be done - then a miracle of might rose that spirit which slow to wrath, does not stop till
its work is done- does not rest till the cause, which is the evil, is purged from the heart.
What a century of concession could not do, secession did - with marvelous demonstration, its own weapons turned to its
destruction. It pleased its maddened mood to invoke war; and the very laws of war gave the President
power to knell its doom; it proclaimed a Confederacy built on the corner-stone of slavery- and lo!
the corner-stone itself was overturned; it set slavery across the nation's way, and God - in his wrath,
in his justice, in his mercy, in his love, in his far purpose for man and earth - swept slavery from the path,
as the mighty pageant of the free people passed on to its glory."
In one of his most famous speeches at the dedication of the Maine monuments at Gettysburg
argue against the growing "lost cause" mythology and the notion that the war was fought over states rights.
"Our triumph was for all the people, and in full recognition of the value in our political
system of recognizing local centres of influence and of government. The "lost cause" is not lost liberty and right of self-government.
What is lost is slavery of men and supremacy of States.
The description in this account of a woods, then railroad, then the guns Chamberlain captured, with Chamberlain saying the last was the future site of Fort Hell,
leaves me to wonder if on returning to the battlefield and traveling along Jerusalem plank road, Chamberlain came across a railroad and assumed
that was the railroad he had encountered back in 64. Modern maps show a railroad running behind Fort Hell that was not there on Civil War era maps. Was
this added somepoint between when Chamberlain fought there and when he returned and caused the confusion?
Having been requested by Gen. Griffin to take a rebel battery which was making a great deal of trouble, Gen. Chamberlain
sent his troops into a clump of pine trees and rode out to the front in the teeth of a heavy fire of shrapnel and canister, to
investigate a heap of red earth which appeared between the battery and the main line. Gen. Griffin insisted on accompanying him and they found
a railroad cut which would have been almost impassible.
Returning to his brigade Gen. Chamberlain worked his troops through the woods reached the flank of the battery and then went out and took it. They were
swept by an enfilading and the General's horse was shot from under him, but the capture was made and he immediately made
preparations to fortify it. That battery was subsequently called Fort Hell. The main works of the enemy were not 400 yards distant.
For a deeper look into Chamberlain's location at Petersburg see: Maps of Virginia