The Heroes of the War
Exercises of Memorial Day in Lewiston 1879
A year after visiting Europe
Chamberlain uses references of his trip in this speech.
Though it was apparently received well by all who heard it, the Whig and Courier, a newspaper
that at one time supported Chamberlain, now picked apart his speech as a way of attempting to
disqualify him from any further attempts of running for senate.
James G. Blane, who had successfully kept Chamberlain from the senate before still feared the power Chamberlain had over
the veterans. See Senate Campaign
In spite of these harsh criticisms it took the Whig and Courier only a few months to change their tune as is seen in
Chamberlain's mention of politics on page 5 sparks a letter to the newspaper from a one time member of the 20th Maine.
Chamberlain had also discussed politics several years before in his loyalty
speech starting on page 37. He covers some of the same themes as this speech
as to why Northerners were drawn to defend the Union,
but on page 47 he goes into more depth on slavery as the political question that drew Southerners to want to break apart the Union.
On page seven Chamberlain tells a story that he had heard of a father and his two sons,
one who fought for the North and one for the South, after their death a mourning father erected a monument which read,
"God knows who was right."
John Gordon tells a similar story in his memoirs on page 30,
Gordon remembering it as a Kentucky father while
Chamberlain recalls it was a Virginian.
While the story of the Terrill brothers fighting on opposite sides is true, no monument with this inscription was ever discovered.
Historians believe that the story was invented by Harper's Weekly editor Richard Dana and was quickly picked up by other papers.1
The way Chamberlain told this story apparently did not confuse his listeners who where there that day, but did confuse
the newspaper readers who angrily thought Chamberlain believed "God knows who was right".
Part of the confusion stems from Chamberlain's Christian beliefs that only God can judge a persons heart and
know if their intentions are good or bad.
"Which of the boys was right? God indeed knows, and he alone. Into men's motives, which constitute one essential element in the
character of actions, men cannot see. Perhaps both were right, perhaps neither, perhaps one."
But Chamberlain goes on to say,
"Alas for the brave and noble who fell in the wrong cause! God knows, and he will remember all the blood noble souls have offered
in the name of right. He will know how to account of it in mans deliverance from evil, and in the final day; but never can it be that the just
cause and the unjust, marshal what noble names they many in their support - shall stand in equal honor before God or man! Never - to the end of time!"
A few years later in one of his most famous speeches at the dedication of the Maine monuments at Gettysburg
again argue against this "lost cause" mythology, this time focusing on its claim 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."
It is rather unfortunate that author Edward Longacre used as a source for his book "Joshua Chamberlain
the Soldier and the Man"
the attack that appeared in the Oxford Democrat as seen on page 227 of his book and here on page 9.
Longacre's goal was to take Chamberlain down a peg, and it is rather shameful that he delightfully recounted this attack
as truth without even bothering to
read the speech that it was attacking. (The Oxford Democrat is the only source in his footnotes for that section.)
Had he actually read Chamberlain's speech I think he would have found that the attack was ridiculous, as Chamberlain would afterwords say,
"No one who heard me, or who even reads the full report of what I said, could fail to see that the reverse of what is charged was the
exact point of the passage referred to."