Private Witherell's Story

There were two private Witherells in the 20th Maine, Edwin S. Witherell and Robert A. Witherell.1 Both had previously been in the Second Maine which means they were in the group of soldiers who when enlisting had signed two years papers with the rest of the regiment, but were coerced into also signing three years papers while the other half of the regiment declined to sign anything else.2
    They had expected to be allowed to go home with the rest of the 2nd Maine, but when they were detained they became mutinous. They were sent to the 20th Maine to serve out their enlistment where Chamberlain was famously ordered to shoot anyone who would not do his duty, but he instead chose a softer approach and won their hearts. Edwin Witherell would write a tribute of Chamberlain after learning of his death in 1914, see: Death and Funeral Newspaper Clippings

For a description of the 1903 meeting where this poem was read see Address to Chamberlain Association