Union Gen. Joshua Chamberlain understood the distinction between battlefield heroism and sacrifice on one hand, and the political and social context for the Civil War, on the other.
SATURDAY marks the 151st anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. For Lee, this was the end of the war that he had waged against the United States. For Union Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was drama enough for him to narrate a startlingly immediate account of what he witnessed.
The end of the Civil War brought forth many such accounts — from letters home, Chamberlain’s description of Confederate soldiers’ abject misery at the surrender, and vibrant family oral histories — passed down through generations.
When I was six, I remember my grandmother narrating a Civil War story her great uncle had told her. He was in his late 70s; she was a little girl. My great-great-great uncle had been a Confederate enlisted man present at the surrender. What Grandma remembered from his story was his long, near-death journey home.
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