"My Brave Young Brother: Tom Chamberlain"

Frequently Asked Questions

and Others

Most questions about Tom Chamberlain and John Oates are answered in the main biography and appendix, or in other sections of this web site, and I won't be duplicating the information here. However, there are a few queries which I'm often asked, and which aren't covered, or are only briefly covered, elsewhere. It's these that I'll concentrate on in the following FAQ. Let me know if there's something you'd like to see dealt with here.

Also included (below) are my answers to questions relating specifically to the running of this web site, as given in an interview with Civil War News.


(April 11, 2006) I have a little booklet called At Home with the General, by Allan Levinsky, which tells the story of Joshua Chamberlain's Brunswick home, from its earliest days to the present. One of the photos in the book shows some of the relics on display in the library - including the bullet that struck Joshua at Petersburg in 1864. The caption says that Tom got the bullet from the surgeons, and gave it to his brother to keep. Did you know that? (from Pat Finnegan)

Since the booklet came out, I've made several attempts to find the source of this information, including asking various people who ought to know. I've come up with nothing (and an enquiry sent to the author did not get any response). This makes me think that Allan Levinsky was probably extrapolating from the fact that Tom Chamberlain was present (or close) during his brother's operation, and therefore assuming that Tom had the bullet. It may be true, but without firm confirmatory evidence, it certainly can't be taken as definite, so I haven't added it to the Tom biography (but see Chapter 3, note 3). If anyone has that confirmatory evidence, I'd be glad to hear from them.

Did Tom Chamberlain meet and comfort the dying Lewis Armistead, as depicted in Civil War Newsthe Gettysburg movie?

No. The Twentieth Maine was back from the main line, in reserve north of Little Round Top but well south of the action, during Pickett's Charge on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. There's no suggestion that either Joshua Lawrence or Tom Chamberlain left the regiment at this time to participate more closely in the events. Armistead's reported words, after he crossed the wall on Cemetery Ridge and fell wounded, were reasonably close to those given in the movie, but his comforters did not include Tom Chamberlain. Ron Maxwell (the director of Gettysburg) was well aware of this, but insisted on keeping Tom in the scene for dramatic effect, and to some extent I can see his point as it balances and enhances the final (also fictional, but wonderful!) reunion between Tom and Lawrence.

Several people today claim to be descended from Tom Chamberlain, yet you say his marriage was childless. How do you explain this?

It's a real mystery. At least two supposed descendants of Tom have been in touch with me, and other Chamberlain researchers have encountered a few too. Tom's wife Delia undoubtedly had no children, but those who claim Tom as their ancestor say that he had an extramarital affair, or perhaps fathered offspring before his marriage. They have so far provided no proof of this, and I've never found any evidence for it (if you have some, do please contact me). Of course, it's impossible to be certain that it never happened, but another hypothesis is that some other Tom Chamberlain was involved. As Diana Loski says in The Chamberlains of Brewer (p.109): "there are numerous Thomas Chamberlains from Maine and elsewhere". She goes on to give, as an example, Thomas Chamberlin of the 150th Pennsylvania (who, like 'our' Tom, had an exciting time at Gettysburg!). Chamberlin's name was often misspelled as Chamberlain, even (according to Ms Loski) in his pension records and obituary. She points out that: "One claimant [of descent from Tom Chamberlain] happens to be from northeastern Pennsylvania, where this particular Tom happened to live." Obviously, this fact doesn't necessarily prove anything, and Ms Loski finishes: "The author in no way intends to construe that Tom Chamberlin of the 150th Pennsylvania fathered illegitimate offspring. More proof is needed before any conclusions can be drawn, and so the search continues."

Where can I find some information on this other Thomas Chamberlain (Chamberlin)?

Thomas Chamberlin wrote a History of the 150th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Second Regiment, Bucktail Brigade (Philadelphia, 1895), which was reprinted in 1986 by Olde Soldier Press. For the experiences of Major Chamberlin (as he then was) at Gettysburg, see: "A July Afternoon on McPherson's Ridge" by John F. Krumwiede, Gettysburg Magazine No.21 (July 1999), pp.21-44; and Gettysburg July 1 by David G. Martin (Combined Books, 1996). Volume II of The Bachelder Papers: Gettysburg in Their Own Words, edited by David L. and Audrey J. Ladd (Morningside Press, 1994), contains some letters by Chamberlin's associates, all of whom spell his last name Chamberlain, unless this is a transcription error (pp.948, 953-957, 971). Three letters from Chamberlin himself are in The Bachelder Papers Volume III (1995, pp.1592-1594), where he describes himself delightfully as having been "rather seriously perforated" at Gettysburg!

Could Tom's problems after the War have been caused by post-traumatic stress?

This is a bit too easy and simple an explanation, although doubtless it did have a part to play, as it did with many, or even most, of those men who fought in the Civil War and survived to try to build a new life afterwards. But Tom had problems before the War: he was not content with his situation and may have been actively unhappy. After the War, his existing tendency to take reverses badly was compounded by his drinking and poor physical health. All of these factors might well have come into play regardless of the War; in fact, there's an argument for saying that this might have happened sooner without the War, during which he was well motivated and in control of his life (if he was drinking then, it was not enough to affect his work). It's also worth remembering that he survived for another thirty years and, while we discover more about the bad times, there were unquestionably good times as well for him, when his personal relationships were happy and his career going along okay. It doesn't always get us anywhere to see the complexities of a man's life in terms of a syndrome.

Civil War News Questions

In the May 2002 edition of Civil War News, Dave Smith's regular "Civil War on the Internet" feature gave this web site a fine write-up, which occupied practically half of his column. However, despite the very generous space allotted to the coverage, Dave inevitably had to edit my rather lengthy replies to the questions from which he compiled the write-up. Here, then, are some of my answers in full:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I'm a Chester-based writer and editor. Although a life-long Americophile, I'd not really taken an interest in the Civil War until I had occasion to watch Ken Burns' Civil War when it was repeated by the BBC one Christmas in the mid-'90s. I remember turning to my husband and saying "this is the sort of thing that could change one's life". How right I was! I can now see the errors in Burns' documentary, but I still think it brings the events to life better than anything else, and I would still recommend it to anyone wanting a basic grounding in the history of the War. Afterwards I watched Ron Maxwell's Gettysburg, and by then I was corresponding with another Civil War enthusiast in England, who had also watched the movie. She asked me whether I knew what had happened to Tom Chamberlain after Gettysburg, and - almost before I realised what was happening - the couple of paragraphs of info I wrote out for her had expanded into my first Civil War article (which in turn became the original core of the Tom Chamberlain web site).

Please describe your site.

The site contains a fully referenced 16,000 word biography of Thomas D. Chamberlain (20th Maine), the younger brother of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Tom's Civil War career - if not so stellar as his brother's - was just as worthy of interest and respect. Also on the site is a photo gallery, an inventory of Tom Chamberlain-related letters, facsimiles of some of his letters, and a "News and Reviews" page, etc. A separate section covers John Oates (6th and 15th Alabama), the younger brother of William C. Oates, with a 4,000 word biography, etc. The two young men, Tom and John, both fought at Little Round Top, on July 2, 1863, but while Tom survived to serve to the end of the War, John was fatally wounded and died some days later in hospital at Gettysburg.

When did your site first go up?

October 1997

What led you to consider developing your site?

It grew from a 5,000 word essay on Tom Chamberlain which was published in the April 1997 edition of Crossfire, the journal of the American Civil War Round Table (UK). I realised that I wanted to continue my research and develop this into something much larger. The web site seemed the best (only!) way to enable people to read the biography as an ongoing project. The other sections followed from that. The John Oates piece grew out of the editor of Crossfire's question: "Which younger brother are you tackling next?". (By this time I had also written an essay on Tom Custer.) Like the Tom Chamberlain essay, I'm expanding the John Oates one as I continue my research.

What have you found particularly challenging in the development, maintenance and update of your site?

I know how bored I get when I visit web sites which don't update for months or years at a time. Therefore I have felt it important to update the site regularly. The "News and Reviews" page is changed whenever I have something to add to it (usually every few weeks at the very least), and I expand the main essays when I have enough new material; but I also try to add an entirely new section at least once a year (the most recent was the Letters Inventory). I wouldn't really say this is challenging as such - just a very creative and satisfying process, especially since I've made so many good contacts in Maine, who have been incredibly helpful to me in doing the groundwork on primary, unpublished, material, which I'm too far away to be able to see for myself.

The maintenance of the site is easy and most of the e-mail I receive from visitors is very encouraging. Just occasionally I get one from a person who is disgusted that I should dare to mention the defects in Tom's (and his brother's) character. I think it's unfair to the memory of these brave men to put them on a pedestal and fail to see them as men, with all-too-human flaws. That they achieved so much despite not being saints makes them all the more admirable. But this doesn't suit the hero-worshippers!

What do you think makes your site unique?

It remains the only web site devoted to Tom Chamberlain. The Internet is full of sites about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, but poor Tom has been neglected (just as he has been in books and articles). The same (only more so) is true of John Oates. There are, in fact, a number of younger brothers of Civil War heroes who deserve similar coverage: for instance, a lengthy footnote about Augustus Gordon (John Brown Gordon's younger brother, who died at Chancellorsville), in my John Oates article, is the most you'll find on him anywhere on the Net or (as far as I know) in any published book!

What advice (if any) would you have for someone considering the development of a Civil War Internet site?

Firstly, I would say "just do it". Secondly, try to come up with a topic or person or regiment not yet covered adequately on the Internet. Given the vast numbers of Civil War sites already on the Web, this might sound difficult, but in fact there are still huge gaps (while some subjects have been practically done to death and one wonders why anyone should bother to start a new site about them!). There is a tendency to concentrate on the major figures, which is unfair to all those equally honorable men who may have served in a lesser capacity but deserve to be more than a footnote in the history books (or a few lines in an on-line regimental roster).

Anything else you think we ought to consider regarding your Internet site, or Civil War Internet sites in general?

Although the Internet is truly wonderful for allowing everyone to get 'into print', this shouldn't be an excuse for sloppy scholarship. All too often, Civil War sites are full of inaccuracies which make the Web not as good a research tool as it might be. Anyone gathering information from the Net should check it elsewhere, or at least e-mail the web-master/mistress in question to ask for their source (all my sources are given on the web site, but I'll gladly elaborate for anyone who needs more info). No one should assume that because a detail is the same on two different sites, it must be accurate: people often copy!

On which subject, one of my bugbears is folk who steal text, etc., from my sites without getting the appropriate permissions (the text is all my copyright, except for one contemporary obituary of Tom which, obviously, is in the public domain). An earlier version of my John Oates article and excerpts from the Tom Chamberlain biography appear elsewhere on the Internet with my permission, and I will usually give it gladly so long as there is a link back to my site; but I do resent outright theft. This is even more the case when they copy from me and get the details wrong! One web site which stole info from my Tom Custer site quotes a description of General Negley from my text but has taken it to be a description of Tom himself!

May 1, 2002. Answers copyright (c) 2002 Rosemary Pardoe. Questions reproduced by permission of Dave Smith.

Last altered April 11, 2006. Copyright (c) 1999-2006 Rosemary Pardoe.

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