Chamberlain Medal Returns to Maine; Swamp Angel Honored: Civil War in the News Late Summer 2013

A Medal of Honor returns home and Trenton, New Jersey commemorates  a cannon’s role in the Civil War  in Civil War related news from August and September 2013.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a Civil War figure who always has been well known to serious Civil War enthusiasts and those who study the war, but he gained some notoriety among those with a casual  interest in history after being featured prominently in Michael Shaara’s book The Killer Angels and in the film “Gettysburg”, which is based on the book.

Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Infantry was at the extreme left of the Union lines at Gettysburg, on Little Round Top.  Here’s a clip from “Gettysburg”, where Chamberlain (played by Jeff Daniels) leads a bayonet charge down Little Round Top after the 20th runs low on ammunition, a tactic that turned the tide and saved the Union left  flank from caving in.

For his bravery and leadership in holding off repeated Confederate assaults on his position on July 2nd, 1963, Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor .  He actually ended up with two Medals of Honor.  Congress changed the design of the Medal in 1896, and previous winners were given the new design as well.  The newer version of the Medal is in the collections of Bowdoin  College in Brunswick, Maine.  Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin, as well as a professor and college president there.  The whereabouts of the original Medal were unknown.

The whereabouts are no longer unknown .  An anonymous donor, who had found the Medal in the back of a book he or she purchased at an estate sale several years ago, donated it to the Pejebscot Historical Society in Brunswick. The Medal really is coming home; the Historical Society owns the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Museum, which is in Chamberlain’s former home across the street from the college.

You just never know what you might find at a garage or estate sale.

Swamp Angel Commemorated

In July of 1863, Union Army engineers constructed an artillery battery platform in the swamps and salt marshes outside Charleston, South Carolina.  The platform was built to hold heavy artillery weighing several tons, not an easy task in a swamp.  In August, an eight inch Parrot rifle and carriage weighing 24,000 pounds was moved to the platform, and on August 22nd, the big gun fired on Charleston.  Nicknamed The Swamp Angel, the cannon had a short but noteworthy life, outraging the Confederate commander in Charleston, General P.G.T. Beauregard after it fired explosive and incendiary ordnance into the city, until the breech of the gun exploded on its 36th shot on August 23rd.

The wrecked gun tube was later sold for scrap metal in Trenton, New Jersey, but a soldier who served at Charleston saved it after recognizing it as the Swamp Angel.  The gun has been displayed in Trenton ever since, and has been in the city’s Cadwalader Park since 1961.  For more on the Swamp Angel, click here.

It’s been 150 years since the Swamp Angel fired on Charleston, and on August 24th of 2013, various Civil War and historic groups gathered at Cadwalader Park to commemorate that event and honor the gun’s service with a new marble plaque.  In the past, proposals have been made to send the gun back to Charleston as a symbol of reconciliation with the south, but such proposals have gone nowhere.  It’s probably better off where it is now; I’m not sure that the citizens of Charleston would like to have a gift of a cannon that once shelled the city.

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