The original Medal of Honor awarded to one of Maine’s most famous sons, Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry regiment, for his heroics at the Battle of Gettysburg has been discovered and given to a historical organization in the state.
Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor, awarded in 1893 for his actions in the famous 1863 battle, was given Monday to the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, Maine.
The individual who donated the award requested anonymity. He had found it in the back of a book he had purchased “several years ago” at a sale held by First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass., according to the society.
Chamberlain’s last surviving descendant, granddaughter Rosamond Allen, left her estate to that church upon her death 13 years ago, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College when he enlisted in the Union army in 1862 and was appointed Lt. Colonel of the 20th Maine.
He saw action at Fredericksburg, where the Union suffered at a catastrophic defeat and Chamberlain was forced to spend the night of Dec. 13, 1862, on the freezing battlefield, using the bodies of the fallen for shelter while listening to bullets strike nearby corpses.
Chamberlain was promoted to colonel in June 1863, just prior to Gettysburg.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor for “daring heroism and great tenacity” in leading the 20th Maine in its crucial defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, a critical stand in the Federal effort to hold back the Confederate onslaught.
Chamberlain was badly wounded the following year at Petersburg, and again in 1865 at Quaker Road. His injuries would plague him for the remainder of his life. He reached the rank of brevet major general by war’s end.
Following the war, Chamberlain won four one-year terms as governor of Maine, beginning in 1866.
He returned to Bowdoin in 1871 and served as president of the school until 1883.
Chamberlain lived until 1914, when the wound suffered at Petersburg 50 years earlier became infected and claimed his life at age 85.
He is considered the last Civil War soldier to have died from wounds sustained in battle.
Bowdoin College has in its possession a 1904 Army Medal of Honor that belonged to Chamberlain, representing an updated design of the award authorized by Congress at the time, according to the Pejepscot Historical Society.
Congress allowed recipients to keep their previous versions of the medal as long as they did not display both at the same time, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Officials with the Pejepscot Historical Society worked with experts at the Maine State Museum, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the Department of the Army’s Awards and Decorations Branch to confirm the medal’s authenticity.
“Though it seems almost too good to be true, we are confident that we are now in possession of Joshua Chamberlain’s original Medal of Honor,” said Society Director Jennifer Blanchard in a statement Monday. “All of the experts we’ve consulted believe it to be authentic, and we are tremendously honored to return the medal to Chamberlain’s home in Brunswick.”
(HT: To the Sound of the Guns)