A lot of people that know a little about the civil war ,know about the famous battle of Little Round Top and how Colonel Joshua Chamberlin led the 20th Main in a defensive and decisive battle to defend the mountain that commanded the battlefield of Gettysburg. Most don’t know much about what happened to Chamberlain later in the war.
By 1864 Chamberlain was at the Siege of Petersburg in command of the 1st Brigade, First Division, V Corps. On June 18th, in one oft the many battles to try to break General Lee’s lines, Chamberlain was shot in the right hip. The wound was horrible, passing from the right to the left and nicking his bladder on the way through.
In an impressive act of bravery and leadership, Chamberlain pulled out his sward and stuck it into the ground to lean on. His men were on the verge of panic retreat, and he was not about to give them more reason to panic. This attempted lasted until he passed out from blood loss.
A wound like that, at that time was as good as a death sentence. Chamberlain was essentially put to the side to die by the division surgeons.
ON June 19th, the next day, General Warren sent General Grant a message recommending a promotion for Chamberlain. Grant, always sympathetic and willing to reward excellent and loyal service, approved it.n
“He has been recommended for promotion for gallant and efficient conduct on previous occasion and yesterday led his brigade against the enemy under most destructive fire. He expresses the wish that he may receive the recognition of his services by promotion before he dies for the gratification of his family and friends.”
No one expected Chamberlain to live much longer. His loyal brother was not so ready to give up on him. Fetching the much beloved and trusted 20th Maine surgeon, Abner Shaw, they set out to see what could be done.
Chamberlain describes that while lying on the ground awaiting death…
I looked up and saw dear, faithful Doctor Shaw, Surgeon of my own regiment [the 20th Maine] lying a mile away. My brother Tom had brought him. He and good Dr. Townsend sat down by me and tried to use some instrument to establish a proper connection to stop the terrible extravasation which would end my life. All others had given it up, and me too. But these two faithful men bent over their task trying with vain effort to find the entrance to torn and clogged and distorted passages of vital currents. Toiling and returning to the ever impossible task, the able surgeon undertaking to aid Dr. Shaw said, sadly, “It is of no use, Doctor; he cannot be saved. I have done all possible for the man. Let us go, and not torture him longer.” “Just once more, Doctor; let me try just this once more, and I will give it up.” Bending to his task, by a sudden miracle, he touched the exact lost thread; the thing was done.
That does not sound like it was pleasant. Already wounded and dying slowly from a gunshot wound with probably nothing better than ether to help dull the pain, you can image the torture.
It did save Chamberlain. Shaw was able to get most of the urine to drain from its normal course rather than out through the wound, with that in place Shaw was then able to slow bleeding enough by locating and tying off major arteries that Chamberlain not only survived the night, but he lived for another 50 years before infection of the same wound finally killed him in 1914
When Chamberlain died at age 85, Abner was by his side.
Joshua’s loyal brother Thomas, who fought with him during the war and no doubt saved him by getting Shaw, didn’t do well after the war. He died at age 55 from heart and lung disease made worse by alcoholism. A sad ending, likely a result from never being able to move past his time in the war.