A 19th-century man of stature receives his statue
Uncle Pliny wrote several weeks ago that he would rather men would ask why his statue was not up than to have them ask why it is.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
To the many who have asked in the past century why there has not been a statue for Joshua L. Chamberlain, the answer is at hand. A statue to Maine's general in the War between the States was put up in his home town of Brunswick on Decoration Day, 2003.
The statue was welcomed with long-overdue esteem and respect nigh his onetime home, which is a designated historical site, and at the gate of Bowdoin College, of which he was president. The statue honors a military man who commanded at Gettysburg when the tide of battle turned to favor his cause, and who had been a teacher of the Bible before that in a divinity seminary.
Chamberlain was twice elected governor of Maine after the war, and was not at all to be limited to local fame. But the national news on the evening TV that Memorial Day did not mention him or his statue. Strange, for it was General Chamberlain who received the ceremonial sword of defeat when Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army and the war ended.
My grandfather Tom was at Gettysburg 140 years ago this week with General Josh. Grampy told me often how the general would ride up on a white horse to exhort the troops, even though other authorities said Chamberlain always rode a black charger. Grampy would say that some days the general liked to ride a horse of another color. Anyway, Grampy and the people of Maine adored Joshua Chamberlain with special affection, and it remains curious that his statue was so long in going up.
In 1878, the Greenback movement hit Maine, and General Chamberlain was faintly involved. He had served as governor of the state, was comfortable as president of Bowdoin, and was at peace teaching the Bible. Suddenly Maine came apart over money, and the usually moderate citizens took sides over printing more money so everybody would be rich.
Alonzo Garcelon was governor. He saw this coming, and he wanted no part of it. He said he would not seek reelection. At that time the term was one year, and election required a majority of votes cast. Governor Garcelon's decision threw things wide open, and party loyalties meant little. Nobody got a majority, and some eight or nine candidates declared they had won. Things went into a tragedy of woeful errors. In the end, the hodgepodge was settled by the law court, which was Republican.
We had two simultaneous legislatures, one of which met in chambers and passed legislation by day. The other met by night on the statehouse lawn and repealed everything. Ex- Governor Garcelon, his term expired, argued that he was still governor. He called upon Chamberlain to step out of retirement and serve as military governor to protect the state from possible riots.
The whole thing was a real Red Skelton farce. Similar upheavals occurred in other states, and we may reasonably wonder why the hero of Little Round Top let himself get involved. But he did, and had a cannon on the statehouse steps to ward off rioters, who never appeared.
In the same vein, the granite workers in the Hallowell quarry were deputized as emergency militia and assistant governors. In the nation at large, things were about as in Maine. "Fusionists" prevailed instead of the regular parties, and in Maine we had a "count out" when fusionist ballots were ignored.
We had a duffer from Buckfield named Solon Chase who came to Greenback money meetings with a yoke of oxen on a wagon. He'd stand in the wagon, point at his oxen with the goad stick, and yell, "Lookit them steers!" Then he'd say they cost him $70 but were now worth only $30. His solution was to print more dollars down in Washington.
Plenty of people in Maine and in the country thought this made sense. Chase had bought his animals with inflated money.
It took some time to get the Greenbackers quieted down, and three men who helped were good Mainers: Lot Morrill and Bill Fessenden in the Senate, and Hugh McCulloch, who became secretary of the US Treasury after Salmon Chase retired and went upstream to spawn.
McCulloch was a financial wizard with government funds and went to Indiana later. His articles on public money are our best authority. Due to him, the United States paid its Civil War bills, the only war we ever paid for. It is said that in trying to stop the Greenback foolishness in Maine, McCulloch went to have a sensible talk with Tobias Goddard, a fervent and convincing Greenbacker. He found Goddard at Gospel Four Corners disputing with a stone milepost about the distance to Portland.
So the general's statue is up at last, and he is not on a horse this time.
• John Gould's usual Friday column appears today because the Monitor will not publish on the July 4 holiday.