Chamberlain Days: 3 days to be devoted to a Brunswick hero

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BRUNSWICK — Chamberlain Days, the biannual festival to celebrate Civil War hero Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, will take place Aug. 11-13.

The weekend isn’t just for Civil War buffs: the three-day series of events range from scholarly lectures to a trivia night and mustache contest at Byrne’s Irish Pub on Station Avenue – a nod to Chamberlain’s famously bushy ‘stache.

The festival is put on by the Pejepscot Historical Society, which also operates the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum at Maine and Potter streets.

Society Director Larissa Vigue Picard said she isn’t sure how many decades the event has taken place. But she believes it was born out of the Chamberlain “heyday” in the early 1990s, following the publication of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Killer Angels” – a fictional retelling of the battle of Gettysburg in which Chamberlain figured as a main character.

The film “Gettysburg,” based on the novel, further cemented Chamberlain’s place within national pop culture, she said.

In Maine, however, Chamberlain has long loomed large as a public figure, especially in Brunswick, where he not only held positions of leadership at Bowdoin College, but was buried after his death.

Born in Brewer, he attended and later became a professor of languages at Bowdoin. He took a sabbatical to join the Union Army, where he famously led the 20th Maine regiment against a Confederate ambush at the battle of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in June 1863.

“He’s a significant figure, not only for Gettysburg,” Vigue Picard said, explaining also that it was Chamberlain who formally accepted the Confederacy’s surrender at the end of the war on behalf of the Union Army.

“He saluted them as they surrendered, which was a mark of respect for the southerners, and he’s known for that,” she said, adding that southern visitors to the museum frequently bring up the salute as a credit to his reputation.

His leadership earned him the Medal of Honor as well as the nickname “The Lion of Little Round Top.” Those accolades followed him back to Maine, where he was elected governor; after serving four, one-year terms, he returned to Brunswick to become Bowdoin’s sixth president.

“He was a fascinating, well-rounded, Renaissance character,” Vigue Picard said.

In keeping with that spirit, the weekend events will approach Chamberlain from all angles. A full schedule is available on the historical society’s website.

Highlights include a performance of Civil War-era music by the Centennial Brass Band in the First Parish Church sanctuary at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11. Tickets are available for $15 at the door or in advance.

Throughout the day on Saturday, Union Army re-enactors with the Third Maine Regiment will stage an encampment on the Town Mall.

Donned in traditional wool uniforms, re-enactors will cook their meals over a wood fire, perform musket drills, and share with visitors their knowledge of the day-to-day experience of those who fought in the War Between the States.

“Their goal is to make people feel what it would be like to walk into a Civil War camp,” Vigue Picard said.

At 5 p.m. that day, the regiment will lead a procession to Pine Grove Cemetery, where Chamberlain was buried after he died in 1914 at the age of 85 from what are said to have been old battle wounds.

Vigue Picard noted the regiment has already gained approval from the town to fire a musket in honor of Chamberlain at the grave site. 

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.


Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or