Sunday, July 22, 2012

Generals Wives: Fanny Chamberlain

Frances Caroline Adams (Fanny) was born in 1825 in Boston, Mass and was raised by her cousins in a strict religious household. She received a good education, and met Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at church (in Maine) where she played organ and he led the choir.

Joshua Chamberlain graduated from Bowdoin College (Maine), where he listened to Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). He was fluent in nine languages other than English: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac, and taught every subject other than mathematics and science.

The Chamberlains had a long engagement while he was working on his masters degree at a theological seminary, and Fanny taught voice and piano lessons. He graduated from the seminary in June of 1855 and they were married in December 1855.

The Joshua Chamberlain house and museum in Brunswick, Maine, where Gen. Chamberlain served as president of Bowdoin College is still open to the public for tours. The home itself has a very interesting history, in that the Chamberlains and their two children lived there, renting a room for 2 years before he purchased it. It was their home for 50 years, having purchased it in 1859. It was actually moved to a different location and a new first floor was built underneath the existing home shortly after the Civil War.

In 1864, Chamberlain was thought to be mortally wounded, and false news of his death was published. Even though pregnant, Fanny came to his bedside in Maryland, and nursed him for 3 months. He had been shot through the hip and thereafter wore an early form of a catheter for the rest of his life. Although unable to ride a horse, he insisted on returning to his unit. He played an important role at Gettysburg and at the surrender at Appomatox.  

After the Civil War, he served as a 4-term governor of Maine. As there was no governor’s mansion, he and his wife were separated during this time. He wrote several books, including his Civil War memories, and served as president of Bowdoin College.

The Chamberlains had 5 children altogether, one of whom died shortly after his premature death, and two who died before their first birthday from scarlet fever.

Fanny had a disease of the eye and eventually went blind. She fell and broke her hip which led to her death in October, 1905 at 80 years of age. In 1914, Gen. Chamberlain died from lingering complications of his war wounds. They are both buried in Brunswick, Maine.

Joshua Chamberlain was prominently featured in Ken Burns' PBS Civil War series, where I honestly fell in love with the man! I think I might have to do some more reading about him.

Till next time, keep stitchin'!


  1. Very interesting story of Fanny and Joshua, thank you for sharing that bit of history with us. Lovely block also.

  2. Mary - Your work is just beautiful! I love the story behind the blocks. It just makes it so much more interesting!