Separated by war during an era when communications was fitful, Fanny Chamberlain
delayed leaving New York City in 1863 in hopes of hearing news of her soldier husband.
Over the next century and half, Civil War authors would honor Joshua Chamberlain as a golden hero whose light left wife Fanny in the shadows, at best.
“If anything went wrong …,” said Diane.
“… it was Fanny’s fault,” finished Ned.
She is Diane Monroe Smith, author of “Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.” He is Ned Smith, author of ‘‘The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster.”
The Holden couple who so easily finish each other’s sentences have been married 42 years and called a “tag team” at one of their occasional joint talks about Maine in the Civil War. Ned is a Bangor native who has taught English, music, and history from grade school to college. Diane, with ancestry from Down East to New York State, began her career in human services and now helps the public on the front desk at Bangor Public Library.
Both have found history’s treatment of Fanny Chamberlain frustrating, especially “the people who wrote about her that she was unstable, that she was a brat, that she was disobedient,” Diane said. The truth was, “It was tough being an independent woman in the 19th century. She didn’t do what her daddy told her to do.”
Born in Boston to a poor family, Fanny Adams was raised in Brunswick by her Congregational minister uncle, the Rev. George Adams and his wife, Sarah. Fanny and “her daddy” disagreed about both religion and her choice of a husband, a man he didn’t think would amount to anything.
It’s true that she was in New York when Joshua led the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. The story became “that Fanny was off on a shopping spree in New York,” explained Ned, but the truth was something else.
“She got stuck there in the draft riots,” said Diane. “It’s still the worst civic unrest this country has ever known” in terms of the draft.
Letters between Fanny and Joshua bear out the Smiths’ explanation of what happened, as do consolidated morning reports that prove that Fanny had visited her husband in camp before this time period.
How the Smiths came to study the Chamberlains so thoroughly is part living history, a little bit Hollywood.
“Our kids became Civil War re-enactors,” Diane said of sons Rob and Alex. “Alex was 14 when he was in [the 1993 film] ‘Gettysburg’ as background along with thousands of extras.” She and Ned were on hand keeping an eye on things and carrying water to the participants.
For Diane in particular, seeing the filming of events such as Pickett’s Charge helped kick-start her passion for the era.
“We both started volunteering at the Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick,” she said. “They had a lot of archival material, and I just kept reading and reading.”
The Chamberlains that she and Ned found in letters and documents, and in diaries written by Fanny’s dad, were more multi-faceted than they had read about in many books.
“I like them ever so much better as real people,” Diane said. “I love it when it’s possible to let them speak for themselves.” Fanny and Joshua’s letters to one another showed both great love and the trials of marriage, Gov. Chamberlain in 1868 writing his wife a letter in
which he cautioned her against “making a confidant of unworthy persons
He wrote: “I fear nothing for myself. But you must see that whatever come[s] upon me; comes upon you too with even more effect & for your sake I must again offer the suggestion that you act with wisdom and discretion.”
Joshua goes on to question whether Fanny might be considering a separation. It was a letter written on an especially stressful day, when he signed the first warrant for execution of a convicted murderer.
While Diane’s subjects were a Civil War hero and his wife, Ned’s focus was Francis Ireland, “a 19-year-old kid from Dexter who was just telling what happened.” Ireland’s letters are in a collection held by the University of Maine.
Ireland and other 22nd Infantry soldiers speak for themselves through letters, but, Ned adds, “I am much more apt to say, tell ‘em,” meaning the readers.
In his book published by McFarland & Co. Inc. in 2010, Ned compared the actions of Chamberlain at Petersburg with those of Col. Simon Jerrard in leading the 22nd at Port Hudson, La. Both officers were ordered to lead attacks which they considered doomed, and initially they refused.
Chamberlain did go ahead with his orders and was seriously wounded, as were many of
his men. Jerrard maintained his refusal and was dismissed from the Army without a court martial.
Ned writes that Chamberlain “… is regarded as a hero. And rightly so — he did his duty and did it extremely well. He was a brave man, a natural leader, and he enjoyed the support and high regard of the men who served under him… When General Grant looked for an officer to accept the surrender of the Confederate Infantry at Appomattox, he chose Chamberlain, although many officers outranked him. Colonel Jerrard, on the other hand, did not make the attack he was ordered to make, and his decision no doubt saved many lives that would be been uselessly lost.”
The Smiths are continuing to write. Diane’s “Chamberlain at Petersburg: The Charge at Fort Hell” was published in 2004 by Thomas Publications in Gettysburg, and she’s hoping that a second edition of 1999’s “Fanny and Joshua” will be realized. Her current project, due at the publisher in the spring, will focus on Ulysses S. Grant and the “western generals” of the Civil War.
Ned is working on a book about the Second Maine Cavalry and its excursions into the deep South, especially the Pensacola area. He continues to be what Diane calls her “first editor.”
“History is about people and the decisions they made, and why they made them,” Ned asserts, adding, “We often challenge each other to defend the statements we made.”
“We have both been so much involved in each other’s work,” Diane said: “It is wonderful to be able to share with each other.”