You would think that a man of Chamberlain's ability would be an excellent military leader from the start. But it did not take long for him to realize that his understanding to tactics and maneuvers was woefully lacking.
But like any great man of character, the assessment did not hinder him from engaging and driving himself to shore up and develop these areas of weakness.
There was one amazing trait that always helped Chamberlain when the bullets started firing and the cannons spewed fire and thunder- he had an uncanny calmness within the chaos. This ability to relax when others were in desperation allowed him to make great decisions and stirred great confidence in his men.
It was observed by many that no one worked harder than Chamberlain in studying the art of war, but he also equally worked to lift up and serve the people around him. The hard work and heart compassion made men respect and love him at the same time.
It did not take long for Chamberlain to realize how much better this new environment was for him and his unique skill set. Bowdoin had a great reputation, and it was a place he would love and serve- but the leadership he was under did not appreciate him. He was constantly criticized and second guessed because he did not walk lock step to conventional wisdom. His superiors didn't quite know how to handle that and his co-workers were never challenged in their assumptions and presuppositions.
This is a telling quote: "(In war/military) I have my care and vexations, but let me say that no hardship or danger ever makes me wish to get to that college life again. I can't breathe when I think of my last two years (at Bowdoin)".
I also cannot express enough that Chamberlain's deep faith served him so well. He wrote: "Most likely I shall be hit somehow at sometime, but all 'my times are in His hand' and cannot die except by His appointment."
The stories of all the close calls and bullets makes it hard to refute his assertion. He had his horse shot out from under him on at least 3 different occasions and escaped sure death over and over.
He also grew tougher. He learned to embrace 15 mile marches in all types of weather and over all kinds of harsh terrain. He wrote this to his wife, Fanny: "(I pull my tarp over me on cold and wet nights) However, I ENJOY it and I get up as bright as a squirrel and hearty as a bear for a breakfast of salt pork, or hard bread; with, maybe, coffee without milk and alas! without sugar."
But battles also ripped into his heart and soul. On one occasion he had to sleep between dead bodies. The cries of the hurting and the blood covered surgeons and the rotting smells all added up to the horrors to this conflict. He did not shrink back, however. He fought depression as valiantly as he fought the enemy.
After one battle he saw the juxtaposition of a beautiful river and across, on the bank, was a field strewn with dead soldiers in a sea of blue and gray. "Death-gardens, haunted by glorious ghosts- a splendid but unavailing valor."
I also have to remark that Chamberlain had a warrior's stubbornness. He was slow to anger, but when it finally kindled, he set his jaw and held nothing back. But is was always in defense of an ideal and he never lost his loyalty to those within his service and devotion.
DARK DAYS AND A HARSH WINTER: As is true of most narratives, Chamberlain had to endure a dire winter before his glorious victory at Gettysburg. In the winter of discontent, a man has to wrestle with deep doubts, health concerns, and a general lack of morale. Chamberlain was knocked to the ground with outbreaks of smallpox. His greatest concern was handling a broken 'espirit de corps' due to actions by his men that appeared mutinous. He stayed engaged, despite the grind and exhausting marches, weary and undone- he refused to give in and eventually the sun rose again bringing warmth and better health.
All of this leading up to a fateful July 2, 1863 when history would hang in the balance.