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Inspirational Words

by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

  image of Brigadier General  Chamberlain

Brigadier General Chamberlain.
Image care of the Brady Collection,
National Archives.


Excerpt from the Dedication of Soldier Monument at Gorham
October 18, 1866

...They offered themselves willingly to death in a cause vital and dear to humanity; and what is more a cause they comprehended as such, and looking at it in all its bearings and its consequences, solemnly pledged to it all that they had and were.... When I think of what these men suffered and did...I marvel with a wonder which is admiration.... We have come here, friends, not for things that die, but for things that cannot die.... For human History is not a Dead Sea, it is a flowing river....

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Excerpt from Chamberlain's 1884 Memorial Day Address

It is not that these men are dead, but that they have so died...that they offered themselves willingly to death in a cause vital and dear to humanity; and what is more, a cause they comprehended as such, and looking at it, in all its bearings and its consequences, solemnly pledged to it all that they had and were.... This comprehension of the cause—this intelligent devotion—this deliberate dedication of themselves to duty—these deaths suffered in testimony of their loyalty, faith and love, make these men worthy of honor today, and these deaths equal to the lauded deaths of martyrs. Not merely that the cause was worthy but that they were worthy.... God grant to us that lesson of devotion and loyalty be not lost....

They gave their best for something held dearer than joy—something of good beyond their personal experience; the giving of which, in this world's estimation, is of such cost that it cannot be justified by your understanding but only in your overpassing faith.

We do not live for self.... We are a part of a larger life, reaching before and after, judged not by deeds done in the body but deeds done in the soul. We wish to be remembered. Willing to die, we are not willing to be forgotten.

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Excerpts from the Dedication of the 20th Maine Monuments at Gettysburg
October 3, 1889

The lesson impressed on me as I stand here and my heart and mind traverse your faces, and the years that are gone, is that in a great, momentous struggle like this commemorated here, it is character that tells. I do not mean simply nor chiefly bravery. Many a man has that, who may become surprised or disconcerted at a sudden change in the posture of affairs. What I mean by character is a firm seasoned substance of soul. I mean such qualities or acquirements as intelligence, thoughtfulness, conscientiousness, rightmindedness, patience, fortitude, long-suffering and unconquerable resolve....

We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and such ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes, that calls to noble action.

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Excerpts from the Dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg
Evening of October 3, 1889

A great and free country is not merely defense and protection. For every earnest spirit, it is opportunity and inspiration.... The best of each being given to all, the best of all returns to each. So the greatness as well as the power of a country broadens every life and blesses every home....

The inspiration of a noble cause involving human interests wide and far, enables men to do things they did not dream themselves capable of before, and which they were not capable of alone. The consciousness of belonging, vitally, to something beyond individuality; of being part of a personality that reaches we know not where, in space and time, greatens the heart to the limit of the soul's ideal, and builds out the supreme of character.

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Excerpt from Chamberlain's Memorial Day Address
May 30, 1898

The day is done. Now this little hour draws us near, a lessening band, for one more greeting and farewell. You, my comrades, have called to vision again the days that tested manhood, and the forms of those who stood with you, and gave their lives for something they held more dear....

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Address to the 16th Maine Volunteers
Gardiner, Maine 1898

There is a way of losing that is finding. When soul overmasters sense; when the noble and divine self overcomes the lower self; when duty and honor and love,—immortal things,—bid the mortal perish! It is only when a man supremely gives that he supremely finds.


See Remembering Our Civil War Veterans for more Memorial Day quotations by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Special thanks to Brian Pohanka for contributing quotations to this page.

picture of Petersburg N.B.   The siege at Petersburg marked the final stages of a long struggle that tested the character of those engaged on either side of the war. This photo, taken at Petersburg National Battlefield, shows Battery 5 positioned along the original Confederate defense line (Dimmock Line). Petersburg N.B. was established as a National Park in 1926.
Photo by CNO


Index to Chamberlain's Pages
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