The Civil War is inarguably full of badasses.
From generals like Ulysses S. Grant to spies and medics like Harriet Tubman and Clara Barton, they’re spread out all over the battlefields, like coffee cups in a college library during Finals Week.
With all these candidates, it’s hard to say any one of them is the bravest or most accomplished.
But this isn’t about any quantifiable accomplishment.
It’s about fancy battle shenanigans that would look awesome if they were adapted into a movie (which they were).
It’s about explosions and bloodshed and battle-lust and glory.
Which brings us to our biggest badass of American history: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
This dude was a college professor from Maine who heard there was a war going on, so he saddled up and volunteered to join the Union army.
Said Union army was only too happy to get him, and made him lieutenant colonel, which is a phrase that usually refers to people who’ve had at least some experience with military strategy, with the exception of our man Joshua.
Luckily, Chamberlain was a fast learner, and after scanning every military work he could get his hands on and going through a steeper-than-Everest learning curve, he was all set to be second-in-command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Fast-forward to the Battle of Gettysburg.
While the Union forces were suffering setbacks, Confederate soldiers attacked their left flank.
The 20th Maine happened to be at the far left, next to a small hill called, appropriately, Little Round Top.
They hold position, and after a period of harsh fighting, Chamberlain orders a bayonet charge on the Confederates.
They run down the hill, the entire line swinging nonstop, until finally Chamberlain gets to the guy leading the assault.
He orders the Confederate officer to surrender, and the officer whips out a pistol and shoots him in the face.
And actually misses, but Chamberlain doesn’t even flinch, just puts his sword to the guy’s throat until he gets an official surrender.
They take 101 Confederate soldiers prisoner.
Chamberlain gets a Medal of Honor for this, and goes on to top that at Petersburg.
And that’s saying a lot considering that he probably saved the Union from defeat at Gettysburg and therefore the country from splitting in two.
Unfortunately, there’s no Medal of Superhonor, but if there was, he’d totally have earned it.
If you imagine a storm with bullets instead of raindrops, that might look something like Petersburg – Chamberlain’s directing the action, the bullets are flying, and all of a sudden a Confederate bullet tears through his side, crushing his hipbones and ripping into his bladder and urethra.
So Chamberlain’s suffered what’s basically a mortal wound, by the standards back then (and also, probably, by our standards, just from the sheer pain factor).
Surprisingly, his first thought isn’t “oh, jeez, I’m gonna die,” but, rather, “dying right now would be bad for morale, so I’m just gonna walk it off.”
Which he does.
He uses his saber as a crutch to stay upright, while blood is POURING from his vitals, and continues to direct the assault.
He holds himself up by spit and stamina until he can’t anymore, and he collapses, and when the surgeons get to the field he yells at them to go and save his men instead.
Now that’s badassery.
But, of course, the surgeons don’t take orders from commanding officers, so they go ahead and treat his wounds anyway.
He survives, continues to survive for a bunch of other battles, literally getting his horse shot out from under him a few times, and goes on to preside over the surrender at Appomattox.
Proving that he’s a gallant winner as well as a badass, he orders his men to stand at attention and carry arms in a show of respect for their defeated countrymen.
A general would later call him “one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army.”
Now here’s the part where it gets gross.
The Wikipedia article states that he suffered from complications due to his wounds in the Battle of Petersburg, but that doesn’t even begin to describe how much it just. Sucked.
To get shot in the Civil War era and have to live with a hole in your bladder burning like the fires of hell for decades.
He had to wear a Civil War era catheter, which was like a modern-day catheter except ten times worse.
Because sanitation at the time was not exactly the greatest, his wounds got infected, and left him in what he described as “unspeakable agony” for almost fifty years.
Still, he kept going, running for governor of Maine and getting elected with the support of the Republican Party – this was back when the Republicans were the guys up north – giving speeches at soldiers’ reunions, and even helping to found the Maine Institution for the Blind.
His later years lacked the glory and excitement of his battlefield, but were at least as commendable, if not more so.
At 85, in 1914, he died as he lived – a major badass.
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Cover Photo Credit: Library of Congress/ Wikimedia Commons