When the Civil War began, Chamberlain decided that he wanted to do his part to help keep the Union together. He wrote to Maine governor Israel Washburn (1813-1883), who was in charge of organizing troops from Maine to serve in the Union Army. "I have always been interested in military matters and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn," Chamberlain stated in his letter.
The administrators at Bowdoin College, however, did not want to see one of their most talented young instructors leave to go fight in a war. They refused Chamberlain's request for a leave of absence. Instead, they offered him a big promotion and a two-year sabbatical (an extended leave of absence given to university professors to travel, rest, or study) in Europe. But Chamberlain was determined to serve in the Union Army. He accepted the college's offer of a European study sabbatical, but instead of departing for Europe, he reported for military service.
When Chamberlain joined the army, Washburn offered him command of a new volunteer regiment called the Twentieth Maine, part of the Union's Army of the Potomac. This offer was not completely unexpected. The Union Army often filled officers' positions with educated men, even if they did not have any military experience. But Chamberlain sensed that he might not be able to handle all the responsi bilities of command immediately. Noting that he would prefer to "start a little lower and learn the business first," Chamberlain instead asked to be named lieutenant colonel, the second-highest ranking position in the regiment.
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