William H. Chamberlain was born 1842 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Ambrose (1813-1860) Martha M. (Nelson, 1816-1871).
Ambrose was working for Valentine & Co. of Boston when he married Martha M. Nelson in April of 1838, in Milford, Massachusetts. By 1840 they were living in Cambridge, Middlesex County and in 1850 were still living in Cambridge where Ambrose owned and operated a soap and candle manufacturing plant, and William was attending school with his siblings. (In 1850 there was one William H. Chamberlain living in Marlborough, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where his younger brother Charles had been born in 1846).
Ambrose moved his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from Massachusetts sometime after 1854 and by 1860 the family was residing in the Third Ward. Ambrose died in January of 1860, probably in Grand Rapids. (In 1860 one William H. Chamberlain in was residing in Boston, Massachusetts.) At some point William was apparently employed as clerk for Wilmarth & Fuller in Grand Rapids. His mother was extremely wealthy by standards of the day, and claimed in 1860 to be worth $18,000 in real estate and another $12,000 in her personal estate. By 1860 William was probably still working as a clerk and residing with his family in Grand Rapids' Third Ward.
William stood 5’6” with blue eyes, sandy hair and a light complexion, and was 19 years old and probably still living with his family when he enlisted with his mother’s consent as Fourth Corporal in Company A on May 13, 1861. He may have been a member of the Valley City Guard, the prewar Grand Rapids militia company whose members would form the nucleus of Company A. If so, he probably joined the VCG shortly before war broke out. (William’s younger brother Charles would enlist in the Third Michigan in 1864, and his sister Mary married Captain Edwin Pierce of Company E just before the regiment left Grand Rapids in June of 1861.)
It seems that William was a friend of Charles Wright, also of Company A, who wrote home in August of 1861 that he and Chamberlain had recently gone to Alexandria on a pass. Wright wrote home that
[W]e went upstairs to the fourth story and there in one corner of a small room was a little hole which went out on the [roof] in which was the very same flagstaff which bore the secession flag which Ellsworth took down and which now bears the flag he raised. The flag staff was about 40 feet long and at the bottom it was about 6 inches [though] it was considerably whittled and we took the liberty to whittle it a little . . . as a token of that horrible event. I saw where the bullet lodged that killed Ellsworth; it lodged in a plank in an adjoining room after passing through a door. . . . There is two war steamers 12 guns each anchored in the river near the city. The city had a population of 20,000 before war broke out, but now it is nearly deserted, only a few stores are open; splendid mansions are closed and everything has the appearance of a once rich and prosperous city (now the grass grows in the streets). I was informed by a mechanic that resided there that two-thirds of the inhabitants are Secessionists and that they had secret meetings. We took dinner with a gentleman that informed us that he had a farm off 4 miles and that the Northern cavalry had destroyed a large field of oats of his and that he had lost 4 niggers which he thought had gone off with our army but did not know where they had gone but they had run away any how which he said was $4,000 loss to him and he seemed to feel very bad about it. Of course we sympathized with him he was no doubt a secessionist but very rich. We had fresh codfish and boiled corn bread but no butter, potatoes, which was a good meal for us poor soldiers. He seemed to pity us for the thought the north would get licked. . . .
Although William was reported to be absent sick in a hospital in July of 1862, in fact had been discharged for a wounded left ankle on May 28, 1862 at Washington, DC. There is no record of his having been wounded, although if it occurred it very possibly happened during the opening phases of the Peninsular campaign in the area of Yorktown and Williamsburg, Virginia
In any case, following his release from the army he returned home to Grand Rapids.
On Saturday, July 26, 1862, Rebecca Richmond, teenage daughter of William Almy Richmond, one of Grand Rapids’ leading businessmen, wrote in her diary that she had spent the evening at the home of Captain Edwin Pierce of Company E and his wife, Mary, who was William’s sister. “The company numbered about thirty,” Rebecca wrote, “and consisted of young married and unmarried people.” Dr. Zenas Bliss, Regimental Surgeon for the Third Michigan, Captain Pierce “and Willie Chamberlain . . . gave military dignity to the session. We danced some, after piano music, but it was so long some of us had ‘tripped it on the light fantastic toe’ that we made rather bungling work of it at first. I had ever so pleasant a time -- enjoyed it much. The Olive Branch, or rather the remnants of that once flourishing society, met here at six o'clock this evening. It is apparent that the girls have lost their interest, and will hardly be able to preserve their organization much long.”
Rebecca saw William again, this time along with his friend Peter Weber -- who had also enlisted in Company A in 1861, and who was on furlough in Grand Rapids -- on July 29 and on August 11, 1862.
Sometime between the time he was discharged and the spring of 1863, William decided to emigrate westward. On March 8, 1863, Rebecca noted in her diary that “Willie Chamberlain has gone to California to seek his fortune” in the gold fields of California.
Any hopes for improving his circumstances in California were soon dashed, apparently, and William returned east, ending up New York City where on June 11, 1863, he enlisted in Battery D, Eleventh New York Artillery, and was mustered in as Private on June 21 to serve 3 years. (This unit was eventually reorganized as Battery M, Fourth New York Heavy Artillery.) He was present for duty from September of 1863 through June of 1864, and was reported as First Sergeant on June 1, 1864.
William was reported missing in action on August 25, 1864, at Reams Station, Virginia, and in September and October he was reported as having been reduced to the ranks, presumably on account of his status as missing in action. William had in fact been taken prisoner near Petersburg, Virginia, on August 25, and was sent to Richmond on August 27. From Richmond he was transported to Salisbury prison in North Carolina, where he arrived on October 9.
He was admitted to the prison hospital on January 2, 1865, and died of pneumonia at Salisbury hospital on January 3 or 4, 1865.
According to one Sergeant J. W. Swift, who had served with William in the same battery, Chamberlain “died in the rebel prison pen at Salisbury, North Carolina, on the 3d day of January last. He died of fever brought on by exposure.” Apparently sometime in March Swift had written to the family to inform them of William’s death. William was reportedly buried in Salisbury National Cemetery: no. 524, although there is a marker for him in Fulton cemetery, Grand Rapids.
No pension appears to be available.
In 1870 his mother was residing in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward with her daughter Mary and son-in-law Edwin Pierce, who had also served as Lieutenant Colonel in the Third Michigan.
Charles V. Chamberlain was born May 12, 1844, in Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, the son of Ambrose (1813-1860) Martha M. (Nelson, 1816-1871).
Ambrose was working for Valentine & Co. of Boston when he married Martha M. Nelson in April of 1838, in Milford, Massachusetts. By 1840 they were living in Cambridge, Middlesex County and in 1850 were still living in Cambridge where Ambrose owned and operated a soap and candle manufacturing plant, and Charles was attending school with his siblings. Ambrose moved his family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from Massachusetts sometime after 1854 and by 1860 Charles was attending school in Grand Rapids where he resided with his family in the Third Ward. Ambrose died in January of 1860, probably in Grand Rapids. His widow was extremely wealthy by standards of the day, and claimed in 1860 to be worth $18,000 in real estate and another $12,000 in her personal estate.
Charles stood 5’3” with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion, and was an 18-year-old clerk living in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward when he enlisted in Unassigned on February 12, 1864, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, crediting Grand Rapids’ Third Ward, and was mustered on February 17; although he is not found in the 1905 Third Michigan Regimental history, but he is in the 1905 Fifth Michigan infantry Regimental history. (His older brother William had enlisted in Company A in 1861, while his older sister Mary married Captain Edwin Pierce of Company E, just before the regiment left Grand Rapids in June of 1861.)
Charles may have been detached -- probably as a clerk at Brigade headquarters but this is not known for certain until later in his term of service -- before joining the Regiment or he may have possibly joined the Regiment sometime in late February or early March and subsequently detached to other duties, although there is no record of this and as far as is known he was never assigned to a particular company in the Third Michigan.
In any case, Charles was transferred (on paper at least) to Company A, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and was reported on detached service in July. By August he was sick in a hospital and on detached service from September through December. In January he was a clerk at Division headquarters, in February he was serving as a clerk at Brigade headquarters where he remained through May of 1865, and indeed probably until he was mustered out on July 5, 1865 at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
It is not known if Charles returned to Michigan after the war. He later claimed to have settled in Knox County, Illinois after the war where he worked as a laborer for some years.
In 1870 his mother was residing in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward with her daughter Mary and son-in-law Edwin Pierce who had also served in the Third Michigan.
According to statements he made in 1898 and again in 1915 he had never been married and had no children.
By 1883 Charles was living in Illinois when he applied for and received a pension no. 544,822.
Charles was living in Truro or Eugene, Knox County, Illinois in 1884 and in Knox County, Illinois when he was admitted to the Illinois soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Quincy, Illinois (no. 1412), and was apparently admitted a second time (same admission number) on September 25, 1895. he was subsequently admitted to the Central Branch, National Military Home in Columbus Ohio, on August 10, 1898. On October 2, 1909, he was admitted to the Mountain Branch National Military Home in Knoxville, Tennessee, from the Central Branch Home, and on May 21, 1912 he was admitted to the National Military Home in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio; he was living at the Dayton Home in 1914.
Charles died of heart disease on May 16, 1918, at the Northwestern Branch, National Military Home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was buried in Wood National Cemetery: plot 21-0-5.