Memory can be a trickster, and so I've tried to be less positive than many a codger I've known who remembered James K. Polk as a boy in school and he did thus and so. That it was Rutherford B. Hayes and quite another school didn't matter.
My own grandfather, who never forgot where he hid his treasure, was caught up in just such a grievous error and spent better than 50 years of his life protesting that Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain rode a white horse. General Joshua, Maine's grandest military "figger," may well have done so, but there is certainly no tangible record of a white in the archives. And everybody posing as an authority has insisted ever since the first day at Gettysburg that my grandfather was wrong and his white horse was black.
Whenever my grandfather's memory was challenged, particularly in the maple shade at the cemetery on Decoration Day, he would ignore the doubter, repeat the white part, and go on with the eyewitness narrative of Pickett's Charge.
In my first year at college, when I had a professional librarian to help me, I checked Grampie out on his white charger and was obliged to accept that Grampie was wrong. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, is historically consistent with a black mount. It was always difficult for me to keep in mind that my grandfather's recollection of his general did not stem from his latter years.
He enlisted in Company I of the 16th Maine volunteers on his 18th birthday. Within three weeks he had completed all the infantry training he was to get and had traveled to Gettysburg by train, boat, and march with three rebel engagements on the way.
One evening as he sat by the cat at the parlor heater he told me how they marched all day toward Washington, and bivouacked with no army supper in sight, and how by the side of a dirty road he found a bag of flour that had fallen off a commissary wagon. Rain had soggied the cloth bag and the flour had caked for a couple of inches or so, but the interior was useful, and he soon had some Down East hot biscuits facing a fire, using a horse's watering pail for a reflector oven.
That night the 16th Maine, or at least Company I, made do with piping hot sal'ratus biscuits, and with my eyes popped out at Grampie's authentic memories why should I doubt the color of General Chamberlain's horse?
How many times in those evening sessions did my grandfather tell me how the Battle of Gettysburg started? There they were, row upon row of gallant men, gathered in righteous cause. Then Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, the preachin' soldier from the seminary, came riding up on his beautiful white charger, and he sat there in his saddle for a moment, surveying the terrain and reviewing his brave troops. So had Odysseus, Barce, Caesar, and Napoleon. Was General Chamberlain about to "make harangue?"
The white charger reared, and the general shifted weight and brandished his saber. A cheer broke from the ranks. And then General Chamberlain spoke. Standing in his stirrups, he lifted his pleasantly pastoral and pulpit voice into the furious tones of war, and he shouted across the fields, "Is Tom Gould here?"
Thus addressed, my grandfather stepped forward from the ranks, and proud with the honor he replied, "Yes, Sir! Right here, general."
And from the advantage of his handsome white charger, Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain replied on that historical morning, "All right! Then let the battle begin!"
Why should I ever doubt the white horse?
After the war our good General Chamberlain remained the big Maine hero for his lifetime. He became a president of Bowdoin College, was busy with Masonic affairs, continued his active participation in Christian matters, and was easily elected governor of Maine. He served as governor at a foggy-foggy time and should be recalled better as a soldier. The "Greenback" movement was about to burst, and Chamberlain played a part as mediator in the absurdities. The absurdities ended with a Supreme Court decision that left a lot of ha-ha-ha unanswered. But at one moment it was thought General Chamberlain's influence with the people might ease the tensions, so he was named military governor to keep peace until the legislature and justices could work out their schemes.
General Chamberlain did mount some cannon on the statehouse steps and he swore in deputy police from the granite quarry crew at Gardiner. But his cautious participation was no more than a toy soldier parade, and he was glad to have such an honor only so long as he didn't get involved. My grandfather, never faltering in his love for his battlefield commander, never pictured his as less than heroic, and General Chamberlain remained forever mounted on his white horse.
My grandfather's tent mate in the Civil War was a boy his age, two "comrades" who grew old together, and who remembered their adventures with the same stories. He was Benjamin Franklin Farrar, the butcher's boy. My father was named for Frank Farrar, so close did the two tent mates remain.
Long years later I rode some surviving members of Company I to a regimental reunion, and didn't my grandfather relate still once again how General Chamberlain appeared on his white charger? Frank Farrar took me aside when we had a chance to be alone, and he told me, "Your grandfather Tom is wrong about that horse. I saw Chamberlain at Gettysburg, too, and he was on a white mare."