LITTLE ROUND TOPGettysburg, Pennsylvania
July 2, 1863
July 1, 1863 found the men of the 20th Maine worn out. The regiment had acted as the advance guard of the Third Brigade, part of the First Division, Fifth Corps all the day long. As they readied themselves for an expected bivouac near Hanover, Pennsylvania, word came that the enemy had been encountered and a battle fought. All thought of rest was forgotten. The regiment moved out promptly, stopping for only a couple of hours' sleep beside the road before daybreak. By 7:00 A.M. on July 2 they were on the high ground southeast of the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The men from Maine remained in line of battle all day, expecting at any moment to be put into the fight. The men watched as regiment after regiment was sent into battle and destruction. The 20th Maine was moved slowly down the line toward the left side of Federal forces, which General Meade had extended south along Cemetery Ridge. At 4:00 P.M. the entire division was rushed in the direction of an increased volume of fire coming from the extreme left. The brigade crossed Plum Run and took up position on the southern slope of Little Round Top. Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, the 20th Maine's commander, states in his report: "Colonel Vincent indicated to me the ground my regiment was to occupy, informing me that this was the extreme left of our general line, and that a desperate attack was expected in order to turn that position, concluding by telling me I was to 'hold that ground at all hazards.' This was the last word I heard from him."
Confederate veteran troops of Hood's division from Alabama, not accustomed to failure, charged up Little Round Top and attacked ferociously. Chamberlain described the assault. "We opened a brisk fire at close range, which was so sudden and effective that they soon fell back- only to burst forth again with a shout, and rapidly advanced, firing as they came." Mounting a rock Chamberlain saw a large body of southern infantry moving to his left flank and rear. The colonel's next move was to extend his line to cover the flank. Chamberlain's men would now be facing the assault with a single row of men rather than the customary double line of battle. Using the last of the ammunition gathered from the cartridge-boxes of the fallen, Chamberlain felt that "It did not seem possible to withstand another shock like this now coming on." A bullet struck Chamberlain, with a force that knocked him to the ground. He was not seriously injured as the round had struck the scabbard of his sword. Chamberlain wrote, "At times I saw around me more of the enemy then of my own men; gaps opening, swallowing, closing again with sharp convulsive energy; squads of stalwart men who had cut their way through us, disappearing as if translated."
From behind two large rocks a soldier from the 15th Alabama Regiment drew a bead on the Colonel of the 20th Maine. A strange feeling came to him and he did not fire. Ashamed at not taking action, again the southerner took aim, and an even stronger impression stopped him. Chamberlain would later say, "I am so confident of the sincerity of my motives that I can trust my own life and the welfare of my family in the hands of providence."
The crucial moment for the 20th Maine and the Army of the Potomac was at hand. Chamberlain continues, "My men were firing their last shot and getting ready to club their muskets. At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line, from man to man, and rose into a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the enemy, now not 30 yards away." There was no holding back the counterattack of the men from Maine. Chamberlain described how a Confederate officer attempted to fire his pistol at his head; the pistol either misfired or was empty. The next moment the same Confederate officer then offered his sword in surrender. The Federal Army's flank had been held. But the battle of Gettysburg would continue on for another history-making day before the outcome would be known.
Featured in the painting, starting from the left is Lt. Holman S. Melcher of Company F, Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, and Lt. Thomas D. Chamberlain the regimental adjutant. An interesting effect that I placed in the painting is that the rifle of the federal soldier next to the tree will seem to be pointing at the viewer from any angle.
This print may still be available on the secondary market.
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