SOUL OF A LIONColonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
Little Round Top - Gettysburg, PA - July 2, 1863
The critical moment in the battle of Gettysburg had arrived on a little known and seemingly insignificant hill called Little Round Top. Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain and his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment were about to be over run by two confederate Alabama regiments. Almost one third of Chamberlain's men were killed or wounded from previous assaults by Colonel William C. Oates's Alabamians. With his men nearly out of ammunition, Chamberlain knew that his brave soldiers from Maine could not withstand another assault which was sure to come. Col. Chamberlain would later write, describing his thoughts that day, "A critical moment has arrived, and we can remain as we are no longer." Chamberlain's final orders from Colonel Strong Vincent had been to "hold that ground at all hazards."
Little Round Top was at the end of the left flank of the Federal Army and offered a clear view of much of the battlefield. Earlier in the day, incredibly no one was given the assignment to defend such an important strategic piece of ground. A few signal men were occupying the hill when General Meade's chief engineer Gouverneur K. Warren arrived on the hill and saw the danger. He quickly sent for help and Col. Vincent arrived with 4 regiments, and placed the 20th Maine at the end of the line.
Confederate Col. Oates was given the assignment to take Little Round Top, fortify and ring the hill with cannon to blow the Federal Army apart. Col. Oates said, "within half an hour I could convert Little Round Top into a Gibraltar that I could hold against ten times the number of men that I had." Col. Oates rushed two regiments of about 640 men up the hill. The 20th Maine had been in place only 10 minutes before the southerners attacked.
In an hour and a half of intense fighting nearly forty thousand rounds were fired. Five times the Alabamians drove the Maine troops from their positions, only to be pushed back again and again. Chamberlain said, "At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men; gaps opening, swallowing, closing again, squads of stalwart men who had cut their way through us, disappearing as if translated. All around , a strange, mingled roar."
Now at the critical moment, Chamberlain decided to advance, and ordered his men to fix bayonets. While the right of his regiment held their positions, he ordered the men on his left to charge down the hill and wheel to the right. Sword in hand, with his brother Lt. Tom Chamberlain behind him, Col. Chamberlain charged down the hillside. The counter attack completely surprised the Alabamians, who wavered, broke and fled for their lives. Little Round Top held.
For his actions that fateful day Chamberlain would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. General Sickel would later give Chamberlain a high compliment for his fighting spirit and kind heart saying, "you have the soul of a lion and the heart of a woman."
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