We all have heroes in our lives and my father’s was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, four time governor of Maine, college professor, Civil War general and winner of one of the most important battles in American history.
I grew up surrounded by books about Chamberlain and the Battle of Little Roundtop and was excited that I got to take my father to Gettysburg National Military Park before he passed away. We explored the entire battlefield but eventually made our way up to the tiny hillside where so much blood was drawn.
Little Round Top was the extreme end of the Union’s fishhook shaped line with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Regiment the the very last position on the left of the line. Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren immediately saw the the weakness on the left side of the line.
Colonel Strong Vincent commander of the third brigade took the initiative and ordered his four regiments to fortify the hill. Arriving just before the confederates Vincent ordered Chamberlain and this 20th Maine to hold the hill at all costs it being the extreme left. Chamberlain a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine pondered what was meant to hold the hill to the last; the last bullet? the last man? After defending and driving back several charges by Confederate commander William C. Oates Chamberlain was almost out of ammunition. He ordered his troops to fix bayonets and following an obscure textbook maneuver he “refused the line” and led his men in a charge down the hill swinging his troops like a gate swinging shut. Oates and his Alabamians were routed and the line was saved. The battle was not quite over until Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke led his 140th New York regiment against Regiments from Texas in battles just to the right of Chamberlain’s position.
There are numerous monuments and placards commemorating the battle on the hill today.
An important piece of history and a cherished memory with my Dad holds a special place in my heart.