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The Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere, is often called the turning point of the Civil War. The battle was a narrow victory for the Union and could have been a Confederate victory if it were not for a series of critical events. One such episode involved the 20th Maine. The 20th Maine Infantry was the designated regiment to hold the extreme left flank of the Union battle line late in the afternoon of July 2, 1863.
Colonel Joshua Chamberlain had been given the orders to hold this crucial position at all costs. To retreat would mean jeopardizing the entire safety of the rest of the Union Army of the Potomac. The valiant and bravery of the 20th Maine overcame the inevitable odds, and maintained its position. The 20th Maine will always be remembered for its courageous victory, but will be modeled for its qualities of leadership, initiative, unit cohesion, and gallantry.
The Role of the 20th Maine
The Twentieth Maine, perhaps one of the most famous Infantry units in the American Civil War, was organized at Portland, Maine, during August, 1862, and was officially mustered into Federal military service there on August 29, 1862. The 20th Maine consisted of whalers, merchants, loggers, farmers and city dwellers who made up the raw material that transformed fresh recruits into soldiers of valor. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was the regiment's original Lt. Colonel and upon the promotion of Ames, he was made Colonel of the 20th Maine. He was wounded six times during the War. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General for his conduct of the 20th Maine at Petersburg, Virginia, in June 1864. In April 1865, Chamberlain was promoted to the rank of Major General. At the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were selected to receive the colors and arms of the Confederate units. Now the memories and legend of the 20th Maine will live on, not ever forgetting the loss and heartache that these men endured for freedom and peace.
The battle of Gettysburg is the most famous battle of the great Civil War. Among the battle of Gettysburg were the ever so little battles that tend to get looked over. The stand at Big Round Top and Little Round Top, would be the turning point for the Union. Colonel Strong Vincent, commander of the hastily commandeered brigade, and the 20th Maine Regiment were the two heroic group of men who made the stand at the Round Tops. Colonel Vincent placed his men in a line just blow the crest of Little Round top, facing the Rebels west and south. To the left stood the 20th Maine, lead by the thirty-five-year-old Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor and minister of the gospel, but was turning out being a good deal of a soldier. Along with Chamberlain were his two brothers, one a lieutenant, the other a member of a charitable organization who had chosen to accompany the 20th. Chamberlain placed his two brothers on different ends of the line, so if there happened to be one shell burst might, as Chamberlain said it, “make it hard for Mother.” The rest of Vincent’s brigade was stretched around the west face of Little Round top, to the right. Dense forests and rocks, with no support surrounded the two groups of men. Colonel William C. Oates lead the 15th Alabama and 47th Alabama regiments into the short valley between Big Round Top and Little Round Top, directly below the Army of the Potomac. Colonel Oates and his men could easily see the Meade’s wagons behind the rear of the Army of the Potomac, introducing an interesting idea that might ultimately alter the course of the battle drastically. Even before the presence of the two regiments were noticed, the 20th was struck hard by a swarm of yelling Confederates driving in from the right. The 15th and 47th were now maneuvering to get beyond Chamberlain’s left side. The two regiments alone outnumbered the 20th better than two to one, and were under direct attack and fighting for their lives. Chamberlain issued an amazing order, where the left half of the regiment was
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Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Little Round Top, Strong Vincent, Battle of Gettysburg, Maine, William C. Oates, Thomas Chamberlain, Holman Melcher
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