Colonel Joshua ChamberlainColonel Joshua Chamberlain, a teacher in private life, arrived at the far left end of the Union line on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863.  With him were the 386 men who comprised the 20th Maine.  Upon Chamberlain’s arrival Colonel Vincent instructed him, “Hold that ground at all hazards.”  “That ground” was the down sloping south end of Cemetery Ridge at Little Round Top.  

Spying a stone wall about a hundred yards down behind the ridge bottom, he sent several men to it with instructions to stay under cover until they heard his signal.  Within twenty minutes Colonel William C. Oates and the 15th Alabama Infantry attacked.  Five times the 15th Alabama attacked and five times Chamberlain’s men repelled.  Little Round Top

Chamberlain’s men were nearly out of ammunition.  He set a line of men along the lower left side of the slope parallel to the ridge line and told his men to fix bayonets.  When the sixth charge came Chamberlain signaled the line of men on the left slope to swing out like a hinged gate from the lowest hill point.  At the same moment he also signaled the men he had hidden behind lower western stone wall, and they began to fire. 

Oates and the 15th Alabama, fearing a new company of fresh troops had come to reinforce Chamberlain, and being low on ammunition themselves, retreated over Big Round Top. This was arguably the turning point of the battle of Gettysburg.  Had Chamberlain’s men not held their position the Union Army would most certainly have lost the high ground and with it the battle. 

Chamberlain received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage that day. He once wrote, “Courage is vitally belonging to a cause nobler than one individual can imagine. Being vitally aligned with other men to do things they thought they would not be capable of doing by themselves.”

Dressed in a Union uniform a guide passes near where I sit, followed by his tour of a dozen men and women. With great skill he describes the events of the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863.  He stands near the monument erected to honor Chamberlain and the 20th Maine.  He points to a small promontory of rocks about thirty yards up the hill behind me.

Cemetary Ridge“Do you see that point,” he asks.  The tour group nods in unison. 

“Several years after the battle, Chamberlain attended an anniversary commemoration here at Gettysburg,” the guide continued. 

“Standing on this point on July 2nd Chamberlain noticed a pile of stones on that point up there.  He asked what it was and was informed that veterans of the 15th Alabama had placed them there that morning.

“Remove them,” Chamberlain ordered. When asked why, he replied, “The 15th Alabama never reached that point and too many of my men gave their lives keeping them from advancing to that point.” 

He gestured down the hill, “They can put a monument down there if they like, but not up there.” The pile of stones was removed.

Every year, to this day, on the morning of July 2nd someone from Alabama erects a pile of stones, a small monument if you will, on that upper promontory point and every July 4th the park rangers remove them.

We’ll visit the Gettysburg home of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower next time on Region’s Road.

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