Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was in command of the
20th Maine Infantry, V Corps, on 2 July 1863. On Little Round Top his troops
were ordered by Strong Vincent to anchor of the extreme left of the Union line. (See
map) Facing the 20th Maine were Col. William C. Oates'
15th and 47th Alabama. At about 6:30 pm, after once refusing
his line to prevent the 15th Alabama from flanking him, and finding
his troops short of ammunition, he ordered the regiment to "fix bayonets." In Chamberlain's own words:
At that crises, 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 on the enemy, now not 30 yards away. The effect was surprising; many of the enemy's first line threw down their arms and surrendered. An officer fired his pistol at my head with one hand, while he handed me his sword with the other. Holding fast by our right, and swinging forward our left, we made an extended "right wheel," before which the enemy's second line broke and fell back, fighting from tree to tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade.¶As the Confederates were being pursued, a portion of the 20th Maine, Company "B", which had been sent forward earlier by Chamberlain, along with some of Berdan's U. S. Sharpshooters from Daniel Sickles' III Corps, who had fallen back from defending Big Round Top, opened up on the flank of the Alabamians, adding to their confusion. Chamberlain's promotion to full colonel came shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. For his performance on Little Round Top, Joshua Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on 11 August 1893.
Prior to enlistment, Joshua Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College. Refused a leave of absence to enlist, he asked for and received permission to take a sabbatical leave, and then enlisted. He also was elected four times Governor of Maine, and eventually became President of Bowdoin College.
There is much speculation about what would have happened if the 20th Maine had not held. Some opine that the Union lines would have collapsed if the Confederates had been able to place artillery on Little Round Top with which to rake the Federal lines on Cemetery Ridge. Others# argue that if Little Round Top had fallen any Confederate gain would have been short-lived as John Sedgwick's VI Corps, held in reserve, quickly would have been able to retake the hill.
¶ Report of Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain in J. Luvaas and H. W. Nelson, eds., Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg. Lawrence, KS, University Press of Kansas, 1994.
# Glatthaar, J. T. in G. S. Boritt, ed., The Gettysburg Nobody Knows, Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, 1997.
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