Chamberlain's Regiment was the 20th Maine and he gained acclaim through the media many years after the war... and in recent decades with books and movies and articles that have made him famous... possibly one of the most famous of Civil War days.
In time of war, the soldiers biggest dread is often not what comes at you from the front... but that which surprises you from your left or right. So was the fear, at the hill known as Little Round Top at Gettysburg. The south wanted the hill for observation and control purposes. The Northern Union army obviously did not want the South's Confederates to capture it. Several Union Regiments were placed about the area but Chamberlain was given the direction that at all costs he must protect one of the flanks, the one most obviously a possible line of attack from the Confederates.
This piece of land was a sloping grade. It was almost treeless. The soil was poor and there were far too many very large rocks to make the area worth anything. In fact so worthless that just a few days and thousands of lives later the area was abandoned.
But before that would happen, Chamberlain was told by his bosses that if he did not hold the line, the union would end up being assaulted from their rear. And if that happened there would have been no need for the bigger battle of the next day... you will remember it by its name...Pickets Charge. (You might remember Picket's name from an earlier blog about the famous Pig War that almost saw Britain and The US go to war in the later 1850's near Vancouver Island BC. At that time the Americans sent Picket up to the area to check things out. He was then only a Captain at the time. And he bought along some troops and an officer by the name of Roberts ... who was a stickler for all to follow the rules of the game. In fact such a stickler that he later wrote a book you might have also heard of also... it was called... ROBERTS RULES AND ORDERS.)
The South indeed did attack from the very side that Chamberlain feared the most... but the union had the advantage... they were on the high ground. Soon Chamberlain's men started to complain that they were running out of ammunition. After some thought the Colonel then decided he would conduct a DOWNHILL BAYONET CHARGE, did so, won the battle and many POW's to boot.
It would take years for the true story to get out about the roll of the 20th Maine. Earlier stories were very skimpy on this part of history, but then in more recent years the rolls have been somewhat overblown. Never the less his Regiment saved the day and no doubt played a very important role in the overall battle and in fact that duration of the war being reduced.
These soldiers were part of G Company of the 20th Maine according to the book on the regiment by the late John J Pullen. (Who also wrote about the 27th Maine of which you have read much on this site.) There were several Canadians in this company.
Union Regiments were placed facing to the top of the first diagram and the smartest attack on them was from the Southerners to swing around from on top of the first diagram and hit the Union from the bottom of the first image... and thus... at their backs. So Chamberlain's men were spread out across the area shown in first diagram.
But then the issue arose about the most likely attack from the 20th's new front... shown in middle image. But ground to cross was best in the South's favour if they chose to do a flanking... that which was most feared by the Union. And so they took to charging up hill in the third image... and facing the 20th charging down hill with fixed bayonets.
There are a lot of great U Tube videos showing re-enactors depicting the battle, Please Google them and enjoy.
So why am I so interested in this battle. I'll tell you what the media did not!
There are many many many stories on the net about the Chamberlain medal reappearing and being donated to the very museum dedicated to Chamberlain. It is in the very building he lived in for over half a century. I cannot find a single reference in these stories... that any Canadians played a roll.
Folks there were OVER 160 Canadians in Chamberlain's Regiment. While I have the names of every one of them, I do not yet have the names of those who participated in that battle. Friday's column also noted an earlier blog I posted suggesting that in the entire 3 day battle there could have been well over 700 Canadians in the fight.
There are over 2 dozen known graves at Gettysburg for Canadian soldiers who fell in the three day battle. At least three were in the 20th. Probably a lot more but many of the graves there are marked as "Unknown" From Day one till the end of the 20th's service over the entire Civil War 1600 men served in the unit. One of ten was a Canadian. But go find that tidbit in any news article folks. I couldn't.
The above marker marks the spot where the 20th line was held. The rock wall was only 18 inches high but now is a few feet high as it has been rebuilt for "preservation's sake"??? and the entire area has been much leveled over the years and one article says it has dropped by over 8 feet in height. A few pathways were constructed to take tourists closer to the marker... said to be one of the most visited of all from the entire battle. But in putting in these walkways, instead of hauling in rock, they apparently chopped up some of the very historic boulders that were part of the very battle field of the day... and used them as the base for the walkways. So the visiting are truly walking on history.
It is either that this marker.... or Gettysburg itself.... is the most visited CW site in the entire country. And Canadians paid for a piece of that ground with their lives. As did thousands of Americans and men AND woman from countries all around the world.
I am very excited about announcing that next week I will be in Gettysburg doing research and will bring you updates over the next three weeks on my journey to continue to gather the story of not only the Medal of Honor but the brave men and one woman who went on to earn them. During my trip I will be meeting several Medal of Honor recipients hopefully, will attend an unveiling ceremony built with bricks dedicated to the honor of those recipients still alive... including Canada's last living Recipient, Toronto born Peter Lemon. and then moving on to Washington to do some more research so that I can continue to bring you the news and stories that I hope you want to see. During this trip it is hoped that I will visit the Canadian Embassy at Washington, the Pentagon, the National Naval Museum at DC, Arlington cemetery and of course do a couple of weeks research at the National Archives there as well. I expect to bring back pictures of over 50 Canadians who fought wearing the American uniforms of the day. Many of them being MOH recipients. I ought also to be attending re-enactments of Gettysburg battles and a special re-enactment of the famous Paratroop drop on Verdun during WW11 just a few miles away from Gettysburg at a place called new Oxford.
Should be a trip of a lifetime...
So please come along for the ride...by keeping an eye on my blogs.