Little Round Top: 20th Maine

Here’s one for XBrad, because I know this is his favorite Civil War story. I’m stomping around Gettysburg today and made the required stop at this monument:


Yes the monument for the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment.

Most visitors would stop there, then head back to the car. But as anyone who has read Killer Angels will recall, there was more to the story.

About 400 feet east of that monument is this marker:


When the 20th’s commander, Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, first arrived on Little Round Top the afternoon of July 2, 1863, he sent Company B to deploy as skirmishers on his left. Forty men under Captain Walter Morrell. These men were arguably the left flank of an army. They deployed along this stone wall.


As the Confederates pushed, and bent back the main part of the 20th’s line, a gap developed between Morrill’s skirmishers and Chamberlain’s line. Here’s the view back to Little Round Top from the wall:


Alabama troops attempted several charges up those slopes. But Chamberlain held. In the confusion, he had to assume Morrill was lost. With no reinforcements and limited ammunition, Chamberlain opted for a desperate charge down the slope. When that charge wheeled down, Morrill’s men rose to deliver shots into the rear and flank of the Confederates, then joined the charge.

Happened right here:


I could go on about courage, leadership, and decisiveness on the battlefield. But you’ve probably already heard that lesson.

Heck, I just think it’s six kinds of cool that I’m typing this and adding photos while standing on the actual ground!

16 thoughts on “Little Round Top: 20th Maine”

  1. The battlefield has been preserved for a long time. Clearly the trees in the pics are not “original” as it were. Any idea when the ground was clear-cut and then replanted?

    1. Good question, and the last time I was there with a licensed battlefield guide someone asked the very same question. Basically, the ground on the east side of LRT was never clear cut. There are photos from the 1890s with the veterans posing in front of rocks, among the trees. Some even say the woods today are thicker than during the battle. Some of the ground around LRT was purchased by preservation/memorial groups well before Congress established the park.

  2. Kid I went to elementary school was Chamberlain’s brother’s 2x (?) great grandson. Lot of the guys in the 20th Maine went to my high school.

    1. I guess a better word was trained. Ames heald nightly classes with Chamberlain when Chamberlain first joined the regiment. Ames would assign homework and discuss the work with Chamberlain after a days drill. As a professor he was a quick study.

      And Craig, I am, slowly, working on a history of the 43rd NYVI so I am well acquainted with the Hidden (Neill’s) Avenue of Gettysburg! Have you ever met Dean? What a great steward. I gave a talk at the 43rd’s Monument at a rememberance Day several years ago.

      I think one of the great ironies of Gettysburg is that when the sun set on 2 July, 1863, the VIth Corps held both flanks…the Vermont Brigade was on the top of Big Round Top and Neill’s held Wolf’s Hill.
      PS: Love you blog!

  3. The truly amazing part is that Joshua Chamberlain was studying to be a Minister at Bowdoin. The only education in the military arts came from Col. Strong Vincent. Chamberlain was an amazing man until the day he died.

    1. Byron, the “details” of Chamberlain’s career are often summarized by historians as they focus directly on the events at LRT. There was a strong military background in in the Chamberlain family, including service in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. J.L. Chamberlain himself spent time in the local militia before the Civil War (a point used as the center of an exhibit in the National Guard museum in DC, but which I think was over played a bit). Furthermore, there is evidence that J.L. Chamberlain associated with the officers within the first Maine regiments sent to war. In short, we can say that Chamberlain was acquainted with military arts, even though not a practitioner, from his pre-war background. But of course those facts get in the way of a good screen play!

      Cavalry commander Thomas Devin had a similar exposure to the military arts. Devin was a house painter before the war, but also served in the New York militia. He began the war as a captain and ended the war a major-general and one of the most capable cavalry commanders the US has ever produced.

    2. Indeed, Ames played a significant role.

      Also as an aside, or perhaps the answer to a good trivia question… Chamberlain’s 20th Maine was not the only regiment from that state “out on a flank” during the battle of Gettysburg. The location is seldom visited, but the 7th Maine held a position on the complete opposite end of the Federal lines (, though did not see as much action as the 20th on Little Round Top.

      Like Chamberlain, the 7th Maine’s commander, Seldon Connor, was later promoted to Brigadier General. Connor ALSO went on to serve a term as Maine’s governor. Connor survived Chamberlain by just three years, dieing in 1917. Both men remained very active in veterans organizations. I’ve often wondered if the two exchanged stories at the “meetings.”

  4. It is highly probable that Chamberlin and his men saved the union that day. Had the 15th Alabama managed to take the crest of Little Round Top and managed to get artillery on the heights the confederacy would have controlled by fire the Union forces all along Cemetary Ridge. The result would have been another crushing loss for the Union and the possible destruction of the Army of the Potomac.

    An interesting sidenote is that in Chamberlin’s home town, Brunswick Maine, where Chamberlin is buried just a block away from Bowdoin College, there is a very popular pub named Joshua’s Tavern. The last time I was there I got into a conversation with the bartender and discovered that he had no clue as to who Joshua Chamberlin might have been. Sic transit gloria mundi!

  5. I loved visiting Gettysburg. Wish I could have spent a week there. I went up on Little Round Top and was amazed at the view of the battlefield. I brought a small piece of rock back with me. It’s displayed in my mancave.

  6. Lee blamed himself for the loss of Gettysburg. I think he had wished he had listened to Longstreet and slid east to prepare positions where he could threaten DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Meade would have been unable to ignore Lee and would have been forced politically to assault Lee’s positions. That probably would have led to the destruction of the Army of the Potomac, and the end of Lincoln’s war.

    I realize a lot of people sincerely believe Lincoln saved the union, but he actually destroyed it. The US became something the founders would have been disgusted with, and that war led directly to where we are now, with FedGov being absolutely ascendant, and running amok. Without Lincoln there would be no Obama, and I’m not talking about the melanin content of his skin either.

    I in no way denigrate the heroism on the side of the north, but they weren’t on the side of angels in the matter. Eventually the two sides, I believe, would have come back together, and slavery would have died peacefully without the war and the hatred it engendered. Slavery wasn’t the cause of the war anyway. That’s just northern propaganda.

    1. Quartermaster, thanks for the comment. But I just find the revisionist histories of the war, like the one you offer here, just a bit unsubstantiated by the facts. Sort of reminds me of the liberal version of World War II where an egomaniac Churchill tricked the US into the war to save the British Empire, and where Stalin was “not so bad” because he eventually got around to liberating Poland.

      Our textbooks today step around the fact the Confederacy was founded on the premise of slavery, pure and simple. The Confederate Congress spent more time debating the approved level of compensation for the impressment of slaves than it did reacting to the Confederate President’s suspension of Habeas Corpus (yes, that wasn’t just a Lincoln thing). Left out also is the draconian conscription act that was met with more resistance than the anti-draft movement in the 1960s. (Such also lead to the only wide-scale, organized mutiny of American soldiers I am aware of.) In its short existence the Confederacy dimmed or suppressed the notions expressed in every amendment of the Bill of Rights (to include the 10th enough times to fill volumes). One only need read the words expressed by the governors of Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama in protest to the heavy handed policies laid down by the Richmond government. Indeed, the exchange between the parties reminds me much of today’s headlines – particularly regarding the Arizona borders, South Carolina-Boeing plant, and the Catholic Church-birth control issue.

      I’d love to debate you further, but in deference to our host’s housekeeping, I’ll suggest we take this to a private conversation.

    2. Feel free to continue.

      While the issue of states rights is and was a critical one, the fact is, the ONLY states right those of the Confederacy were concerned with was slavery.

      As to any post-war reconciliation in the event of a Confederate victory, it is impossible to clearly see any alternate history. I myself tend to think they would not have reconciled and rejoined the union.

      And as Craig notes, the damages inflicted upon the traditional understanding of the Bill of Rights, which has been of concern to many conservatives ever since, happened on both sides of the divide, and further, were justified in the same way- that is, the exigencies of war. Which, come right down to it, seemed like a good idea at the time. Was the damage worse than what would have befallen the nation if it had split? Likely so. And those very damages to the Constitution and BoR were inflicted only because several states rebelled against the lawfully constituted government under that Constitution.

      I have an enormous amount of respect for the feats of arms of the Confederacy, and think every commander should study them closely. I even have a great deal of respect, even admiration for Jefferson Davis, thrust into a role he did not seek. But I have nothing but contempt for the nation they sought to build.

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