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Joshua L Chamberlain Little Round Top Gettysburg Battlefield 1863

Updated on December 8, 2016

Setting The Stage....

Shortly after the battle at Chancellorsville in May of 1863. Chamberlains commanding officer Colonel Adelbert Ames was promoted to brigade command in the XI Corps. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain rose to command of the 20th Maine on July 2, 1863.

Sent by Col Strong Vincent on the second day of the battle, Chamberlain and his 20th Maine took there place next to the 83rd Pennsylvania the 44th New York and the 16th Michigan to defend the far left flank of the Union positons atop the hill known as Little Round Top.

Chamberlain quickly understood the strategic importance of this small hill, and the 20th Maine's need to hold the Union's left "At All Cost". The men from the 20th Maine awaited troops from the 15th Alabama under Col. William C. Oates and and the 47th Alabama under the command of Lt Col James Jackson to charge up the hill, attempting to flank there position.

The 20th with by all accounts 358 men were greatly outnumbered by Col Oates and his 15th Alabama also joining in on the battle were troops from the 4th and 47th Alabama Infantry the 4th and 5th Texas Infantry.


And It Begins.

Shortly after 4:00 pm on the afternoon of July 2, 1863, the order to commence with the attack was given by Commanding General Robt E Lee. The troops of General Longstreets 1st corp under the command of General Evander Law's division and General John Bell Hood began there attack up the Emmitsburg road. Heading for the far left flank of the unions lines the confederate troops quickly advanced toward Little Round Top.

Years later one of the officers Captain Howard Prince that served under the command of Col Joshua L Chamberlain at the battle of little round top, recalls watching him moments before the battle ensued and wrote of Chamberlain.

"Up and down the line, with a last word of encouragement or caution, walks the quiet man, whose calm exterior concealed the fire of the warrior and heart of steel, whose careful dispositions and ready resource, whose unswerving courage and audacious nerve in the last desperate crisis, are to crown himself and his faithful soldiers with...fadeless laurels."

At that point the rebels canons fell silent meaning only one thing they were coming and coming soon. And sure enough with the unnerving screech of there famed rebel yell the troops of the Alabama 15th and the Alabama 47th charged up the sloops of Little Round Top towards the positions of Chamberlain and his 20th Maine.

With withering fire the lines of the 20th Maine held fast pushing the attacking confederates back down the hill. Only to see them regroup and charge right back up into the fight over and over again.

As the battle pitched back and forth the confederates slowly shifted to the right of Chamberlain and his 20th Maine stretching their lines thinner and thinner trying to find a point were they could get around their end and flank them.

Chamberlain quickly acted, shifted parts of his line to the left forming a right angle to protect from being flanked by the confederates. But this thinned out his lines and used up all of his reserves with the maneuver. The 20th was now down to barely over 200 troopers.

After nearly two hours had passed and nearly constant fighting, his troops were tiring from the repeated attacks of the confederates, and getting dangerously low on ammunition. Firing the last of their few rounds that remained.


The Charge Into History....

At this point Col Chamberlain was approached by Lt Melcher of the color company to ask if he might move forward to try to rescue some of his wounded troopers that lay along the ridge in front of their lines.

With little to no ammunition left and knowing it was only a matter of time before the confederates would attack again Col Chamberlain made a fateful decision.

Replying to Lt Melcher he said "Yes sir in one moment, I am about to order a charge." and with that Col Chamberlain stepped forwards towards the company colors and yelled "BAYONETS" with a roar his troops lifted up and moved down the hill towards the confederate lines as fast as possible in that rocky terrain.

Screaming and their bayonets brought to bear ahead of them the 20th Maine refused the line right towards the confederates and came up on the stunned rebel troops, who by now were just as tired as the 20th Maine had been from the hours of pitched battles

As the confederates started to taking notice of the attack they were slammed by a volley of musket shot shredding the exhausted rebels. Little did they know Captain Walter Morrill and a number of union sharpshooters that had scattered from the earlier battle on big round top had taken up positions behind a rock wall on the far left of the union lines.

With the 20th Maines heavy and sudden attack many of the completely exhausted rebels simply laid down there weapons and surrendered. In all totaled nearly 400 men where taken prisoner.

From 20th Maine Infantry monument on Big Round Top at Gettysburg
From 20th Maine Infantry monument on Big Round Top at Gettysburg | Source

The Aftermath Of Little Round Top...

There day not done Col Joshua L Chamberlain and his brave men of the 20th Maine were ordered by the now commanding officer Col James Rice of the 44th New York who had taken command after Col Strong Vincent had been severely wounded attempting to shore up the faltering flanks of the 16th Michigan early in the days battle to take the nearby Big Round Top.

After a regiment of Pennsylvania reserves had refused, Col Joshua L Chamberlain went about his men asking for volunteers. To a man they stood proud even though exhausted the men of the 29th Maine took that hill. And held it through the night and into the morning of the third day.

Being reinforced by troops from the 44th Michigan and the 83rd Pennsylvania the men of the 20th Maine were relieved and put into reserve near the headquarters of the 5th corp near Cemetery Ridge .

From Brewer To Warrior The Old Lion Never Sleeps....

  • Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born in Brewer Maine on September 8th 1828. Brewer a small farming town in upper Maine.
  • The oldest child of Sarah Dupree and Joshua Chamberlain.
  • Student of Bowdion College in Brunswick Maine.
  • At Bowdoin he met many people who would influence his life, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, the wife of a Bowdoin professor and author of Uncle Toms Cabin.
  • Married to Fanny Adams in 1858.
  • He was fluent and spoke nine languages other than English: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac.
  • LT Col Joshua Chamberlain saw action as a leader in 24 battles, mostly fighting against Lee's army of Virginia.
  • Col Joshua Chamberlain was wounded in battle six times.
  • Had his horse was shot out from under six times.
  • Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain reached the rank of Brevet Major General and retired as a Brigadier General.
  • Chamberlain wrapped up his career in the war by being chosen by General Grant to receive the formal surrender of Lee and the Confederate forces at Appomattox April 12, 1865.
  • Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on August 11, 1893
  • Joshua Chamberlain was elected and served 4 one year terms as Governor of the State of Maine from 1866 to 1869
  • After leaving the Governorship he returned to Bowdion for the next 12 years of his life until health issues from injuries sustained in the war forced him to retire his position in 1883.
  • After leaving Bowdion he was a Surveyor. Art dealer, Land prospector and railroad builder.
  • In 1898 at the age of 70, still in pain from his wounds, he volunteered for duty as an officer in the Spanish-American War but was rejected for his health issues from injuries sustained from his 1864 wounds.
  • Chamberlain became a founding member of the Maine Institution for the Blind, in Portland.
  • Chamberlain died of his lingering wartime wounds on February 24th 1914 at Portland, Maine, age 85, and is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Brunswick, Maine.
  • Beside him as he died was Dr. Abner O. Shaw of Portland, one of the two surgeons who had operated on him in Petersburg 50 years previously. He was the last Civil War veteran to die as a result of wounds from the war.


Joshua L Chamberlain About Returning To Little Round Top Battlefield....

"I went, it is not long ago, to stand again on that crest whose one day's crown of fire has passed into the blazoned coronet of fame...I sat there alone, on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before over the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight I was buried as with those before. But oh, what radiant companionship rose around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls. Oh, the glory that beamed through those nights and days...The proud young valor that rose above the mortal, and then at last was mortal after all."


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    • profile image

      terence j chamberlain 

      5 years ago

      i learnt about this man from an early and on a television documentry on the bbc in the

      and find his story unlike any other in charge of a battle in the civil war

    • jaymills profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      150 years ago this week. Thousands of Americans came together to battle at Gettysburg. Weather right or wrong they all men and woman alike fought and lost their lives for what they believed in. Right now we have young men and woman risking all overseas the same as those days so many years ago. We all American should support and respect these brave Americans for their service. And Pray all be safe and come home safe, to their loved ones. Nearing this important days in our countries history all should thank those that have risked all for us. THANK YOU!!!!

    • jaymills profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Out of the hubs that I have written. This one is the one that I am proudest of. Colonel Chamberlain is a perfect picture of the citizen warrior. He was a simple man that rose to the times that he found himself in from a small town in the state of Maine. The measure of a great leader is often later spoken of or written of by the men that he commanded. And to a man Joshua Chamberlain one of the best of the best of his time. He stood tall and defended his faith his conscience his entire life for what he thought was right. Thank you for everyone that reads my hub.

    • jaymills profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Thank you for your comment Ron.

      Yes, you are right he was severely wounded and thought to be mortal so was given the brevet rank of Major General, only to survive his injuries. He was selected by Grant himself to accept the formal surrender from Lee at Appomattox.

      Retiring as a Brigadier General to return to his wife and teaching in Maine. He was elected four times for one year each as the governor of Maine. But he always suffered from those wounds that he received in Petersburg.

      This was truly a well rounded man he was so talented and smart that he spoke 9 languages and self tought himself Arabic as to be able to enter into college.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I look at Joshua Chamberlain as one of the special heroes of the war. He was not a professional soldier, but just a citizen committed to what he believed this country stood for. You mention he was wounded six times. If I recall, correctly, Grant first appointed him to general officer rank after he received what was thought to be a mortal wound. But he recovered and continued. Thanks for a good tribute to him.

    • jaymills profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Thank you for your comment.

    • jaymills profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from United States

      Thank you for your kind words. Lt Col Chamberlain is a fascinating subject being from my own state. Having read most of the writings by him and those that served with him, and seen many of the places that he lived and fought. I have learn to greatly appreciate this theological warrior.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 

      5 years ago from India

      Good hub and well written. Great work!


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